On top, on trend

by Keith Nunes
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Form, function and flavor have been three driving forces within the salad dressing category during the past few years. Manufacturers have strived to innovate by offering consumers portion control, a focus on health and new flavors. In the end, the efforts have led to only slight sales growth within the category.

Data provided by The Nielsen Co. show that between Aug. 11, 2007, and Aug. 8, 2009, sales in the Liquid Salad Dressing category have grown 3.3% to $1,540,034,539 from $1,408,215,139. Within the much smaller Creamy Salad Dressing and Reduced, Low-calorie Salad Dressing categories sales have risen 3% in both markets to $413,344,874 and $226,077,444, respectively. All sets of data are for food, drug and mass merchandiser stores and include data from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark.

The slight pace of growth has forced manufacturers to innovate in an effort to differentiate their products in the market. Perhaps the most aggressive effort occurred in 2006 when Unilever added Salad Spritzers to its Wish-Bone brand of salad dressings. The initiative featured salad dressing in a spray bottle that allowed consumers to better control the amount of dressing they placed on their salads and capitalized on the then-emerging portion control trend.

This past July, the H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, through its Heinz Portion Control division of Heinz North America, partnered with the Del Sol Food Co.,

Brenham, Texas, to launch a line of Briannas All-Natural Salad Dressings in portion-control packets for food service.

This launch comes at a time, according to the company, when off-premise salad eating occasions are continuing to grow. In 2008, approximately 3.6 billion servings of salad were sold in the U.S. food service industry, an increase of more than 160 million servings since 2002.

"With the launch of this new line of salad dressings, we’re aiming to help customers meet the consumer demand for great-tasting, all-natural salad dressings with a portable, portion-controlled option," said Scott Douglas, vice-president of marketing for Heinz Foodservice.

Additional data from The Nielsen Co. indicate there has been a 7% increase in sales within the Deli Department Salad Dressing category, which had sales of $236,469,230 as of Aug. 8, 2009. The trend corresponds with the economic downturn as consumers have frequented food service outlets less and have chosen to eat at home more.

Unilever’s Wish-Bone brand also has promoted the health benefits of some of its dressings. For example, the company is promoting the fact several of its dressings are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The wellness trend has been a significant part of the salad dressing market for years. Companies such as Unilever, Heinz and Kraft Foods Inc. all have introduced products to the market featuring some sort of health benefit, whether it be low-fat, no-fat or natural.

From a flavor perspective, companies have been innovative, but continue to focus on mainstream flavors. When new product introductions are taken into consideration, plain/unflavored, ranch, Caesar, blue cheese and raspberry flavors have remained the mainstays of the category, according to Mintel International’s Global New Products Database.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, September 15, 2009, starting on Page 70. Click here to search that archive.

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