Retailers dedicating greater shelf space to value-added salads, vegetablesBy Natalie Taylor on Mar. 30, 2018A decade ago, butchers were arguably the last thing shoppers ever expected to find in the produce department. Fruits and vegetables were stocked in sprawling, vibrant wet rack displays, and perhaps the only “grab-and-go” option was the pull-out plastic bags that shoppers use to store their hand-picked produce selections. To make a salad meant to purchase lettuce, onions, tomatoes and other fixings individually—and worse, do the chopping and preparation at home—and the remaining products that went unused were often thrown away.
Enter: value-added produce.
When the first value-added greens hit the market, some grocers were skeptical. Jon Clements, director of produce for Pittsburgh-based Kuhn’s Market, recalls gathering around a simple 1-pound bag of packaged garden salad with his colleagues and wondering, “Is this really going to work?”
Today, he laughs at the recollection. “I looked at a bag of chopped salad today and it’s got romaine, kale, red cabbage, carrots, edamame, sunflower seeds and quinoa,” he says, not to mention the package of sweet onion vinaigrette dressing. Value-added vegetables have evolved far beyond convenience alone, from clamshells and resealable bags to produce butchers and multicultural meal solutions. The latest innovations now expose consumers to diverse flavors and ethnic ingredients, assist in the decision-making process and reduce meal prep time and potential food waste at home.
And while the wet rack still lives—and has long been the primary vehicle for conveying freshness, with rich, lively colors that bring the produce category to life—it’s a notoriously high-shrink category that’s prone to spoilage and is used more to impart theater than drive sales. As consumers continuously turn to packaged salads, mixes and related products, some retailers are openly wondering if it’s time to abandon the wet rack.
Growth in Value-Added Greens
“My wet rack has not shrunk, but the value-added category has grown,” says Clements, affirming recent Nielsen data that finds value-added vegetables experiencing steady growth over the years, with sales of more than $1.6 billion in 2017. However, it takes more than convenient packaging to maintain this growth. Consumers also seek creative and diverse value-added produce to justify its steeper price tag.
Both dollars and volume for value-added fruit, for instance, declined for the first time in 2017, as prices continue to climb, says Matt Lally, associate director for Nielsen. “With this in mind, retailers need to find ways to offer products at affordable prices or risk losing shoppers, as there’s a cutoff point where shoppers are willing to pay more for convenience,” he says.
It’s fresh innovations, such as cauliflower rice and veggie noodles, that have helped maintain growth in value-added vegetables over the years. According to Nielsen, vegetable medleys were the No. 1 value-added vegetable in 2017, and organic packaged salad was the top category consumers purchased in the 52 weeks ending Oct. 28, 2017, with dollar sales reaching nearly $900 million.
“The value-added salad category remains very strong and continues growing,” says Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Co., based in Westlake Village, Calif., pointing to salad kits at the forefront. With the growing demand for authentic flavors and creative dishes, the company offers 17 salad kits and 10 chopped salad kits, including its new Greek Chopped Salad Kit, featuring bite-sized pieces of Romaine lettuce, feta cheese and sweet onion pita chips with herb oregano seasoning and Dole’s Own Greek Vinaigrette dressing. And most recently, Dole launched an all-new line of packaged coleslaw, Slawesome Kits, seasoned in four flavors, including Sweet Apple, Mango Sriracha, Fiesta Lime and Smoky BBQ. Making Room for Value-Added
With convenient kits and unique flavors increasingly drawing consumers to packaged greens, retailers are reducing their wet-rack displays to make room for expanded value-added products. “We are seeing growing consumer interest in ready-to-eat products in the produce department, and retailers are recognizing this and setting aside greater shelf space to meet the growing demand,” Goldfield says.
Kuhn’s Market, for instance, has begun remodeling its fresh departments to feature more narrow, vertical wet racks, as opposed to traditionally long, horizontal displays, to expand its value-added offerings. “It’s a lot easier to grow the value-added than it is the wet rack because you can go up a lot easier and you can stretch it out, as far as the display,” says Clements.
However, rather than eliminating the wet rack entirely, Clements expects value-added offerings to eventually lead shoppers back to the wet rack to separately purchase products they’ve been introduced to through salad kits, mixes and vegetable side dishes.
“Yes, we offer the wet rack items,” he says, “and we hope they like some of the flavors and different items that these magnificent value-added products let them try, and then they can come looking for it in the wet rack. Maybe next time they want to build that salad themselves. Let’s offer it both ways.”
Value-added products are not necessarily replacing the wet rack, but they can be used to enhance it. Retailers can tout their value-added vegetable products to inspire new purchases from the wet rack that consumers otherwise would never have considered, such as bok choy, edamame, kale or arugula. “If we can use value-added to introduce these other things into folks’ diets, then maybe we’ll have a chance to sell more,” Clements says. “They’re going to need to buy a whole head of lettuce or a whole head of romaine and all those other ingredients. So from a retailer’s perspective, it’s better because I’m going to sell you more fresh produce if you buy it from the wet rack.”