Newly introduced flavor extensions showed more sophistication and ethnic inspiration; for instance, Newman's Own introduced Lighten Up Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing.

  • Adding less and more

  • Foodservice as inspiration

  • Healthful and convenient?

    Salad dressings and salads have evolved significantly over the past couple of years. What historically had been regarded as an accompaniment to a meal now has become a more mainstream food. This can be attributed to the demand for healthier, less-fattening foods, convenience, widespread availability and more variety in salad products.

    In 2005, salad and dressing manufacturers went organic and began to eliminate additives and preservatives. The market also was influenced strongly by the foodservice industry, bringing popular salad dressing flavors and salad choices to food retailers. This activity also strengthened the convenience factor for salads, as more fully prepared products made their way to market.

    Organic and No Additives/Preservatives

    Dressings and salads touted as organic or containing no additives/preservatives were quite common in 2005, with 36% of introductions carrying at least one of these claims. Between 2004 and 2005, the presence of organic products increased 101%, while products containing no additives/preservatives rose 9%.

    This trend has grown rapidly in response to consumer concerns over the chemical content in food, particularly in salads. Additionally, the price point between organic salads and conventional salads has become smaller. Small, niche companies and retailers more often released organic salad dressings. For instance, Trader Joe's introduced Shiitake Mushroom and Sesame Vinaigrette, free from preservatives, as well as Organic Red Wine and Olive Oil Vinaigrette, also free from preservatives, added colors and flavors. Another appropriate example was Melissa's Good Life Food Organic Salad Dressing, said to contain natural antioxidants and vegetable-based sweeteners.

    Bagged salads, however, were introduced by all types of companies, both large and small. Newman's Own launched a line of 100% natural organic salads, available in a number of varieties, including Baby Spring Mix, Baby Arugula and Baby Romaine Hearts. Dole Fresh Vegetables also introduced Fresh Discoveries Spring Mix, including a ready-to-eat, completely washed blend of baby lettuces, greens, endive and radicchio that is free of preservatives.

    Interestingly, it seems as though these two positioning claims (organic and no additives/preservatives) have taken the place of historically common claims, such as low-fat and low-calorie in salad dressings. According to Mintel's “Bagged Salad and Salad Dressing” report, published in January 2006, 77% of survey respondents use regular prepared salad dressing, while 35% and 32% use reduced-calorie/light and low-fat/fat-free dressings, respectively.

    One reason possibly could be correlated to research conducted at Iowa State University revealing that full-fat salad dressings might actually be healthier than the low-fat/fat-free counterparts, concluding that salad dressings containing canola oil or olive oils may offer better protection against heart disease. With that said, however, low-fat and -calorie products did penetrate the market, including Ken's Foods' Steak House Lite Balsamic and Basil Vinaigrette, with 55% less fat and 50% fewer calories than the company's regular dressing. Unilever also reformulated its Light Ranch Dressing, containing 30% fewer calories and 50% less fat than the brand's regular ranch dressing.

    Flavor Trends Mimicking Foodservice

    It often is said that trends in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry tend to draw inspiration from the foodservice category. This very much is the case when it comes to salad dressing flavors and bagged salad extensions. According to Mintel's Menu Insights database, the top five salad dressings used in U.S. restaurants include honey mustard, sesame, Greek, balsamic and Oriental. The top five salad types include Caesar, chicken Caesar, Asian, chicken and cobb. Newly introduced flavor extensions in the CPG market are quite similar, showing more sophistication and ethnic inspiration. Take, for instance, the introduction of Marie's Asian Vinaigrette Pourable Dressing, complemented by Fresh Express' Asian Supreme Salad Kit (containing sweet dried cherries, Wing Hing won ton strips, iceberg and romaine lettuce, carrots and whole sugar snap peas). Newman's Own introduced Lighten Up Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing, and a Gourmet Medley Salad (containing escarole, chicory-flavored endives, radicchio, pecans and raisins) was a more upscale, bagged salad released under Safeway's Select brand.

    The presence of fruit flavors in salad dressings also experienced an increase of over 70% within the past year. Litehouse launched Pomegranate Blueberry Vinaigrette Dressing, while Safeway introduced Spiced Cranberry and Orange Dressing. From Trader Joe's came two new varieties of balsamic vinegar, strawberry and lemon. Citrus, in particular, became more and more common as well, targeting the ever-diversifying consumer palate, influenced by the increasing Hispanic population in the U.S. Three examples included Unilever's Wishbone Creamy Lime Cilantro Dressing, Bird's Eye Foods' Bernstein's Southwest Cilantro Dressing, and Annie's Naturals Lemon and Chive Dressing. The inclusion of fruit and nuts in bagged salads also became popular, as seen in Dole Fresh Vegetables' Fall Harvest Kit, featuring field greens, crisp shredded carrots, dried cranberries and toasted almonds, with an apple cider dijon dressing. Another example was from Earthbound Farm, with its Organic Mixed Baby Greens, now formulated with walnuts and classic vinaigrette dressing.

    Convenience expanded its role among dressing trends this year, with a number of introductions accommodating consumers' hectic lifestyles, including Light On-the-Go from Hidden Valley Ranch, which could serve double-duty as a dip.

    The Future

    The future for salad dressings and salads looks quite promising, as the market evolves significantly each year. While organic products and products containing no additives/preservatives will continue to flourish, the most exciting and interesting developments will come from foodservice trends. Expect to see more fruit flavors in salad dressings, as well as fruit and nuts in salads. Also, look for more sophisticated salad dressing flavors and bagged salad choices, such as the Asian varieties launched in 2005. In terms of convenience, anticipate this particular attribute to increase significantly, with more prepared salads hitting the market this upcoming year.

    The information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database, 312-932-0400.

    Sidebar: Going Global

    In salad activity outside of the U.S., Woolworth's in South Africa introduced Organic Vinaigrette Dressing, described as classic vinaigrette made by blending cold-pressed sunflower oil, extra virgin olive oil and cider vinegar. The dressing had an organic certification from the Soil Association. Bagged salads, while present on the market, were far less common than what was seen in the U.S. This could be attributed to convenience products being less prominent in that market, and also because salad rarely is eaten as the main course of a meal in that country.

    Generally, there was more innovation displayed in flavor and packaging outside of the U.S. Because of the wide variety of cultural differences from country to country, as well as the ease of travel throughout Europe, it was far more common to see truly ethnic flavors in salad dressings (beyond Asian-flavored dressings). For instance, in Australia, Kraft Foods extended its Kraft Sensations brand to include Thai Lime and Coriander, and Moroccan Roasted Capsicum varieties, while Procordia Food in Sweden introduced Mint and Lime, and Mango and Chili flavors under its Felix brand.

    Salad dressings packaged in spray bottles, as well bottles that allow consumers to adjust the ratio of oil and/or vinegar used, also have been found outside the U.S. In South Africa, Patleys introduced Antonios Modena Balsamic Vinegar Spray, said to provide an economically thin and even spray for adding vinegar to salads. In Sweden, St Giles Foods launched Sallad Easy Salladdressing en Kalori Citron Provençale, a low-calorie dressing spray with lemon, herbs and only one calorie per spray.