Salad has evolved from a bed of lettuce with tomato and a grilled topping to exciting, innovative combinations that grow traffic and earn patron loyalty. Consumers today want salads that offer unique flavor and texture combinations as well as signature ingredients. This innovation in salad making--including greens, dressings, toppings and even croutons--is driven by the consumer's desire to enjoy a new “feel better” balance of vegetables, starches, proteins and oils without sacrificing flavor and variety.
Consumer driver: Consumers look for a salad that’s a well-balanced meal or snack and fits their own wellness philosophy.
Chefs are innovating and answering demand with lighter dressings that pack the flavor without the calories. They are using healthy oils and infused vinegars while incorporating flavored mustards that act as emulsifiers. We see exciting flavors introduced through BBQ vinaigrette, hot spicy infused traditional dressings and globally glazed or lighter “splashed” proteins, grains, legumes and grilled or oven-seared vegetables.
As salads are engineered for entrées, starters, sides and snacks, chefs are adding their own signature touch to grains, legumes and pulses. Garbanzo beans, bulgur tabbouleh, couscous, quinoa, lentils, spelt and faro complement green salads making them slightly more nutrient-dense, filling and balanced, yet a health-wise provider of fuel and fiber that appeals to foodies and Millennials.
An event that is helping encourage people to eat well is the "Salad Challenge” in which people take small steps to healthier lifestyles by choosing a salad for at least one meal per day. Many corporate cafeterias are offering a wider assortment of salads to encourage employees to switch from heavy meat based and fried foods. This can improve productivity and alleviate lethargy in the afternoons, while helping reduce the company's insurance costs.
“I LOVE HAVING A SMALL SALAD WITH A SMALLER PORTION OF PROTEIN. IT DOESN’T FILL ME UP AND DRAG ME DOWN. BUT IT CAN’T BE BORING.”
The Ingredients Matter
“When I go out It doesn’t need to be a huge steak but I do want to try unique new things and quality artisan ingredients even if it’s on a sandwich, snack or salad.”
As consumers break from the routine to interact with the new American Food Culture, they seek salads with unique ingredients and premium or artisan products
Some restaurants are combining meal favorites by topping pizzas with lightly dressed salad veggies and greens like the pancetta, lettuce, and heirloom tomato pizza at Gialina Pizzeria in San Francisco.
Chefs add the wow factor with innovative garnishes like the sweet and tangy combination of pickled beets and Gorgonzola, cayenne-flavored crispy cheese or fried jalapenos as croutons. Gladstone Tavern in Gladstone, NJ makes a beautiful crouton with a long slice of paper-thin bread toasted with garlic oil. The restaurant Abe Fischer in Philadelphia uses their house baked Pumpernickel to make bread pudding that is then toasted for crunchy croutons that are soft on the inside.
The Sweetgreen salad restaurant chain, which started in Washington, D.C., has now opened locations up and down the East Coast and as far west as California. They attract Millennials and Generation Z foodies with fresh salads, warm bowls and a make-your-own salad menu, just like a pizzeria. With celebrity chef recipes and sustainable ingredients, it's as much about food ethics and a green lifestyle as it about delicious innovative salads. Transparency and real sustainable practices creates the loyalty that builds repeat business.
Paying this kind of attention to detail signals to your diners that your restaurant is focused on fresh foods and fresh ideas. Experiment with unique salads, dressings and toppings on your menu and open up a world of possibilities, bring in younger consumers and capitalize on the consumer demand for reimagined salads.