WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Packaged salads have only been around for 20 years or so, but that’s long enough for a generational change. It’s not your dad’s bagged salad anymore.
Young shoppers are driving purchases: 63% of those 24 and below — the highest rate of any age group — report buying packaged salad at least monthly, according to a survey by Spectra Perishables Consumer Profiles.
Romaine and iceberg salads remain popular, but diversity has become the rule. That’s reflected partly in the choice of leafy greens. Most Americans prefer spring mix and the like to iceberg, according to the International Food Information Council.
They have for a while. But as recent product additions by such companies as Apio, Dole Fresh Vegetables and Taylor Farms show, the category isn’t restricted to leafy greens. Other vegetables are becoming increasingly common in salad offerings.
Three new Dole Extra Veggie Salads are expected to hit retail shelves in early 2012, said Michelle Gonsalves, director of new products marketing.
The salads combine spring mix or spinach with grape tomatoes; snap peas; or radishes, carrots and red cabbage.
In September, Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio added a third flavor, Chipotle, to its Eat Smart retail line of shredded-broccoli based salad kits. The others are Broccoli and Asian.
And in July, Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms introduced three Chopped Salad kits: Asian, Garden Vegetable and Southwest. Chopped ingredients include broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery and green onions — along with cabbages or romaine.
Cut-vegetable or slaw-type products aren’t novelties. Mann Packing, for one, has sold blends for years.
It’s their growing popularity on restaurant menus that caught the eye of Taylor Farms. And Dole’s in-house studies showed 87% of consumers like crunchy vegetables with their leafy greens.
There’s a convenience factor — and not just for the shopper who buys leafy greens and vegetables in a single package.
“When we see weather challenges affecting the leafy greens market, we do feel an uptick in our salad orders, as retailers try to continue to supply their consumers,” said Cali Tanguay, director of marketing and technology at Apio. “Sometimes they’ll shift over to a hard-crop vegetable to meet those needs.”
Frankly, grower-shippers go where the numbers, opportunity and demand tell them to. The packaged salad category remained flat in 2011, up just 1.4% in the year ending Oct. 8, according to Nielsen U.S. Grocery.