To dip or not to dip? The answer seems to be a resounding "yes," and the trend for convenience is propelling salad dressings far afield from their traditional role as a simple salad topper.
According to the most recent survey by the Association for Dressings and Sauces, Atlanta, conducted in 2001, salad dressings were the No. 1 dip chosen by consumers (see chart on Page 48).
Retailers and manufacturers alike seem to have recognized the potential of salad dressings as marinades, dips and sandwich spreads, proffering products labeled as such and merchandising them outside of the traditional grocery aisles.
Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., positions dressings at its meat and seafood counters, highlighting them as marinades. Wild Oats also places dressings in a "grab-and-go" case near the deli, suggesting their usage as dips for fresh vegetables and fruit, or as a good sandwich spread, said Sonja Tuitele, company spokeswoman.
"This is something we have been focused on in recent months to take advantage of cross-merchandising opportunities, and build our average basket size," she explained. West Point Markets, Akron, Ohio, also engages in cross-merchandising efforts with both private-label and national-brand salad dressings in diverse store sections. The store has positioned some dressings in the deli near prepared salads to suggest recipe ideas, as well as placing some near the meat and seafood counters for use in cooking.
Recently, the store has used its private-label dressings to introduce harried consumers to Chinese Chicken Salad, True Blue Potato Salad and a cucumber salad, which all feature a private-label dressing mixed with only a few ingredients to complete, Rick Vernon, chief executive officer of the chain, told SN. The dressings are positioned outside the grocery department near ingredients, and are sometimes part of a demo. The store also recently placed a parmesan peppercorn dressing, from Girards, in the seafood case to use as an alternative to tartar sauce with a beer-battered recipe for orange roughy.
Vernon said he thinks the convenient process of tossing a salad dressing with some chopped ingredients and then calling it their own creation is what appeals most to consumers.
"The convenience and time-saving angle is great. It tastes as good or better than what they could make, and they love that. Plus, they can still call it their own," he said. Suggesting a new use for dressings to customers has inspired many to come up with their own recipes with other dressings, Vernon added. Occasionally, when a customer comes in with a fresh way of using a convenience product, the recipe makes it into the deli case.
The chicken salad, potato salad and cucumber salad ideas built around West Point's private-label Asian dressing, blue cheese dressing, and red wine vinaigrette have all been sold from the deli case as well.
Recipe ideas have been so successful with West Point's specialty consumers that the company is considering adding recipe suggestions to the labels of its next store-brand offerings. There are also plans to incorporate recipe suggestions on the company Web site in an effort to drive consumers there for ideas.
Part condiment pairing and part recipe suggestion, cross merchandising dressings is most effective when knowledgeable store employees are present to guide the consumers, Vernon said.
"If the salesperson says, 'Hey, this salad dressing goes great with this' -- boom! It's sold. We train our people to suggest and sell; that's the best way to do it. It helps if the dressings are located in the department, but you can double your sales just by suggesting food combinations and pairings. It makes a big difference," he enthused.
Dressings are not the only condiments doing double duty for West Point. As part of the store's oven-ready program, barbecue sauces and marinades often find themselves outside the grocery aisles as well. Specialty sauces are sold pre-marinated on some meat products, and marketed right out of the case, or suggested by store employees. Vernon said the efforts have been a big hit, and sell a lot of sauce.
West Point Market's heavy focus on high levels of customer service also lend to this approach, he pointed out. Meat and seafood counters are full service, meaning there are many opportunities for interaction between customers and employees.
Even without a highly visible staff, merchandising easy cooking ideas near the main ingredient can inspire innovative meal ideas.
"Today's on-the-go consumers have less time than ever to think about interesting, creative twists for the dinner menu. A display of a variety of marinades near the poultry section quickly turns the possibility of "chicken again?" into a new and delicious variation on a theme," said Mike Klanac, vice president of marketing for Carriage House Cos., a private-label manufacturer that supplies IGA and other retailers.
Secondary locations are key to incremental sales, Klanac added, since display shippers or racks in the produce section and/or marinades near the meat case stimulate impulse sales.
Also boosting sales of dressings the last few years has been manufacturer innovation in terms of squeezable packaging options and flavors with dip appeal, making it that much easier for retailers like Wild Oats to merchandise them as such. For example, Hidden Valley Ranch bills itself as a dressing and salad topping; Wishbone's Ranch Up line of flavored ranch dressing and dip comes in cheesy and zesty flavors, and is packaged and marketed as "dressing, dip, topping and spread." Even Hellmann's mayonnaise has gotten into the game with its new "Dippin' Sauces" in flavors like Rockin Ranch and Honey Mustard.
Other dressings are placed on a similar path by being positioned as marinades, like Gazebo Room's products, which are labeled as "salad dressing and marinade."
IT'S HIP TO DIP
A survey of a nationally projectable sample of 1,000 individuals age 18 and older conducted by the Association for Dressings and Sauces in 2001 found that on average, Americans were dipping at least once a week; the mean average per month being four times. The favored dipping medium was bottled salad dressing, followed by ready-to-eat store dip. The favorite flavor, by a wide margin was onion, followed by creamy ranch. A large number of consumers, close to 70%, confessed to double dipping (dipping an item, taking a bite, and dipping again) with no gender bias. But, be prepared to watch young party guests, as an overwhelming 84.7% of 18-24 year olds copped to double dipping, making them the most likely demographic to commit the party faux pas.