Revamped salads take a bite out of lunchtime sandwich market
Salads are an increasingly popular choice in the food-to-go market

Revamped salads take a bite out of lunchtime sandwich market

Steven Maxwell
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Sainsbury's Sweet Crimson Basil Salad (1)
Sainsbury’s has gone for Asian inspiration in its new salad additions

The hot weather and a general trend for the lunchtime shoppers to act more healthily is seeing salad sales grow faster than sandwiches, prompting retailers to expand their ranges

With the UK sweltering under record high temperatures for parts of the early summer, the country’s grocery retailers have evidently spotted the right time to launch new, fresher alternatives to the traditional lunchtime sandwich for office workers.

According to IRI figures, demand for healthy salads increased by 19% during the 52 weeks to the June 8, compared with the same period a year before – four times the rate of sandwiches. By comparison, demand for leafy salads rose by 13%.

In response, Tesco marked a sunny June by launching a new range of ‘exotic’ salad mixes that combine conventional ingredients with seafood, chicken and rice.

Increasing numbers of shoppers and office workers, the retailer claimed as it did so, are now forgoing their stock choice of sandwiches and wraps, and focusing instead on the healthy end of the salad category.

Tesco was prompted by the trend to completely ramp up its ‘on-the-go’ salad range to nearly 50 lines, adding combinations such as crayfish and mango, edamame and salmon, and yakitori chicken sushi.

Salad buyer Helen Dwyer said: “Traditionally, sales of prepared salads would rise during the summer months and drop again during the winter.

“Now, because of the exciting number of new gourmet salads available that demand is not only sustained throughout the year but is bringing in plenty of new customers who might otherwise have chosen a sandwich as a lunchtime snack.”

Tesco is not alone in spotting the trend. Not to be outdone, rival Sainsbury’s added to its salads range in April with new ‘exotic’ mixes that combine aromatic herbs with edible flowers.

Asian inspiration

The additions feature Asian-inspired ingredients such as coriander and purple shiso with edible viola flowers that have a velvety texture, intense purple colour and a lettuce-like flavour, according to the retailer.

Georgina Lunn, Sainsbury’s product developer for fresh produce said: “We’ve seen a trend for customers making everyday food more exciting, and this new range of salads helps them to create salads which are full of colour, texture and intriguing flavours.”

Not to be outdone, and continuing the move towards international flavours, Waitrose also chose April to expand its own-brand salad range with new mixes taking inspiration from Nordic, Peruvian, Asian and Mexican cuisines. In this case, the retailer has combined salad leaves with chilli, chipotle, sweet potato, cumin, coriander and green lentils among other ingredients.

For David Gray, an analyst with Planet Retail, such product launches are indicative of the ongoing focus on convenient food options in the grocery retail sector. “There’s a trend towards convenience in food that’s been going on for some time and I think this is part of that,” he says.

“Tesco has said before that it wanted to work on developing its convenience food offer and make a point of differentiating and expanding its range.”

Flavours in favour

Kiti Soinien, head of UK food, drink & foodservice research at Mintel, adds that salad category innovation is hugely influenced by consumer demand for ‘ethnic’ flavours, adding a new edge to established products.

That such innovation is now taking place in the salad category rather than say soups or ready meals should not come as a surprise, she argues. “We know that 75% of UK consumers are interested in ‘traditional products with ethnic flavours’, so these kinds of salads taking flavour inspiration from ethnic cuisines should be well-placed to resonate,” Soinien says.

This is no new trend, rather an extension of evolving product development, says Soinien, citing examples such as Waitrose’s Asian prawn salad and Oriental black quinoa salad.

The trend is also being explored extensively in the foodservice sector, she continues, with the UK’s dominant sandwich takeaway chain, Pret a Manger, already offering a Teriyaki salmon salad option on its menu, for instance. Many other chains and independent operators are becoming more exotic in their product offerings.

“We’ve seen similar trends in areas like sandwiches and soups, with products taking inspiration from ethnic cuisines to tap into current flavour trends,” says Soinien. “In the winter it often focuses on warm food, but in the summer, unsurprisingly the focus moves away from hot dishes.”

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