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.