Leafy salad sales are being lost by the multiples as a result of poor merchandising in-store, an industry expert has claimed.

Supermarkets had a tendency to create a "wall of leaves" that was inaccessible and confusing to consumers, according to David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College.

The number of loose and pre-packed salads on offer was also a problem, as shoppers were unsure which products to select for a meal occasion, Hughes told the British Leafy Salads Association conference last week. In many cases, he claimed, the ranges extended to as many as 30 different choices.

In-store stock control and attention to keeping displays simple, neat and tidy also needed to be improved. "The fixture can easily look like vandals have been through it," Hughes said.

Independents were outperforming supermarkets in this area, he added. "On-shelf merchandising skills have suffered in the UK. I look at some of the independents as examples of best practice. Any good greengrocer can still see off a supermarket when it comes to merchandising," he claimed.

With the recessionary environment showing signs of impacting on premium-priced produce, there was added necessity for supermarkets to get the in-store offer right, he said.

This was particularly true in view of the tough conditions facing growers, added BLSA chairman David Piccaver. Prepared salad producers had suffered from two equally "torrid" growing seasons in the past two years, having contended with both drought and flood conditions, he said.

On the positive front, the industry had successfully counteracted media headlines claiming prepared salads were drenched in chemicals, he added.

Producers had been working extremely hard to prevent any negative headlines such as those generated by the contamination scare that hit the US spinach sector, said Betsy Bihn from Cornell University.