Focus on: Salad Toppers

In the early days of salad bars, croutons ruled as the “extra” of choice to top a bowl of lettuce and veggies. Since then, salad topping options have expanded exponentially—as have the types of croutons available. Sugar Foods, the self-proclaimed “largest crouton manufacturer on the planet” under its Fresh Gourmet label, offers bite-size croutons in a wide variety of breads (white, multigrain, challah, focaccia and more), cut sizes and styles (homestyle, French, country cut, etc.) and seasonings. Marzetti, another foodservice crouton company, has flavors including Garlic & Butter, Cheese & Garlic and Caesar.

“Croutons were once available only as tiny cubes, plain or seasoned,” says Andrea Brule, general manager of innovative ingredients for Sugar Foods. “But with the growth of entrée salads, the texture component became very important. Now when consumers dine out, they want to find a lot of ‘stuff’ in their salads. And chefs are using salads as a canvas for creativity.”

With a diverse array of crunchy salad toppings available in shelf-stable packages, it’s convenient for operators to add texture, visual appeal and differentiation
to a salad right out of the box. The Fresh Gourmet brand, for example, includes crispy jalapeños, crispy onions, crispy red peppers, wonton strips and tortilla strips. “There’s a trend toward ethnic twists in salads, so we have tortilla, jalapeño and wonton strips to meet that demand,” notes Brule. “There’s also a trend toward incorporating more vegetables. We put onions and peppers through a special process to make them crispy. They are flour dusted, gently fried and oven toasted.” Sugar Foods is also developing hybrid products, such as tortilla chips infused with 40 percent fresh red bell pepper. And crispy nopales—the cactus leaves popular in Mexican cuisine—are available in Mexico.

Although crispy toppers were designed to add texture to salads, they are easily cross-utilized into other menu items. Breakfast egg dishes, burgers, sandwiches, nachos and burritos can be enhanced by the products. They can also be crushed and added to batters and doughs.

Fresh Gourmet offers two size packages of crispy toppings for foodservice: 1-pound bags designed to allow the average operator to get through one package per shift, and ½-ounce portion packets for takeout. The brand’s croutons come in 2-pound bags, while Marzetti offers 20-ounce and 40-ounce bags in their bulk line.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
kale quinoa salad

With all the hype around probiotics, we decided to create a daily dish that incorporates probiotics in addition to prebiotics. You rarely hear about prebiotics, and this was a great way to highlight how the two work synergistically to maintain a healthy gut. Our chefs have developed menu items such as roasted salmon with yogurt and mint vinaigrette; kale and quinoa salad with warm maple dressing; and leek soup with pickled cucumbers, to name a few.

Ideas and Innovation
packaged meals

While the multiple-choice questions on FoodService Director’s annual census surveys are a great way of gathering data on trends, I’ve always been rather partial to the open-ended queries. We can’t possibly think up every answer operators might have to a particular question, and it gives respondents a chance to show some personality as well. (A special nod to one cheeky operator’s not-quite-safe-for-work response to how they’re tackling shortened lunch periods—you made my day.)

So this year, for the first time since I’ve been at FoodService Director, I chose to include a very open-...

Menu Development
ramen bowl spoon chopsticks

Asian noodle soups are a popular lunch option at YouTube’s San Bruno, Calif., campus, says Trent Page, the GM at Bon Appetit Management who runs the company’s three corporate dining venues. But Page noticed an increasing preference for customizable dishes and vegan preparations among the 1,000 customers he feeds daily. Inspired by a recent visit to Japan, he introduced tsukemen to the menu—a dish that features most of the traditional ramen ingredients (noodles, eggs and vegetable garnishes) served separately so diners can mix and match. “Separating the components makes it more customizable...

Ideas and Innovation
chicken dinner

For the last three years, we’ve hosted an event called Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. We sponsor the local chapter of Future Farmers of America to raise the chickens, and we have to arrange all the transporting from farms to the distributor, which keeps the birds in a freezer until we’re ready. We build hype by having students vote on the proprietary spice blend they would like on the chicken. It helps the nutrition team get involved in the educational process and showcase local food purchasing.

FSD Resources