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In the Bag.

Byline: Jennifer Strailey

Fresh and convenient, packaged salad mixes continue to outperform other fresh vegetables, with the category maintaining strength despite the most recent spate of bagged salad recalls this summer.

According to Mintel's 2012 Fruit and Vegetables report, packaged salad mixes are the biggest seller in fresh vegetables, representing a 14.8 percent dollar share of a $45 billion U.S. market. Chicago-based Mintel further notes that 59 percent of consumers say they eat salads as meals for dinner or lunch at least once a week.

Biggest Seller - 14.8 percent

The dollar share amount packaged salad mixes represent to the $45 billion U.S. market

Source: Mintel

The strength of the numbers begs the question: Are U.S. consumers eating more vegetables as a result of the availability of packaged salads?

A recent USA Today story, which cited data from the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, revealed that most Americans eat about half of the USDA-recommended servings for vegetables and even less for fruit.

"I think that there are many, many consumers who won't eat salad or vegetables with dinner if they're not washed and ready to go," says Marge Perry, award-winning food journalist, chef-instructor at New York's Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), author of the blog "A Sweet and Savory Life," and "Ask the Expert" columnist for Myrecipes.com.

"I think that there are many, many consumers who won't eat salad or vegetables with dinner if they're not washed and ready to go."

-Marge Perry, Myrecipes.com

Perry believes that bagged salads not only boost American's lettuce consumption, but their consumption of other veggies as well. "I see this at ICE all the time," she says. "Consumers want dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less. When they eat bagged salad, they add other ingredients, like tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers, that increase the nutritional value of their diet."

Triple Take

With the attention on bagged salad safety, many consumers may mistakenly think that additional prep is required at home.

"One of the things that home cooks don't understand is that they don't need to wash triple-washed lettuce. It won't make it more or less safe," says Perry, who notes that about 95 percent of her culinary students are "absolutely shocked" when she tells them they don't need to rewash triple-washed greens.

Indeed, National Public Radio's Dan Charles received more than a little flack when he wondered aloud during an April 2012 broadcast of "All Things Considered" if consumers should wash pre-washed lettuce at home. After interviewing several food safety experts, he came clean on "The Salt," NPR's food blog, where he wrote: "The bottom line is, if you eat fresh lettuce, you're taking a small risk. An additional washing won't change the risk much, one way or the other."

Organic Salads

Organic shoppers are smitten by packaged salads, too, and that love affair shows no signs of cooling off anytime soon.

Photo courtesy of Earthbound Farm

Craig Hope, chief customer officer at San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm, notes that packaged salads currently represent between 16 percent and 18 percent of total organic fruit and vegetable sales. In five years, he predicts, packaged salads will retain or improve that market share.

"Demand for organic is up across the product line, and our experience confirms that - our three best sales months on record have been March, April, May and June of 2012," Hope says. "It is exciting to see the consumer vote with her/his hard-earned dollars and support the core principles of organic farming and organic products in the face of unprecedented economic uncertainty."

The organic consumer, he continues, also tends to be more experimental, which presents a real opportunity for grocers. He points to items from Earthbound, including its Power Greens (a blend of baby kales, baby spinach and baby chards) and Mixed Baby Kales, that lend themselves to cross-merchandising.

"It is exciting to see the consumer vote with her/his hard-earned dollars and support the core principles of organic farming."

- Craig Hope, Earthbound Farm

"Those products really satisfy the desire for bolder flavors, better nutrition, convenience, and versatility from a preparation standpoint," Hope says. "They are tender enough for salads and smoothies, and they hold up well enough to be used in cooking, too."
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Author:Strailey, Jennifer
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2012
Words:849
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