Rethinking the Salad Bar

Rethinking the Salad Bar

August 4, 2021
Shari Steinbach

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Edit

One of the retail fallouts from the pandemic was the closing of self-service, prepared food stations such as salad bars. As safety concerns most likely will continue, the fate of bringing these food stations back remains far from certain. Because of this, retailers and equipment suppliers are rethinking the role self-service food areas will play in the future. Retail RDNs can use their skills and knowledge to suggest solutions that meet consumer and store needs. Here are some considerations:

Pre-Packaged Foods: Prepared items that are pre-packaged offer safety and convenience to shoppers who are looking for a little help getting a quick meal on the table. Healthy deli side dishes, heat-and-serve entrees, sandwiches and salads can easily be assembled into a personalized meal especially if you offer different portion sizes to meet household sizes and budgets. If suggesting changes, be ready to discuss how the profit for producing and maintaining a variety of packaged items compare to self-service. In most cases it will require less cost and labor.

Re-Sized Stations: While large salad bars may have attracted consumers in the past, perhaps a smaller station with the most popular items would be more efficient. Some retailers are also considering a combination of self-service bars with hot items on one side and packaged salads on the other. This would be a great way to offer a totally assembled meal idea or ethnic themed stations.

Focused Approach: Using your knowledge of consumer trends and needs, you might suggest a few focused food station themes that would capture shoppers’ attention. Ideas might include a protein bar with a variety of meat, seafood and meat alternatives, or a colorful in-season produce station featuring salads and sides with local produce.

Partner with Suppliers: Identify your stores’ equipment supplier to discover what solutions they might offer with their products. Hussman, for example, has developed a kit that can be used to retrofit salad bars so they can display products in tiers vs. on a flat surface. Other options may include a case that can hold frozen, fresh and shelf-stable products together for a meal merchandising display. Items can be prepared or ingredients can be provided with a recipe card.

Act as a problem solver and use your expertise to identify self-service solutions for your retailer if needed. Be prepared to discuss how your ideas will meet consumer needs, provide a better ROI and add value to the customer shopping experience.