( Photo courtesy Tim York )

It’s no longer just iceberg lettuce and blue cheese crumbles on the salad menu these days. 

Salads are healthier and more creative and even the main attraction as Americans crave nutritional, innovative, fresh fare — and that’s good news for produce growers and shippers.

“Salads have become more robust and inventive throughout the restaurant industry,” Emily Paulsen, director of sales for Memphis-based LYFE Kitchen, said in Nation’s Restaurant News. 

“The art of crafting a delicious, satisfying salad really comes down to two things: the quality of ingredients and how they are put together.” 

Patrick Sugrue, CEO of Saladworks, a Pennsylvania-based make-your-own salad chain, believes today’s expectations for salads are different than they used to be. 

How can growers and shippers capitalize on this consumer-wide demand for fresh takes on salads? First, offer salad blends or ingredients that help minimize prep work and sourcing time for operators. 

To build on consumer interest, a few years ago the company hired a new executive chef to add a culinary flair to its salad combinations. 

Saladworks now focuses on seasonal produce such as roasted tri-color carrots or brightly colored and slightly peppery watermelon radishes, and adds more intense and complex flavors through seasonings and sauces, such as coleslaw made with a sweet Asian-style chili sauce instead of mayonnaise. 

With the continued addition of new salad toppings, tastes, textures and colors, Saladworks is seeing an increased frequency of diner visits — and this is just one example. 

How can growers and shippers capitalize on this consumer-wide demand for fresh takes on salads? First, offer salad blends or ingredients that help minimize prep work and sourcing time for operators. 

At Markon, three of our most recent product launches have been in the pre-washed salad blends category: Ready-Set-Serve Heart-Y Slaw; Ready-Set-Serve Aromatic Herbs & Tender Greens; and Ready-Set-Serve Organic Lemony Arugula. 

These products are the result of a collaboration with our member chefs and grower partners to develop ready-to-use, nutrient-dense blends to satisfy the desire for unique flavor combinations while reducing prep time.

You can also help your operator customers with creative recipe suggestions. Let them know the best produce in season and how they can put it to work in their salad offerings through new combinations or adding in different spices and sauces. Purple cauliflower with a yuzu dressing can add great color and a healthy punch to a salad, while cucumber sprouts provide an interesting twist for toppings. 

Encourage operators to think innovatively and intentionally when it comes to salad combinations and presentation. Fresh, great-looking, great-tasting food — the perfect recipe for repeat dining. 

Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative.

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