Don’t scoff: Burgers and pizza may be the first things to come to mind when the topic of craveable foods is brought up, but salads can register on consumers’ “crave-worthy” radar, too. Especially after a winter of carb-heavy indulgences, sometimes the cool, crisp crunch of greens and veggies can’t be beat.
So, as many consumers look for lighter choices as the weather warms up, here is a look at their salad preferences, straight from Technomic’s new “Left Side of the Menu: Soup and Salad Consumer Trend Report.”
First off: Freshness and taste, unsurprisingly, are consumers’ top priorities when it comes to salads. Some 87% percent of consumers polled cited freshness as an important or extremely important factor in their selection of a salad at a restaurant or other foodservice location, and 84% said it’s important to them that salads be prepared daily.
A significant share of consumers are willing to spend more for “premium” and customizable salads, too. More than one third (35%) said they would be more likely to purchase and willing to pay more for a premium salad—restaurant operators convey this kind of higher quality through the use of name-brand or artisanal meats, cheeses and other ingredients. And, nine in 10 consumers would be willing to pay extra to add a protein to a salad: About half would be willing to pay $1–$2 more to add their choice of protein, and two fifths would be willing to pay $2.50 or more.
Favorite salads include Caesar (60% said it’s in their consideration set when choosing a salad), garden/tossed (54%), chef (49%), chicken-topped (36%) and taco (32%). Notably, Caesar salads and Caesar dressing are more popular with 18- to 34-year-olds than with those ages 35 and older. Garden and chef salads are more popular with older consumers.
Grilled chicken is consumers’ most preferred salad protein—67% said they would consider ordering a salad featuring grilled chicken. Rounding out consumers’ top five protein selections: bacon, ham, chicken salad and shrimp. Other popular salad toppings include eggs (56% would consider eggs as a topping), almonds (40%) and avocado (39%).
There’s no one clear leader when it comes to salad dressings—ranch, the top-rated choice, ranks as an appealing choice for half of consumers. Some 31% of consumers said they’d consider topping their salad with balsamic dressing; blue cheese had the same popularity.
Most important to consumers from a salad-dressings perspective is choice: More than half said it’s important that a restaurant offer a wide variety. Technomic also found that 31% of consumers said they prefer well-known, name-brand salad dressings at restaurants; that rate was significantly higher for Hispanic and African-American consumers than it was for Caucasian and Asian consumers.
As consumers look forward to hitting “refresh” on their menu selections come spring, it’s worthwhile for operators and producers alike to take a fresh look at their salad mix, so to speak. Consumers want freshness, variety and quality in their salads. And, many are willing to vote with their feet in search of a better salad: More than two fifths of consumers (and 52% of Millennials) strongly agreed that they visit certain restaurants because of the salads offered there.