When Karen Williams thinks healthy menu choices, her mind naturally turns to salads.
By Jane Auster
And not just any old boring tossed greens, but an ever-expanding array of tasty, flavour-rich and protein-packed powerhouses of meals. “It’s important to have salads on your menu from both a sales and marketing perspective,” says the senior director of health, wellness & environmental sustainability at Aramark Canada.
Salads are certainly enjoying their “moment”. They’re increasingly popular in FSRs and LSRs. According to Technomic’s 2015 Canadian Soup & Salad Consumer Trend Report, salad is the most menued appetizer at Top 200 Limited Service Restaurants and the third most menued appetizer at Top 200 Fast Serve Restaurants (behind soup and breaded proteins), and in recent years salad-only restaurants like Freshii have become a familiar sight.
For Williams, salad has definitely transcended the traditional salad bar. In fact, it’s often a star in its own right, not merely an appetizer, side or afterthought.
“Not only do most of our locations offer salads, but they’ve gone beyond the traditional salad bar,” says Williams. “We’ve moved into the grab ‘n go and menu to order categories. Menu to order, like made-to-order, is a type of service where we provide the base and customers can customize with ingredients on top.”
Those ingredients run the gamut, from traditional proteins to pulses, red onions, peppers, avocado…and more.
The company serves meals to clients across the country, including educational institutions, healthcare settings, corporate clients, and the mining and natural resources sector. And that means a lot of salad options, like the popular chicken Caesar, southwest cobb, Mandarin chicken salad, leafy greens mixed with kale and grains, and chicken BLT salad.
Whatever the type of salad, savvy operators are realizing the potential of featuring more green options. Salad lends a health halo to the entire menu, making diners feel less guilty about eating more calorie-rich dishes. And many who order salad as an entrée also feel freer to indulge in appetizers and desserts.
“Having a salad makes diners feel good, even when ordering a burger. They feel they are achieving balance,” says Key Cheung, foodservice marketing at Kraft Heinz.
Salads can also satisfy diners’ desire to try new global flavours, which are becoming popular across every meal segment. “They’re looking for more complex flavours, using dressings to add that point of difference,” says Cheung.
Operators can shake up their salad menu by taking some of the standards and incorporating on-trend ethnic flavours. “Flavour profile will continue to be an important aspect, and flavours will continue to drive that return visit,” says Cheung.
Top tips to help you do more with salads
- Offer more salads as meals. Use proteins like chicken or grains, pulses and cheeses to turn your salads into centre plate features. Adding other ingredients will make diners perceive your salads as more of a meal — and higher value.
- Use bold flavours, seasonings and dressings to turn your salads into more exciting options. Spicy flavours like sriracha continue to excite diners looking for new taste sensations.
- Bowl them over. Instead of plating salads, try presenting them in bowls. Putting salads with a number of components in a bowl gives a perception of value and motivates diners to pay more.
- Go for combos. You can increase the average cheque size and keep diners excited by offering combos like soups and salads or sandwiches and salads.
- Romance your salad menu. Using descriptors makes salads more enticing – and worthy of a higher price. Rather than a simple cobb salad, for instance, try highlighting a southwest salad with roasted sweet corn. When you’re talking about salads on the menu, there’s an opportunity to describe them, their key ingredients, and added flavours.
+ Quinoa (+75%) and avocado (+48%) are the fastest growing ingredients on Top 200 FSR salad menus over a two-year period (operator incidence since 2013).
+ Salads with proteins are becoming main courses
- Salmon and sirloin are trending up for salad entrées on Top 200 menus
+ Signature salads are important
- 23% of consumers never order salad because they can easily make it at home, making this the top purchase deterrent.
- Salads need to be unique, different and not easy to replicate at home.
+ Salads continue to be a popular appetizer
- The percentage of consumers who order salad at least sometimes when eating at a restaurant increased slightly from 69% in 2013 to 73% in 2015.
- Salad is the most menued appetizer at Top 200 LSRs and the third most menued appetizer at Top 200 FSRs (behind soup and breaded proteins)
+ Millennials are helping to drive the salad category
- More 18–34 year olds (33%) than older consumers (24%) say they are likely to indulge in other parts of their meal (appetizer, dessert) if they order a salad as their entrée.
- Younger consumers are also more likely than their older counterparts to consider indulgent salad protein options like bacon, fried chicken and ground beef. This may speak to salad’s helping consumers indulge in moderation/wanting some nutritional foods but still looking at restaurant visits as a treat
+ Dressings can make a difference
- 52% of consumers say dressing makes the salad taste good
Source: Deanna Jordan, Senior Research Analyst, Consumer Insights, Technomic 2015 Canadian Soup & Salad Consumer Trend Report