Five Ways to Sell More Deli Salads & Sides

Carol M. Bareuther

Salads and sides are key contributors to deli sales and worth the extra effort.

Walk into Gelson’s Kitchen, the prepared foods sub-department that evolved from a simple service deli more than four decades ago at Gelson’s Markets, a 27-store upscale chain headquartered in Encino, CA, and find an amazing selection. This is especially true of salads and side dishes.

Sure, there’s a Homestyle Potato Salad and a Classic Creamy Macaroni and Cheese, the latter of which ranks as the “most ordered” selection in several of the chain’s stores on DoorDash. But there’s much more.

A Spinach Pesto Salad and a side of Risotto Stuffed Mini Pumpkins sit behind the glass as chef-styled choices. In front, in a refrigerated knee-knocker case, there are grab-and-go pre-portions packs of everything from bread-and-butter sellers like Creamy Coleslaw to crave-worthy Lemon Broccolini Parmesan Pasta Salad and Grilled Street Corn Salad.

It’s no wonder Gelson’s Markets has a reputation as being the fine dining of retail in the Southern California market. However, any retailer can implement some, or all, of these selection and merchandising tactics to boost sales of salads and sides.

It’s worth the extra effort as salads and sides are key contributors to deli sales. For example, salads ranked third after entrees and prepared meats with annual Deli Prepared dollars of $4.3 billion, up 4%, for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 26, 2023, according to the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) What’s in Store 2024. Sides placed as the sixth top contributor, behind sandwiches and appetizers respectively, at $1.5 billion, up 6.5% for the same period.


For salads, the big three sellers are the same today as when Sally Sherman Foods was founded 50-plus years ago, according to Debbie Gentile, general manager of the Mount Vernon, NY-headquartered company. “There are slight variations like the Philadelphia market likes a sweeter mustard, relish and Hellman’s mayonnaise dressing, and the New York market prefers the Hellman’s, but overall, potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw are the core salads.”

The company uses regional ingredients like Maine potatoes and New York cabbage in its salads, which are sold under the Sally Sherman brand and retail private label.

Similarly, at Reser’s Fine Foods, it is core items that continue to reign supreme in sales.

“These include Deviled Egg Potato Salad, Macaroni Salad, and our Original Potato Salad, whose recipe dates back 75 years next year,” says Anne Nelson, senior manager, deli brand and strategy manager, for the Beaverton, OR-located company. “On the sides front, Mashed Potatoes and Macaroni and Cheese are staples.”

French fries, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans, corn on the cob, green beans, sweet potato fries, garlic bread and corn bread, are the Most Popular Side Dishes in America as of May 2, 2024, by, based in Hamburg, Germany.


Overall mashups and global influence continue to trend.

“Consumers see new ideas, new items,” says Carl Cappelli, senior vice president of sales and business development for Don’s Prepared Foods, in Schwenksville, PA. “At the same time, they are looking for comfort and nostalgic items, items they recognize, for a value.”

For that reason, the category is growing and has great potential. The reason is consumers are eating out less and eating at home more. They want restaurant quality and international flavors for a value price.

In May, the company introduced four new salads: Chicken Pasta Salad with Bacon & BBQ Sauce, Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad, Greek Orzo Salad, and Classic Tuna Pasta Salad.

Nelson says Reser’s newest Stonemill Kitchens-brand salads offer additional premium varieties to the deli case and extend the brand’s footprint in the deli. “With existing awareness and premium equity in the deli via our dips, the salad launch is set up for success. Stonemill Kitchens will be our first premium, multi-category brand. And, as smaller size offerings, they are perfect for grab and go at a very reasonable price point.”

Delis can add their own twist on deli salads with ingredients such as mustard.

“We do sell gallons of our mustards to foodservice,” says Mike Marcinko, owner of Betty’s Classic Deli Salads and Pilsudski Mustard, Shillington, PA. “Delis who make their own potato and macaroni salads can add one of our mustards as an ingredient for something unique to their department. Also, the Dill Mustard with Garlic and Wasabi can be used to make vinaigrettes to dress salads sold in the deli.”


Protein-packed salads made with poultry and seafood are popular due to their versatility to eat as a snack with crackers, an entrée for lunch or dinner or sandwich filling. Old Fashioned Chicken Salad and Herbed Albacore Tuna Salad are among the top 10 most popular picks on DoorDash at several Gelson’s Markets locations.

“Our best sellers in supermarket delis are our seafood salads,” says Don’s Prepared Foods’ Cappelli. “These are Deluxe Seafood, Don’s Tuna Salad, and Lemon Seafood, the latter of which is non-mayonnaise based and is the fastest growing. We even have Seafood Salads seasoned with Old Bay Seasoning for a Mid-Atlantic Flavor.”

There’s growing interest in chicken as a protein-based salad, adds Sally Sherman Foods’ Gentile. “We have an All White Meat Chicken Salad and a Deluxe version that has extra-large chunks of all-white meat chicken. Variations on this is our Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad.”


Consumer eating and buying habits can vary by age group and income. Therefore, serving up a variety of salads and sides and in more than one deli setting is key.

“Overall, in challenging economic times, many consumers focus less on organic and all-natural. It’s about feeding the family with items grounded in flavor and also innovation to offer retailers a point of difference. Providing vegan/vegetarian options is very important,” says Don’s Prepared Foods’ Cappelli.

Serve salads and sides behind the glass, pre-packed in the grab-and-go case, and on salad and hot bars.

“Consumers love color and ‘buy with their eyes.’ That’s what makes the behind-the-glass displays important. Shoppers also view behind-the-glass as fresh,” Capelli adds.

“Consumers love convenience. Retailers that offer both, behind-the-glass and pre-packs are leading the pack. Consumers can see the texture and close-up appeal at a salad bar. Show solutions through plating, signage, sampling and educated deli teams to capture more dollars and meal occasions in-store.”


Bundled meal solutions for customer convenience and cost-friendly promotions is a strong strategy for attracting and keeping customers, especially in today’s competitive dining environment, according to recent research by Revenue Management Solutions, a Tampa, FL-headquartered data company aimed at increasing restaurant revenues.

Salads and sides often star at secondary purchases in a meal bundle.

“We continue to focus on the integration of salads and sides within the Reser’s American Classics brand. Realistically, both segments are solutions to complete weeknight and special occasion meals,” says Nelson. “Integration within the brand allows us to do the heavy lifting for retailers by building awareness and demand which drives consumers to the deli. Integration allows a broader set of items to be leveraged across meal deal programs, for example, Buy Rotisserie Chicken or Fried Chicken and pick two sides. This gives more variety to the end consumer and saves them money.”

Salads, with sides, can also serve as the centerpiece of a meal bundle. Examples include entrée-sized salads and smaller portions of a side.

Lastly, a challenge today is that shoppers on a budget often cut back or cut out sides and salads. The opportunity says Datassential’s Conaghan, “is focusing on the minimal cost add versus a consumer preparing their own.

Additionally, suggesting recipes that help shoppers stretch those sides into interesting meals. For example, classic coleslaw for a Sunday barbecue, but also leftovers on a barbecue sandwich later that week or topping fish sticks for fast homemade fish tacos. Versatility and minimizing waste always appeal.”


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