CHICAGO – As US diners continue to seek light, healthy and affordable fare, away-from-home soup and salad purchases are on the rise, according to Chicago-based Technomic’s study titled Left Side of the Menu: Soup and Salad Consumer Trend Report. Numerous portion sizes featuring soup/salad options on different areas of the menu allow consumers to choose their meal based on their needs.

Sixty-one percent of diners now order soup, whether it's a cup or bowl, side or entrée, at least occasionally when dining out, which is up from 52 percent two years ago. Approximately half of diners now order salad all or most of the time compared to 34 percent several years ago.

Healthy options and portion variety are drivers in current soup and salad menu positioning, said Sara Monnette, Technomic director of consumer research. "Operators are revamping their menus in response to consumer demand for soup and salad as a stand-alone entrée, side substitution, an appetizer or a component of a combo meal,” she added. “There are many menu variations in which soups/salads are now offered."

Other study highlights include:

  • The two most-common appetizers at both limited-service restaurants (LSRs) and full-service restaurants (FSRs) are soup and salad. Since 2009, appetizer salads remained fairly steady in both sectors, while soup increased 22 percent to pass by salad as the leading LSR appetizer.
  • Salads rank as the fourth most-frequently menued entrée among all entrées at LSRs and second at FSRs. Chicken-topped salads by far are the leading entrée variety offered at both LSRs and FSRs, followed by Caesar.
  • Chili has surpassed soup-of-the-day offerings to become the leading soup variety at LSRs, and ranks second at FSRs, based on information from more than 500 leading and emerging chains.
  • Increases for soup and salad are being driven by diner interest in healthier, lighter fare. Seventy-six percent of diners who are purchasing salads more often say they're looking for a healthier option, while 49 percent say they prefer something lighter.
  • Sixty-four percent of diners believe dressings are a key component, if not the key component, of a tasty salad. The overall variety of offered options and flavors are of more interest than healthfulness and brand names as purchase drivers.