Culinary Corner: Well Chopped

Retailers dig into greens with hopes of ringing up greenbacks

By
Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

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E ditor’s Note: This is the first edition of Culinary Corner, a new feature in CSP that focuses on menu development at the store, supplier and commissary level. Each edition will spotlight on a specific menu category, delivering flavor trends, financial insights and best practices for execution.

Wheatberry, edamame, couscous. No, this is not the salad-bar menu at Whole Foods. Well, actually, it probably is. But it’s also a line of salads from Tedeschi Food Shops.

The Rockland, Mass., retailer rolled out these specialty salads last year as a way to expand its customer base to include more females and millennials.

“As a company, we’re really trying to change the way consumers think about Tedeschi Food Shops,” says Bob Goodwin, director of fresh foods for the 190-store chain.

For as evolved a retailer as Tedeschi is, those wheatberry and edamame (pronounced eda-MAH-may) salads aren’t exactly flying off the shelves. But Goodwin understands that, for now, the message it sends is just as important as sales.

“It speaks to where we are trying to go, and it’s a journey,” he says.

Salads represent about 15% of foodservice sales in Tedeschi’s 23 locations with delis. (About 160 other stores are serviced by the company’s commissary.) Not a bad number for a retailer that sells “a lot of sandwiches,” according to Goodwin, and salad sales actually grew by about 15% last year.

About 250 miles away, in QuickChek Corp.’s home base of Whitehouse Station, N.J., that chain sees about 5% of its food sales from salads, and it continues to grow, according to Jennifer Vespole, director of food service.

In the restaurant realm, 90% of quick-service-restaurant (QSR) menus include salads, according to research firm Datassential, Chicago. “Salads are all but ubiquitous,” says Mark DiDomenico, director of business development. “There’s so much you can do with it from an ingredient standpoint, and yet it still has that halo of being better for you.

“The trick is to make them more appetizing. Otherwise, you just have a salad on the menu and nobody orders it.”

Whether you’re making them to order, selling them from a grab-and-go cooler, using a commissary or leaning on suppliers for product development, salads are polarizing, pricy and extremely perishable. Carefully consider flavor trends, food costs, customer demographics and execution to ensure a fresh, safe and appetizing offering.

Flavor Focus

Datassential tracks flavor trends by analyzing thousands of restaurant menus from around the country and determining what ingredients and applications have the highest penetration, and which ones are experiencing the largest growth.

When looking at salad menu trends across quick- and full-service restaurants, there aren’t a lot of surprises. Grilled chicken is the most common type, followed by Caesar. Chicken, bacon and egg, and Cheddar, blue cheese and Parmesan are all common ingredients. Romaine tops  the list of lettuces, followed by spinach, iceberg, cabbage and arugula. The most common dressings include Caesar, vinaigrette and ranch.

Descriptors with the highest menu penetration likely relate to dressings: light, organic and low-fat. The fastest-growing descriptor is actually gluten-free, “by a pretty long shot,” says DiDomenico. Salad varieties experiencing the greatest growth are Cobb, barbecue, buffalo and chopped. Local, all natural, queso, shaved Parmesan, chipotle ranch and salmon are also notable inclusions on the fastest-growing list.

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