As consumers seek lighter, healthier and more affordable food choices, away-from-home soup and salad purchases are on the rise, according to market research firm Technomic.

A variety of portion sizes featuring soup/salad options on different areas of the menu allows consumers to tailor their meal specifically to their needs. Whether it's a cup or bowl, side or entree, 62 percent of consumers now order soup at least occasionally during restaurant visits, up from 43 percent just two years ago.

Salad purchases also have increased, and 76 percent of consumers now occasionally purchase salad away from home compared to 66 percent in 2010.

"Healthy options and portion variety are driving factors in today's soup and salad menu positioning," said Sara Monnette, Technomic director of Consumer Research. "Operators are revamping their menus in response to consumer demand for soup and salad as a standalone entree, side substitution, an appetizer, or a component of a combo meal. There are many menu variations in which soups/salads are now offered."

To help operators more effectively identify opportunities for growth, Technomic has developed the Canadian Left Side of the Menu: Soup and Salad Consumer Trend Report.

Highlights include:

  • Soup and salad are the two most common appetizers at both limited-service restaurants (LSRs) and full-service restaurants (FSRs);
  • Salads are the third most frequently listed entree at LSRs and rank fourth at FSRs. Chicken-topped salads are the leading entree variety offered at FSRs, followed by Caesar, while Caesar salads are leading entree variety at LSRs;
  • Interest in healthier, lighter fare is driving increases for both soup and salad; 78 percent of consumers who are purchasing salads more often say they're seeking a healthier option and 49 percent want something lighter.
  • A majority (53 percent) of consumers strongly agree that dressings are a key component, if not the key component of a tasty salad. The overall variety of options and flavors offered trumps healthfulness and brand names as purchase drivers.

Technomic's report examines soup and salad consumption, purchasing behavior, attitudes and preferences of more than 1,000 consumers.

Read more about trends and statistics.

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