Packaged salads enjoyed modest sales gains in 2012 — up 1% year over year in mid-July, according to the West Dundee, Ill.-based Nielsen Perishables Group’s Dollar Volume Index, but 1% still adds up in a $2 billion-plus category.
Two segments — single-serve and organic — pocketed just about whatever new profits were to be had. And new products continued to come out.
Single-serve salad bowls rose 17% over 2011 figures, and organic increased 13%.
On varieties, tender leaf greens — notably spinach — and specialty salads have the biggest market share at 30%. Spinach blends rose 9% for conventionally grown, more for organic. Romaine salads account for 19%, and iceberg salads, 17%.
Irwindale, Calif.-based Ready Pac Foods Inc. shipped a steady stream of new salads this summer and fall. Four protein-containing salads — pizzeria, taco, harvest and Caesar — launched in September as part of its Disney-themed Cool Cuts retail line.
Five more salads — among them tomato Italiano, garden chef and Southwestern — started shipping for foodservice, also under a Cool Cuts label.
Three organic — and vegetarian — salads joined the Ready Pac Bistro retail line: orange ginger tofu, zesty harvest grains and honey mustard spinach.
The company has also been paying attention to salad kits.
“Until recently, the salad kit segment was experiencing double-digit sales declines,” said Tristan Simpson, Ready Pac director of marketing.
To stimulate sales, the company extended its meat offerings beyond chicken and added fresh fruit, such as sliced apples.
Among other product launchers, Fresh Express sought to refresh its line by adding three mixes. It combined red leaf and green leaf in its Red Leaf blend; spinach and arugula; and red butter with green butter lettuce, dubbed Sweet & Crunchy.
Watsonville, Calif.-based Classic Salads, which grows as well as processes, began shipping shipping Nordic Blend and Nordic Spring in 2.5-pound foodservice bags in September. With four baby lettuces — green leaf, red leaf, tango and lolla rosa — Nordic Blend offers a combination that’s proved successful elsewhere.
Private-label salads now amount to 28 cents per dollar of sales, up 3.5 over last year, according to Nielsen.
That share exceeds fresh produce as a whole, which is 20. Ready Pac, Taylor Farms and a variety of processors — including Fresh Express — offer private label.
“It gives retailers the opportunity to create a point of difference from market competitors by offering unique blends of lettuces and recipes that can only be found at their store,” Simpson said.
For Salinas, Calif.-based Fresh Express these are not the best of times, but the company seems to have ended a freefall that saw operating income for salads and healthy snacks at parent company Chiquita Brands International drop from $63 million two years ago to $8 million in 2011.
Second quarter operating income was $11 million, up from $4 million last year.