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    EXCLUSIVE WEB CONTENT: GROCERY: Salad Dressings: Shake it up

    Innovation is adding spice to the salad dressing category.

    By D. Gail Fleenor

    Salad dressing was on the shopping lists last year of more than 75 percent of American customers, who purchased an average of four bottles in the year. To keep that kind of prominent position in the supermarket basket secure, manufacturers have been shaking up the salad dressing category this year, with tactics such as adding fruit and vegetable chunks, adding sprays to packaging, and healthy promotions.

    Sales of shelf-stable salad dressing, both regular and low-calorie, were just over $1.38 million for the 52 weeks ending May 19, 2008, according to consumer purchasing data tracked by The Nielsen Company (Homescan Panel, excluding Wal-Mart). Regular dressing sales were flat, while reduced-calorie sales fell by 9 percent.

    At Sea Mart Quality Foods, salad dressings occupy 20 feet "throughout the store," according to store director Paul Busby. Salad sprays sell "moderately well" at the Sitka, Alaska store. Top-selling salad dressings at Sea Mart include Hidden Valley and Annie's Naturals.

    Dress up those veggies

    Wish-Bone, the first company to introduce spray salad dressings, continues its category innovation this year with Bountifuls. The new dressings have visible chunks of fruits and vegetables in four flavors, including Tuscan and Berry Delight. "Bountifuls can turn plain lettuce into a salad," says Dana Emery, marketing director for Wish-Bone, a brand of Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever.

    Wish-Bone is also introducing two new Spritzer flavors this summer: Ranch and Honey Mustard Buzz. The salad spray segment has grown over the past two years, since the company launched Salad Spritzers in 2006. Says Emery: "As shoppers look for healthier products, sprays with only one or two calories per spray are a welcome addition to salads."

    Hidden Valley Ranch is concentrating its efforts on getting kids to eat their veggies. "We know this is a constant struggle," says Drew McGowan, group manager at Oakland, Calif.-based Hidden Valley. "That's why we launched the 'Love Your Veggies' grant program."

    The company awarded grants to 51 elementary schools around the country to help start up or expand a fresh produce program this year.

    "With the rise of childhood obesity and the increasing costs of eating away from home, salads are being seen as a tasty, healthy option that is a reminder of comfort food," McGowan points out. Hidden Valley also worked with actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley and her father in writing a children's book, Henry and the Hidden Veggie Garden. Proceeds go to the nonprofit Books from the Heart.

    Kraft introduced its new line of "rejuvenated" regular and light salad dressings this year, featuring no artificial preservatives. New bottles with clear labels and flip-top caps now serve up the dressing.

    David Ervin, pourables category director at Kraft Foods in Northfield, Ill., cites one example of Kraft's dressing reformulation: "Our Tuscan House Italian has added extra-virgin olive oil and five times the Parmesan and Romano cheese."

    For on-the-go salad eaters, Kraft now offers three dressing varieties in single-serve packets. The company also introduced a new Good Seasons dressing line made with extra-virgin olive oil in five flavors, including Raspberry Vinaigrette with Poppyseed and Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette.

    "At Newman's Own, we are continuing to see growth in our organic dressing line, although consumer focus on value may put a damper on this growth trend," notes Michael Havard, v.p., marketing at Westport, Conn.-based Newman's Own. "Consumers continue to see more convenient forms of salad dressings such as sprays and single-serve packets sold in multipacks at retail."

    Expanded offerings of ready-made salads by retailers also constitute a big trend, says Havard.

    Newman's Own boasts both the No. 1-selling premium brand and the No. 1 premium brand of light shelf-stable bottled salad dressing in the United States, according to IRI. With 37 all-natural and organic salad dressings, Newman's Own has carved its own niche in the category. Lighten Up Balsamic Vinaigrette is the company's current top seller.

    Many consumers are familiar with Marzetti refrigerated dressings, but the company also offers shelf-stable product. "We have Girard's and Cardini's specialty/premium dressings," says Carla Laylin, senior marketing manager at Columbus, Ohio-based T. Marzetti. Girard's, created in 1939 by a San Franciscan chef, features flavors like Champagne. Cardini's all-natural dressings honor Caesar Cardini, creator of the Caesar salad. New line flavors include three light vinaigrettes.
    Demand for a thick Romano cheese-based Italian dressing was the start of St. Louis-based Arcobasso Foods, Inc., maker of dressings, sauces, and marinades. While the company manufactures private label dressings, it also has its own line, including creamy Italian, pomegranate orange, honey citrus vinaigrette, and blueberry poppyseed.

    "Years ago, customers would be happy with traditional flavors," observes Pat Newsham, Arcobasso Foods' president. "But today we're incorporating new combinations with fruits and different oils. People really want uniqueness."

    By D. Gail Fleenor
    • About D. Gail Fleenor

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