As shoppers resolve to eat more healthfully during the new year, they’ll likely be looking for tasty accompaniments for the salads, fruits and vegetables that they’ll be incorporating into their diets.

Capitalize on increased sales of bagged salads and other healthful fare at this time of year by highlighting a variety of dips and dressings.


Explosive category

“The category has just exploded over the last few years,” says Gene Versteeg, produce buyer and merchandiser for Market of Choice, a group of eight stores based in Eugene, Ore.

Dip into dressingsVersteeg stocks a variety of dressings from such major suppliers as Litehouse and Marie’s. He offers several vinaigrettes and classics such as ranch and Thousand Island as well as organic dressings.

He also features some gourmet dressings from River House in Pacific City, Ore.

“Price is not an issue” for the locally made dressings made from premium ingredients, he says. A 12-ounce bottle sells for up to $7.99.

“(Shoppers) see the freshness of it,” he says.

At Market of Choice, Versteeg merchandises dressings across the top of the bagged salad case. Six or seven years ago, he started out with about 4 feet and now has displays that reach 20 feet.

Still, he says he constantly evaluates sales to determine the best sellers and deletes the slow movers.

“The new fad is the yogurt-based dressings,” he says, such as those offered by Marie’s and Bolthouse Farms.

Versteeg also has noticed a trend to more healthful dressings, especially vinaigrettes.

“We don’t sell very much Thousand Island anymore,” he says.

The stores also feature a wide range of Litehouse dips along with several locally made dips, which he merchandises in the value-added section with vegetable trays, bagged baby carrots and broccoli and cauliflower florets.

Best-selling dips are jalapeno ranch and homestyle ranch.

Versteeg typically features one dip or one dressing in his two-week ad.


Big selection

Sid’s IGA Market in Seaview, Wash., features about nine kinds of Litehouse dressings, says Robert Smith, produce manager.

The rotation changes periodically, but blue cheese remains the top seller by far, he says. Ranch and Thousand Island are other favorites.

Sid’s features dressings on ad about once a month.

The store displays them on two 4-foot shelves in a refrigerated case on a salad wall about 12 feet from the bulk lettuce display.

For health-conscious shoppers, Smith offers light ranch and light blue cheese offerings.

Sid’s has four kinds of Litehouse dips — dilly dip, avocado dip, ranch dip and mild Southwest jalapeno ranch dip.

They’re displayed in a refrigerated salad case with the

dressings and featured on ad about once every three months.


Multiple varieties

The Nob Hill Foods store in Salinas, Calif., has well over 30 kinds of dressings, says produce manager Manuel Rodriguez.

He estimates that they account for about 20% of department sales, which is especially gratifying because of their relatively high markup.

The store, part of the Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s Supermarkets chain, has dressings from Marie’s, Litehouse and T. Marzetti.

Ranch is the most popular, but you’ll also find more exotic flavors, such as pomegranate and papaya.

Raspberry lime dressing is catching on as a favorite with kale, which is becoming a top choice among the leafy greens, he says.

Rodriguez merchandises dressings in a 4- by 5-foot section of the salad case. One brand is featured on ad just about every week.

In the dip category, the store offers the basic varieties, such as spinach, ranch, cilantro and — the favorite — blue cheese.


Demos make a difference

Demonstrations are important in the dressing category.

“Whenever we introduce a new dressing, (a demonstration) is key to getting it kicked off and moving,” Rodriguez says.

“If you just take a new dressing and stick it on the shelf, it will sit there,” he says. “You have to do demos.”

He makes a passive display by placing a bit of dressing in individual plastic cups and serving it with a baby carrot.

“It’s a pretty low-labor demo,” he says.

Suppliers typically will provide a few bottles free for sampling.

At Sid’s IGA, Smith samples dressings with a celery stick or broccoli about once a week with good results.

“I usually run out of whatever I sample,” he says.

Nob Hill samples product in individual cups with carrot or celery sticks, Rodriguez says.

The store has switched from using outside vendors for sampling to having store employees do the task.

Couponing is another way to call attention to dressings, Versteeg says. Market of Choice sometimes tapes dollar-off coupons to the bottles.

Couponing combined with sampling is a winning combination, he says. But be sure you’ve got several extra cases in the cooler because the product will move fast.


Matter of choice

If you want to sell more dressings, offer plenty of choices, suggests Mary Beth Cowardin, director of marketing for T. Marzetti Co., Columbus, Ohio.

“Consumers seek a variety,” she says.

Lindsay Rosenthal, sales and marketing coordinator for Arcobasso Foods, Hazelwood, Mo., which markets Panera Bread brand dressings, agrees.

“Most produce sections are populated mostly with ranch and blue cheese dressings,” she says.

Arcobasso Foods adds varieties such as poppy seed, Greek and cherry balsamic.

Show off the versatility of dressings, advises Doug Hawkins, senior business development manager for Litehouse Inc., Sandpoint, Idaho.

“There are more options than just on lettuce,” he says.

For example, Litehouse dill dip makes an excellent salmon marinade, he says.

The company uses its website and works with food bloggers to help spread the word about alternative uses for its dressings.

Panera Bread poppy seed, fuji apple and fat-free raspberry dressings can be used with fruit salads in place of marshmallow dip that is high in fat and sugar, Rosenthal says.

The produce department, with fresh greens and bagged salads, is the natural place to display dressings.

“To be merchandised together really makes sense and makes it easy for consumers to find what they need,” Cowardin says.

“We are very much focused on the produce department and tying into the fresh concept,” Hawkins agrees. “The idea of fresh, natural food is one that continues to be a consumer driver.”

Dressings in produce are perceived as more healthful and don’t need preservatives like those in the grocery department, Rosenthal says.

Merchandising them in produce also adds ease of shopping for consumers, who can pick them up along with their favorite fresh fruits and vegetables.