Salads And Sides Go Spicier, More Ethnic

Millennials definitely want more ‘flavorable,’ healthier foods 

By Barry Sparks

Salads and sides are getting spicier and more ethnic as consumers continue to expand their palates with global flavors from Latin America and Asia.

“Bold flavors are here to stay, and it’s beyond chipotle and curry,” says John Becker of Sandridge Food Corporation, Medina, OH. “Even legacy products are taking on new twists, such as Mexican-style coleslaw and chipotle-flavored mac and cheese.”

Foodies between the ages of 16 to 36 are the tastemakers when it comes to what we eat, according to Millennial Marketing, the content hub of FutureCast, a consultancy specializing in Millennials. They consider food an adventure and 40 percent seek out different ethnic and artisan foods. Food trends tend to start with younger groups and move up the generational ladder.  

“Millennials definitely want more ‘flavorable’ foods,” says Jeff Siegel, owner and chief executive of Farm Ridge Foods, using a Millennial term. “They like layered flavors, and they crave spicy, hot items.”

Although this group may be driving the trend to spicier, more ethnic salads and sides, it doesn’t mean older consumers can’t be coaxed along for the ride.

“Many Baby Boomers are reluctant to try some new foods because they are unsure of its heat level,” points out Becker. “We recently worked with a retail partner on an Indian-inspired limited time offer product. We created special store signage to designate the heat level of each of the recipes, so the consumer’s hesitation to try a new recipe was reduced.”

According to industry leaders, some of the more popular and growing specialty salads and sides include: lentil dal, saag paneer, farro salad, tropical quinoa, sweet and spicy quinoa, Persian rice, vegetarian falafel, Mediterranean orzo salad, orecchiette with vegetables, seafood salad, Italian chickpeas, Moroccan couscous, tabbouleh salad, ancient grain pilaf, kimchee and other fermented and pickled recipes.

“Salads featuring whole grains and ancient grains have caught the imagination of consumers,” says Mark Miller of Simply Fresh Foods, a company based in Buena Park, CA.  


Millennials Represent Growth 

While traditional salads and sides, such as potato salad, mac and cheese and coleslaw, still make up the bulk of deli sales, it’s not an area of growth, according to Jim Gawronski of Garden Fresh Foods in Milwaukee. “We need to grow new consumers for the deli,” he says.

Millennials represent that growth area. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Department, there are currently 83.1 million young Americans who were born between 1980 and 2000, who spend $600 billion each year. That amount is expected to increase to $1.4 trillion over the next four years, representing 30 percent of all retail sales in the country.

“We are working very hard to understand the purchasing behavior of Millennials and their flavor profile,” says Gawronski. “The big question is how do we lure them into the store?”

That’s a challenge because Millennials tend to make the majority of their food purchases in retail outlets other than traditional grocery stores, according to the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) What’s in Store 2016 report. Giving this group what they want, however, is a strong magnet. 

“Consumers seek three things from salads and sides — convenience; flavor and taste; and health and wellness,” says Carl Cappelli of the Schwenksville, PA-based Don’s Food Products.  “Millennials definitely want all three, and they are driving the trends.”

In addition to spicier, more ethnic salads and sides, Millennials favor organic and clean labels. Health-halo callouts such as “local,” “natural,” “authentic” and “premium” also influence their food-buying decisions, according to Technomic’s Generation Consumer Trend Report.

“You can no longer offer mystery sides, where customers don’t know the ingredients,” says Bob Sewall of Blount Fine Foods, located in Falls River, MA. “Now, it’s organic and clean label.”

Cappelli says innovative new items need to be consistently introduced to meet consumer needs in flavor and freshness. Don’s Food Products introduced five new grain items in 2014 and has 38 clean label products.

“We need to show customers we care about them by offering better quality, healthier foods,” says Sewall. He says customers are willing to spend more for high quality, healthier foods, and it’s an opportunity to attract new customers.


Trend Is To Elevate Quality

The trend is to elevate the quality of salads and sides.  

“If consumers are buying ABF (antibiotic-free) Angus beef, why wouldn’t they purchase organic sides?” asks Sewall.  “The sides are a fraction of the cost of the ABF Angus beef. Higher cost protein needs organic sides.”

Becker of Sandridge Food Corporation says consumers are looking for balance in their food products, so simpler, less processed items are in higher demand. “Whether gluten-free products, no high-fructose corn syrup, or items high in protein, people are paying attention to what’s in the food they eat,” he says.

With the demand for higher quality and healthier food, salads and sides are fairly easy add-on purchases. They also create an opportunity to upsell to consumers.  

Since consumers often purchase salads and sides with their eyes, Cappelli suggests putting more sides, particularly colorful, eye-popping grain salads, behind the deli glass. He also suggests giving customers ideas of how to use salads and sides as components of a complete meal by presenting plating combinations, much like in foodservice. He recommends putting a row of organic sides next to rotisserie chicken or ABF Angus beef.

Packaging meal deals is a popular, effective marketing tool. “Restaurants are offering more meal deals, and delis need to remember they are competing with restaurants, not other grocery stores,” says Sewall.

He suggests offering a rotisserie chicken, three sides and a 2-liter bottle of Coke as a meal deal.  

“People are willing to pay for a complete meal,” says Miller of Simply Fresh Foods. “We are seeing more pairing of sides and salads with entrees.  It makes it easy for the Mom who wants to feed her family healthy, high quality foods, but doesn’t have the time to prepare the meal.”

Becker says many retailers are following restaurant leads by offering limited time offer concepts to grab incremental sales. “It requires planning and execution, but it keeps departments fresh and relevant, as well as providing a method to test new items,” he says. “In store-demonstrations are the best to gain shopper trial in new products and allow them to taste a product before committing to buy it.”


Use Social Media

Writing for Millennial Marketing, John Fecteau advocates using social media to market to Millennials while they are shopping. A recent study shows 40 percent of Millennials are still checking their social media accounts while in the store.

“Stores can take advantage of this constant connection through beacon-triggered technology, which uses a Bluetooth device to identify shoppers who are within a specified proximity to a certain location,” writes Fecteau. “Once a retailer knows that information, it can trigger special deals or product bursts to be sent — ensuring Millennials receive an extra order or discount at a time when they are most likely to buy.”

Other marketing techniques include holiday promotions, ethnic themes, salad of the month and introduction of new products.

One often overlooked marketing effort tends to be the training of deli personnel to sell new products, according to Siegel of Farm Ridge Foods, located in Islandia, NY.

“Staff members should be trained to make suggestions,” he says. “It’s extremely important they have product knowledge of the ingredients, how the product tastes and its attributes. You need commitment at the store level, and execution is key.”

The continued rise of network and cable food programming has made consumers more comfortable with trying new types of cuisines and flavors.

“Customers may not want to experiment with making a diverse recipe at home, but uncommon ingredients and worldwide flavors that have been demonstrated by well-known chefs remove the stigma of trying new dishes,” stresses Becker.

Miller foresees the day when grocery stores may have a chef, and perhaps a nutritionist, on the premise to advise and educate customers.

“Delis need to step up their game by offering quality, convenience and healthy products,” says Sewall. “If not, they will get left behind.”

Roth Cheese

Grana Pandao

Schuman Cheese IDDBA

Les Trois Petite

Beemster Cheese

GFI / Atlanta