Don’t look now but all trends point to side dishes capturing more of the main spotlight at meal time. For starters, The NPD Group suggests reports that consumers still eat most meals at home. Meanwhile, they’re continuing to try plant-based or vegetable-forward options for reasons of health or interest in sustainability. Others follow specialty diets and welcome quick, easy options. Everyday eaters also crave more international tastes.
All of these trends play well to the dynamic categories of traditional side dishes and soups.
At a time when more consumers are considering plant-based options, many leading vegetable brands have accelerated new product development with veggie-based sides.
Last year saw Conagra Brands, Chicago, bolster its Birds Eye brand with several new lines and product additions. New to the freezercase were Birds Eye Veggies & Grains (including sauce) in four varieties: Creamy Pesto, Green Goddess, Buddha and Harvest. Likewise, Birds Eye launched Rice & Pasta Veggie Sides; as well as Birds Eye Quick Roasters in four varieties: Cauliflower, Cauliflower & Broccoli, Red Potatoes and Halved Brussels Sprouts. The items come in “micro-roast” bags and are ready in less than seven minutes. Still more new offerings include Loaded Cauliflower Bites (Bacon Cheddar, Southwest Style) and a new Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Bake.
No less active was B&G Foods Inc., Parsippany, N.J. The company introduced Green Giant Restaurant Style Sides, Green Giant Zucchini Tots and Green Giant Veggie Spiral Skillets.
"The continued success of our Veggie Swap-Ins line proves that consumers are always looking for creative new ways to cook and eat their vegetables," said Kristen Thompson, President of Frozen & Vegetables and Senior Vice President of B&G Foods. "We developed our latest innovations in partnership with highly trained chefs to help make cooking delicious, restaurant-quality veggie-based meals and sides at home more convenient – and flavorful – than ever."
Green Giant Restaurant Style sides feature premium vegetables, savory sauces and come ready-to-sauté directly in a skillet or pan. Four varieties include: Cauliflower & Fire Roasted Onions with Garlic Butter, Honey Glazed Carrots with Sage Butter, Garlic Parmesan Green Beans, and Teriyaki Cauliflower & Broccoli.
Did someone say cauliflower? Already known for its mashed potatoes, Bob Evans Farms Inc., New Albany, Ohio, extended its brand last October with Bob Evan Mashed Cauliflower in two varieties: Parmesan & Chives and Roasted Garlic & Herb.
Last fall also brought a new line from Del Monte Foods Inc., Walnut Creek, Calif. The company extended its growing Veggieful brand with five frozen Veggieful Riced Veggies. Each contains one full serving of vegetables per serving, 50% fewer calories than prepared white rice and are made with no artificial flavors or preservatives. Varieties include Riced Cauliflower & Broccoli Garlic and Herbs, Riced Cauliflower Teriyaki, Riced Cauliflower Southwest Riced Cauliflower Parmesan Herb and Riced Broccoli Unseasoned. They come in a 10oz pouch with a MSRP of $3.19.
Great Grains, Beans
It’s one thing to talk about riced veggies but what about rice itself? The past year brought many new offerings from competitors worldwide. For its part, Riviana Foods Inc., Houston, (Spain’s Ebro Foods S.A.) used new products to expand several brands. It bolstered its Mahatma 90-second, ready-to-heat microwaveable rice line with a Chipotle Jasmine variety for Latin American flavor. In other news, Riviana extended its Minute Rice Cups line with two additional flavors: Jalapeño Rice, and Jasmine Rice & Red Quinoa. Like other 4.4oz Minute Rice Cups, the two new varieties come in single-serve, BPA-free cups and are ready in just one minute in the microwave.
Last November saw CJ Foods USA Inc., La Palma, Calif. (Korea’s CJ Cheiljedang) introduce bibigo Multigrain Rice bowls in four varieties: Brown Rice & Quinoa with Garlic; Brown Rice & Jasmine;
Brown Rice & Wild Rice with Garlic; and Brown Rice, Wild Rice & Red Rice with Onion. Packaging notes the offerings are steam cooked and ready in 90 seconds. They debuted in Walmart and Kroger stores at a suggested retail price of $2.99.
This January saw the United Kingdom’s Veetee Foods Inc. announce plans to extend its US presence. The company is known for Veetee rice trays, a Veetee Rice Box and other rice offerings. Officials say a “multi-million dollar” expansion this summer includes new pasta, noodles and mac & cheese offerings, as well as additional rice tray flavors.
One company pushing the protein angle last summer was Columbia Grain International (CGI), Portland, Ore. While not fully immune from inflation, dried beans remain a more affordable source of protein, now $1.64 per pound compared to $1.42 a year ago, the company says. “By bringing dried beans from American farms directly to American consumers, Balanced Bushel, a new CPG bean and pulse line … offers this cheaper protein source with minimum processing and maximum nutrition.” Balanced Bushel has eight SKUs including 16oz navy Beans, 32oz pinto Beans, 32oz Black Beans, 16- and 32oz Chickpeas, 16oz Split Green Peas, and 16oz Small Red Beans.
Lovin’ Spoonful: Soup
Just as plant-based meat alternatives grow across many categories—soup is no exception.
Upton’s Naturals, Chicago, debuted a vegan line in 2020 with three seitan-based options: Chick & Noodle, Chik Tortilla and Italian Wedding. Last summer saw the brand return with three more varieties including Chick & Wild Rice, Crimson Lentil and a veggie-forward Minestrone. And having made its plant-based seafood debut earlier at retail, Gathered Foods, Austin, Texas, came back last spring with a deal to supply Good Catch plant-based Tuna and Crab soups to Ladle & Leaf, a multi-unit San-Francisco-based soup and salad restaurant chain. Specifically, Gathered Foods offers Manhattan Seafood Chowder, Crab & Corn Bisque, and New England Fish Chowder all made from the brand’s proprietary six-legume blend (peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans).
One company expanding its retail presence is shelf-stable specialist Proper Good Inc. This Austin, Texas, company debuted in 2020, grew with direct-to-consumer sales and expanded to retail (Thrive, Marley Spoon and now Walmart). It’s fully cooked, ready-to-eat portfolio includes 10 soups, one chili, two curries and two grain-based side dishes. All options are ready to heat and eat in 90 seconds and fit nearly all types of diets including plant-based, keto, gluten free and dairy free.
The soup category also continues to grow with more organic options. Last September saw Campbell Soup’s Pacific Foods business introduce 14 new organic soups and plant-based chilis in non-BPA lined cans. New items include reformulated vegan and non-vegan varieties, like Vegetable Lentil and Chicken and Wild Rice. Pacific Foods also launched its first plant-based chilis in three varieties: Fire-Roasted Vegetable Chili, Harvest Black Bean Chili and White Bean Verde Chili.
For those consumers looking more international flavors, Indian foods maker Maya Kaimal Foods, Rhinebeck, N.Y., expanded its line to include an Inspired Soup collection. It debuted at Whole Foods and includes four varieties: Spiced Lentil, Creamy Spiced Butternut, Creamy Chickpea & Kale, and Tomato & Warm Spices. All four soups come in 17.6oz single-use cartons, provide two servings, and carry a suggested retail of $4.99. Maya Kaimal’s line also includes Indian simmer sauces, dals, rice, and condiments.