prepared salad

Despite a year of grey skies and rain-soaked windows, the convenience factor of prepared produce seems to have struck a chord among UK shoppers, with category value rising by £36 million (3.5 per cent).

And with several of the UK’s key producers and suppliers committed to revitalising their product lines this year, it is an exciting time for the category.

Prepared salads giant Florette says it grew sales by five per cent in the first quarter of 2013. However, the firm admits that shoppers are now buying fewer units per trip year on year and that this is driving volume decline with a drop of 0.2 per cent across the category.

“We’ve managed to buck the trend as frequency of purchase has improved over the past year by four per cent and penetration has risen seven per cent,” explains Sandy Sewell, commercial director at Florette.

Sewell adds that nearly half – 40 per cent – of all British households that purchased prepared salads over the last year chose Florette and he name-checked the prepared salad category as having the potential to grow to £1 billion in value over the coming years.

One supplier investing in its prepared vegetable range is Scottish firm Scotty Brands, which has reported decent sales during the winter months. “Our winter prepared vegetables range includes casserole vegetables mix, scotch broth mix and a seasonal listing around Burns Night for a Neeps & Tatties mix,” says marketing manager Michael Jarvis. “All of these products performed extremely well in the year, with sales in season 2012-13 up 330 per cent against season 2011-12.”

Jarvis believes that more and more customers are seeking the convenience of prepared vegetables with less associated wastage than loose. He adds: “With our new summer vegetable ranges, the cleaning and chopping is done and all of the goodness remains. The consumer simply has to heat the product in its punnet and eat it.”

The views of Jarvis are shared by Melanie Dean, marketing manager at bagged fruit and salads supplier Natures Way Foods. Dean believes customers are becoming more and more waste-conscious, adding there has been a subsequent increase in demand for the firm’s Lasting Leaf bagged salads brand. “Our research shows that waste is a growing concern with many people and we believe this is also why our Lasting Leaf brand has continued to perform well,” said Dean.

She continues: “Consumers don’t like to throw food away as it feels like money down the drain, so they want to find easy ways to avoid waste. By offering a bagged salad that stays fresh in the fridge longer, even once opened, Lasting Leaf makes it easier for people to save food as well as money.”

It has been hard to escape the doom and gloom of British weather over the last year, and its impact has been felt at many salad producers. And with weather agency the Met Office predicting a steady flow of rain and chilly winds throughout June, with temperatures lingering around the 13°C mark, the prepared produce category faces a challenging summer.

To combat that, Florette points out its television advertising campaign will utilise ‘sunshine planning’ so that on-air presence is dictated by sunshine levels.

According to Kantar, mixed salads are continuing to drive the prepared category’s overall growth, with an increase of 9.2 per cent over the last year. But with retailers including Waitrose and Marks & Spencer both pledging to increase their prepared salads offering, could the growth cause an oversaturation of brands? Not according to Natures Way Foods’ Dean.

She concludes: “Over the last three years, brand share of the prepared salad market has increased from 13 per cent to 19 per cent. Over the same time period, the market has grown too, showing that the influx of brands in this period has drawn attention to the category, attracting new consumers rather than stealing share from own label.” —


Waitrose has a strong presence within the prepared produce category. Thomas Hobbs caught up with prepared salads buyer Richard Bickerton to find out the secrets behind its success

urrently making the headlines for supposedly disagreeing with Morrisons’ controversial £216 million deal with Ocado, it’s easy to forget everything that is going right for Waitrose. With the retailer announcing an 11.1 per cent increase in sales for the first quarter of 2013, as well as securing record market shares on a consistent basis, it has started the year in style.

Buyer Richard Bickerton is responsible for the retailer’s prepared category and with plans to launch several new product lines and sales consistently growing year on year, it’s clear that prepared produce remains a key area for the upmarket retailer.

Waitrose has outperformed its grocery market share of 4.4 per cent by 2.5 points with its 6.9 per cent share of the prepared produce category over the last 12 months. What has led to such positive performance?

Prepared produce is particularly popular because it is convenient, healthy and allows our shoppers to cook from scratch but with a helping hand along the way. For example, ready prepared vegetables are doing very well, such as butternut squash, which has already been peeled and cut into pieces. There is also a lot of innovation in this area, which keeps it exciting for customers and constantly introduces them to new ideas. We are currently training branch Partners as specialists for fruit, veg and horticulture too, so going forward there will be even more of a focus on fresh produce in our branches.

Can you tell us about any new lines in prepared produce that Waitrose is set to launch? And what sort of customer trends are you noticing when it comes to buying fresh produce? Lately it seems that more and more retailers are noting that customers are buying prepared for the convenience factor.

Time-saving products, such as pomegranates, are really popular with shoppers as well as products that contain unusual ingredients. Potato salad and coleslaw are always customer favourites, but we’re also seeing strong sales for salads with rice and grains such as quinoa. We’ve got lots of exciting products launching for the summer, including a salad with edible flowers and samphire and spinach with lemon butter in our ‘Menu from’ range, a new 5 A DAY pack of prepared fruit and ‘shaker pots’ with fruit and coulis. The big focus for summer is always to showcase the best of British produce such as asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes, as well as offering customers products from suppliers in their local area.

Prepared salads still continue to drive growth in the category while theprepared vegetable market is still young. Do you forecast a lot of growth within prepared vegetables?

Prepared vegetables are seeing strong sales and will continue to become increasingly popular. Ready-prepared stir fry vegetables are one of our fastest-growing areas as they offer an easy solution for midweek meals, particularly when there is a tasty sauce included in the pack. Our range of mini bags of vegetables have strong sales too as they offer customers the chance to mix and match and cater for different tastes in one household.

Has the bad weather impacted on salad sales at all on your end? And how important is it that in 2013 there isn’t a repeat of last year’s wet and windy conditions?

Generally shoppers are more likely to eat salad when the sun is shining but prepared produce is a great option all year round. Our suppliers have been doing their best to cope with the recent bad weather, and we work closely with them to get as much of their crop on our shelves as possible.

The bean spout and prepared fruit sectors were the only ones to record a decline in value over the last year – has this been a similar case for Waitrose? How can these categories grow and is there any other areas of prepared produce that you think have potential?

Sales of bean sprouts and prepared fruit are both up so we are bucking the trend. We expect prepared fruit sales will continue to rise as we add new products and expand the Good to Go range, which is doing particularly well in our little convenience Waitrose shops. —