Ready Pac Foods' Bistro Bowls sales are up 20% this year.
Ready Pac Foods' Bistro Bowls sales are up 20% this year.

Kale mixes and single-serve salads keep on gaining ground with consumers, but this might be remembered as the year of the chopped salad.

Since the end of August, Fresh Express, Dole Fresh Vegetables and Mann Packing Co. have started shipping new chopped salads. Taylor Farms Retail, which launched its line in July 2011, offered its latest expansion with a kale chopped salad kit and single-serve versions of four of its established chopped kits.

The crunch in chopped salads comes from cut vegetables like carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts, snap peas, celery, pepperoncini — you name it — plus add-ons like sliced almonds, croutons, tortilla or won ton strips and crisp rice noodles.

Lettuce is still there, naturally — or cabbage — but either one gets plenty of help.

Salinas, Calif.-based Fresh Express, which already had a chopped turkey chef salad in its Gourmet Café line, brought the concept to its bagged products with Asian and Southwest chopped salad kits. Monterey, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Vegetables introduced three chopped kits — Chipotle & Cheddar, Bacon & Bleu and BBQ Ranch — plus two blends. And Salinas-based Mann Packing has started shipping Cantina Crunch and Asian Citrus Crunch kits.

The demand is there for it. According to Nielsen Perishables Group total U.S. food data, chopped salad kits were up 220% in sales for the year ending Sept. 7. Caesar salad mixes still lead the kit category, but consumers are showing an appetite for variety.

That doesn’t seem to take much of a bite out of established kits. More than 74% of consumers say they had purchased chopped kits in addition to their typical kit, according to a product taste test by Tragon Research in April.

You’ve been single served

Single-serve salads — with or without proteins — are getting renewed attention as well.

Fresh Express began shipping four two-in-one packs — separated by a perforation — of single-serve mixes in August. The target is consumers concerned about providing for more than one meal, or preserving freshness. The paired packs are 50/50 Mix; Baby Spinach; Italian; and Hearts of Romaine.

On the protein side, Salinas-based Taylor Farms Retail has introduced four of its six chopped salad kits in single-serve form. They include Asian; Southwest; Italian; and BBQ Ranch.

The company was responding to consumers who were already turning Taylor Farms chopped salads into full meals by adding ingredients.

“We are adding the protein for them to address their eating occasions on the go,” Mark Campion, Taylor Farms Retail president, said in a news release.

Irwindale, Calif.-based Ready Pac Foods Inc. dominates single-serve salads with more than an 85% share of sales, according to Nielsen Perishables Group total U.S. food data. The shipper’s Bistro Bowl sales are up 20% for the year. The line has expanded with a new product, baby kale-turkey Bistro Bowl.

Is kale the new bacon?

The rollout of new kale mixes isn’t limited to the Taylor Farms and Ready Pac single-serve products or the new Taylor Farms chopped kit.

Ready Pac has also added a Baby Kale Blend with baby spinach, baby arugula and chard.

“Super greens like spinach remain popular as well, particularly within organic varieties,” said Tristan Simpson, Ready Pac senior director of marketing and corporate communications.

Kale is in four of the five new Dole chopped kits and blends. Fresh Express has started offering Baby Kale Mix in a 5-ounce bag with chard and spinach.

San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm reports continued success for its organic kale blends.

“The kale trend definitely continues,” said Samantha Cabaluna, vice president for communications and marketing at Earthbound Farm. “We say, ‘kale is the new bacon.’ Because it’s a nutrient-dense superstar. Now food celebrities have shown people how to prepare it so that it’s delicious, as opposed to just steamed or boiled or however people were eating it in the past.”

Of the 10 highest sales kale stock-keeping units, mixes contributed 51% more to the rise in sales than cooking greens last year, according to Fresh Express.

As the health benefits of greens gained wider publicity, the whole category rose in 2012, up 31.3% in sales compared to 6.5% the prior year. Kale led the charge — up 151.5% compared to 55.5%.