Changing trends in salad

What's in? What's out? How we stay one step ahead of the trends.

Salad is firmly in fashion. Rather than a meal accompaniment, it often takes centre-stage as a main meal in itself so consumers want salads that are filling, healthy and delicious.

At Natures Way Foods our purpose is to meet these needs and to stay one step ahead of the trends to enable our retail and food service customers to embrace the new salad trends. These are exciting times, in a competitive, fast moving market. Gathering insights from consumer behaviour is crucial both to maintaining our market share and growing our business.

‘Walking in the shoes of the consumer’

We have two teams focussed on understanding consumers’ needs and wants: the Insight Team and the New Product Development team.

The Insight Team is constantly interacting with consumers using in-depth research from focus groups to immersion studies and online surveys. All this research helps to build a rich picture of the consumer, what they want from their salads, when they want it, where they get it and how they consume it. We call this process ‘walking in the shoes of the consumer’ and you can find out more about it in the story of the launch of our Food To Go products.

Alongside our consumer research our Business Development Chef, Simon brings cutting-edge food and restaurant trends into the business as he looks for emerging and exciting, new ingredients and flavour combinations, which can be incorporated into new product ideas.

The New Product Development Team then take all this research insight and work on developing new product concepts, which are then trialled and tested with consumers to see if they genuinely meet the needs identified by the Insight Team. We use insights to improve and evolve current products as well as to create entirely new products for our customers.

Forecasting tomorrow’s salad

What are the salad trends of the future?

Today’s consumers want inspiring combinations to make their salad a complete meal. This might include pasta, grains, nuts and pulses or ideas to transform their bags of salad or salad bowls into a tasty meal. Protein is a big trend that looks set to continue and protein-based salad meals are very popular. Consumers want products that deliver on taste, health and convenience without breaking the bank.

The changing trends in salad mean that salad based products are now found throughout a shop from the fresh produce section to areas that traditionally were dominated by cold meals like quiche, sausage rolls and sandwiches. Salad products have to stand out on the fixture, offer something different and hold their own against these convenient food competitors.

It’s not just what’s in the salad that counts, consumers expect packaging innovations too from re-sealable lids to easy to open packaging for quick access to their salad meal, particularly if eaten on the go. For time-poor consumers they also want to be able to see at a glance what goes with their meal, from dressings to additions like croutons or chia seeds.

A perhaps surprising outcome of our insights research is the importance of the fork! Consumers definitely want one included in salads packaged for an on the go meal option and they expect that fork to be robust and fit for purpose.

It’s this detailed understanding that helps us to create the best products for our customers.

Sarah Potter, Category and Data Manager, outlines some of the key food trends

In the last year people have increasingly asked for quinoa and other types of grains in their meals. These add protein to salads – another important trend."

Focus on quinoa

"A year or so ago most of the UK didn’t know what quinoa was let alone how to pronounce it – it was tucked away in street-food markets or in up-market restaurants. This humble grain has now become a mainstay of the UK diet and demand has increased so much that British farmers are now looking to quinoa as a potential mainstream crop.”

Fast assembly salad kits

“We’re seeing a move towards salad bowls and trays. Generation Y only prepare meals two or three times a week, so they especially want a healthy salad that has variety and is quick and easy to prepare.”

“For example kits that combine leaves, croutons, parmesan shavings and a dressing are very popular. People can either eat the salad on its own or pop a piece of grilled chicken or fish on top.”

“We found that this kind of product is also perfect for the older generation who may live on their own and just want to buy enough salad for one meal.”

New flavours

“Our research shows that younger generations are looking for more intense flavours and different textures. Kale is a good example of an on-trend ingredient that’s hit mainstream retail in a big way – in bags, bowls, side salads and increasingly in Food To Go products. Pungent herbs, edible flowers, leafy spices and exotic South American flavours are hot on the heels of kale for providing excitement for today’s adventurous consumers.

Looking to the future

Sarah expects that the prepared salads of the future will continue to include more grains, pulses, pasta and rice. “The personalisation trend is going to be strong," she adds.

Look out for offerings that allow consumers to create their own products, whether that’s picking a dressing or different elements of the salad that the consumer simply has to assemble."

She adds,

“It may be a while before some of the more unusual trends that we see in the food service environment hit retail, but when they do – whether it’s raw food, gluten-free, vegan or the Paleo diet – we’ll be ready.”