MONTEREY, Calif. — Stagnant through much of the year, the retail packaged salads market is showing signs of life.
Grower-shippers say their efforts to feed demand with new products and better marketing have kept them afloat in a weak economy. Some might be treading water, but at least they’re not sinking.
“Salads overall have seen some modest declines, but it’s been stabilizing over the last couple months and we’re starting to see some renewed interest in the category,” said Chris Mayhew, director of marketing at Monterey-based Dole Fresh Vegetables.
Through mid-October, Mayhew said, “the category is down 0.1% for the year, basically flat.”
“We’ve been making a big investment in increasing awareness and trial of varieties,” she said. “Messaging and marketing to consumers has had a lot to do with turning their attention back to the category.”
Another factor is a renewed emphasis on salad kits and bowls by such companies as Fresh Express, Ready Pac Foods, Taylor Farms and Dole.
“Interest is continuing to grow in the fancier type salads,” Mayhew said. “You have a lot of people eating the family favorites, the iceberg and romaine salads, but the continued growth is into the mixed blends and the kits.”
Ready Pac’s focus is on its kits and its single-serve Bistro salad line, said Ali Leon, senior director of strategic business development.
“Thirty-six percent of consumers say they are entertaining at home more often than a year ago, and 69% are buying the food … at supermarkets,” Leon said, citing numbers provided by Technomic. “Ready Pac wants to be sure we are meeting those needs.”
Those numbers can’t be too encouraging to foodservice specialists, but some are prospering anyway.
“We’ve seen no effects from the economy,” said Tim York, president of Salinas-based Markon Cooperative. “That category continues to grow, and it has for 15 years.”
One growth area in the industry is organic packaged salads, which continue to do well. Sales were up 13.7% on an annual basis through Aug. 21, according to The Nielsen Co.’s Dollar Volume Index.