With warm weather just around the corner, people’s appetites are quickly turning from the soups and stews of winter to the light fresh salads of summer. Always popular on the menu, salads offer a unique look at flavor possibilities beyond this category.
Versatility in flavor, texture and nutrition is key. With many consumers trying to eat healthier but still interested in innovative, ethnic flavors, new salads are flourishing on the menu. Just in time for summer, Mintel Menu Insights takes a look at the top ethnic flavors and ingredient combinations being used in salads in America.
On the American restaurant menu, certain salads are simply a must have. Often of traditional American cuisine—which dominates the salad menu with a 47% share—salads such as Caesar, chicken, garden and Cobb appear across all menu types. But even these traditional American salads are seeing exciting flavor innovation.
Panera Bread makes a fresh and fruity Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. Containing all-natural citrus-herb chicken, mixed field greens, romaine lettuce, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onions and pecans, this entrée salad is enhanced by Gorgonzola cheese, apple chips and white balsamic Fuji apple vinaigrette. Likewise, Coco’s Bakery offers a variation on the traditional chicken salad. It’s Taste of the Season Salad features julienne chicken breast tossed with applewood smoked bacon, sweet candied walnuts, mixed gourmet greens and a white balsamic vinaigrette. This creative salad is topped with fresh orange slices and crumbled bleu cheese.
After traditional American cuisine, Italian-inspired salads are the next most popular on the American dining menu, holding a 28% share. These salads often feature classic Italian pairings such as mozzarella and basil, as well as light olive oil-based salad dressings to bring out the traditional Italian flavors.
Buca Di Beppo offers a straight-forward, yet enticing Mozzarella Caprese Salad. With fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes, roasted red and yellow peppers and fresh basil, this salad focuses on fresh, easy-to-enjoy flavor combinations and ingredients. Biba also lets the natural, delicious flavors of its ingredients shine through with the Insalata di Finocchio, Rucola e Radicchio. This Italian-style salad features thinly sliced fennel with arugula and radicchio. It is tossed in a light dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
As Mexican and Southwestern food continues to grow in popularity on the American menu, so do Tex-Mex-style salads. In the fourth quarter of 2007, Mexican and Southwestern salads accounted for 10% of salads on the menu. In contrast to the simplicity of many Italian salads, the Tex-Mex variety tends to feature more ingredients, more spices and more complex flavor combinations.
Iguana Mia refers to its Southwestern Salad as a “long-time best-seller!” The filling salad features strips of fajita chicken, romaine and head lettuce, sugared walnuts, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, tomatoes, chives, tortilla strips and a homemade honey-mustard dressing. Chevy’s Fresh Mex also offers a Mexican-inspired salad full of ingredients and exotic flavors. It’s Grilled Fajita Salad comes with sizzling grilled fajitas, chilled greens, sautéed poblano peppers and onions, cotija and Monterey Jack cheeses, pepitas, fresh avocado, pico de gallo and tortilla chips. The salad is tossed tableside with smoked jalapeno apple vinaigrette dressing.
Rounding out the top four salad types, Greek salads remain popular on the American restaurant menu. Comprising 4% of all salads during Q4 2007, Greek-style salads consistently showcase standard ingredients such as black olives, feta cheese and red onions.
The Mediterranean Greek Salad at Elephant Bar Restaurant is a good example. It features fresh baby mixed greens with tomatoes, marinated cucumbers, crumbled feta cheese, red onions and black olives. The salad is tossed in lemon-herb vinaigrette and served with baked pita parmesan wafers.
With the unique ability to deliver exciting ethnic flavor combinations in a healthy (or not-so-healthy) format, salads are a great way for restaurants to expand their variety, appeal and reach.
Mintel Menu Insights tracks trends through data sourced from the 350 largest US chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants. Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) tracks new product launches, trends and innovations internationally. For more information, visit www.mintel.com or call 1-312-932-0600.