DUIVEN, THE NETHERLANDS — Despite a lack of new product introductions, prepared salads are moving from a “side” dish to the main course, according to Innova Market Insights. The reason: more protein-rich ingredients such as poultry and fish, as well as more croutons and breadsticks. A wider array of packaging formats also has helped the transition, Innova said.

New salad products represented less than 6% of the global total product introductions within the ready meals sector, making it the third smallest sector, just ahead of meal kits and sandwiches. Most of the introductions — 70% — took place in Europe, with 11% occurring in North American.

Innova said adding more convenience elements to salads has driven the market in recent years.

“Products have also become increasingly complex in many instances, containing a greater variety of often more unusual ingredients, sometimes including dressings and/or additional garnishes such as croutons,” said Lu Ann Williams, research manager at Innova.

The market has switched from a more traditional commodity image and relying on retailer own-labels to using the brands and co-brands to add value. For example, Ready Pac Foods partnered with Disney to launch CoolCuts, a range of salads and lunch kits featuring popular characters from Disney shows and movies.