The self-serve salad bar has long been a staple of supermarkets’ deli programs. Offering fresh, healthy ingredients, often affordably paired with a cup of soup, salad bars have traditionally solved consumers’ “what’s for dinner” dilemma, satisfying the desire for not only convenient, fresh meals, but also personalization with its build-it-yourself format.
Yet, with the rise of packaged salads, meal kits and elaborate retail foodservice programs, salad bar sales have wilted—down 3.5% in the 52 weeks ending May 20, 2018, according to IRI. Consumers’ expectations for convenient meal solutions, quality of freshness and food safety have drastically evolved, leaving some retailers to abandon the salad bar altogether to make way for new, innovative foods and services.
For instance, two Dillons Food Stores—a banner of The Kroger Co.—in Wichita, Kan., permanently closed their salad bars in May, blaming slow sales and excessive food waste, according to The Wichita Eagle. The stores, located at 21st and Amidon and at Central and West, are undergoing multimillion-dollar renovations and will instead use the space for expanded foodservice options and grab-and-go items.
Today, a successful retail foodservice program requires interesting differentiators, such as restaurant-style seating, in-store events and adult beverages, as evidenced in WGB’s inaugural State of Retail Foodservice annual report. As such, Pittsburgh-based Kuhn’s Market is also renovating its Banksville Road location to include a sit-down cafe with beer and wine sales—a new concept for Pennsylvania, which until 2016 had banned sales of alcohol beverages from supermarkets.
Among other changes, the store’s renovations will leave the salad bar behind.
“We’re doing everything packaged,” says Tom Boyle, deli supervisor for Pittsburgh-based Kuhn’s Market. “It’s just safer. There’s less chance of cross-contamination. I think consumers are looking less for food that’s out and exposed.”
The goal is to avoid safety and temperature violations, he said, and packaged salads not only seal in freshness but also feature a sell-by date to eliminate customer confusion over the product’s quality. Plus, the packaged format clearly conveys a specific price for the product, whereas salad bars are typically sold by the pound, leaving shoppers unsure of the weight and price as they build their own salad.
“The salad bar just leaves you wondering,” Boyle said. “How long has this been there? How much will this cost me if I have to weigh it by the pound?”