With obesity in the headlines, the growth potential of salads is being flagged up by The Greenery, says Ed Beddington.
Salads are bursting with potential, and The Greenery UK has moved to set the agenda for tapping into that with the UK's first ever in-depth report into the market.
The publication by the Dutch-owned company is a comprehensive look at a category and was prompted by a number of factors, from growing consumer interest in more imaginative recipes as well as the growth in demand for convenience.
It is also one of MD Nick Scrase's first major projects since joining The Greenery UK six months ago. "We want the report to raise the profile of salads, perhaps prompt a debate and get people thinking," says Scrase. "It's about increasing awareness of and consumption of healthy foods."
The report focuses on seven core products, which it describes as the heart of the salad' ­ tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, salad leaves, spring onions, celery and radishes ­ the basic ingredients with which to create any salad.
Everything from salad trivia to hard core data on consumer trends is covered, says Scrase, who adds that the information covers both the past and the present as well as predicting future trends.
Scrase hopes the report will help to redress the balance when it comes to the Government's 5-a-Day campaign which he says is biased towards fruit consumption. "It is the consumption of fresh veg that has declined and we think salads offer the most marketable solution to reverse that trend."
As well as being a useful resource for retailers, the report is also being mailed to what The Greenery calls "influencers", from consumer media to key government groups.
Scrase would like to see the report enhance the reputation of The Greenery, already a leading own label fresh produce supplier to the UK, with retailers. "We plan to become the leading salad business in the UK." It is an ambitious goal, but one that the 40-year old's experience on the other side of the retail supplier fence will stand him in good stead to achieve.
Scrase began his career 20 years ago when he joined Safeway as a trainee manager. "I became a manager and was initially given a store the size of a living room to manage," he recalls.
From store management he moved into buying and seven years ago he became business unit director and then commercial director in fresh foods, a move that brought him into contact with The Greenery. Finally, he jumped the fence from retail to supply.
The move to The Greenery was a natural progression, he says. "I wanted to stay in produce and it was unlikely I could have done that at Safeway. I was also curious about moving to the other side, as it were, seeing things from the supplier and grower perspective. Fresh produce is a dynamic industry and I'm very passionate about it."
Scrase believes there is considerable opportunity for everyone when it comes to fresh produce, especially salads. "The consumption of fresh fruit and veg in the UK is 50% lower than some Mediterranean countries. As a businessman that excites me.
"It's a growing debate. Obesity is costing the NHS millions. The Greenery has a key role to play in this debate. It's not just about competing, it's about making the total cake bigger.
"When you have the scale our company has, you have a responsibility to contribute a little market leadership."
The company has also drawn up radical plans for the future display of salads, in particular an innovative salad wheel, half above and half below ground, which can be replenished from underneath, taking away the problem of clutter in the aisles.
As for the sector as a whole, Scrase expects to see further consolidation, but says this will be driven by the need for suppliers to become more efficient and professional.
"The Greenery is very well placed going forwards. However, being the biggest isn't necessarily our objective, we want to be the best. I'm in it for the long term and so is The Greenery."