The separation of the components helped retain ingredient integrity. Instructions said to combine the entire contents of package with 5 oz. of lettuce. So you better have 5 oz. of lettuce available. Not good if you were rushing like one of our tasters, did not look and figured the lettuce was there.
The chicken was an elongated chunk that gave you a real taste of chicken. The bacon had a passably real flavor but was a little tough. The thin strands of cheese made it hard to get real cheese flavor. The croutons were large, gave a good crunch and were not too garlicky.
The combination of ingredients was consistent with the idea of a club – layers of ingredients, crispy and fresh. The big detractor was the dressing. It was thin, the victim of lowered fat. It was a real negative for some of our tasters, while others just used a very small amount. A few of our folks were put off by all the packaging even though they understood the reason.
What really bothered a few was the note on the back of the nutrition panel that the container needed to be washed before using. What if you took all the components and were in the park? Washing in the rest room – not fun.
Since this is a product that many will gravitate to for controlling calories along with healthfulness, the nutrition facts become important. Many consumers think they are managing calories by eating salads, but they end up consuming more than expected because of all the added ingredients. With the front label saying one to two servings and the back panel saying one serving, it's a little confusing. None of our tasters knew what 5 oz. of lettuce looked like but hoped the container was sized to allow only that portion of salad greens.
Knowing that one could eat all the components and still be at 250 or 300 calories was comforting. Knowing what kind of nutrients you were taking in also was nice. Seeing the number of ingredients in each component was a turn-off for some of the folks who are sensitive to the number and pronouncability of the ingredients list.
Does the product deliver?
Hillshire Farm is about meat, and the meat part works. However, the salads are advertised as including "all the great-tasting ingredients you need to make a restaurant-style salad" – but then "you have to add your favorite lettuce." Perhaps a better name for the product would have been "entrée salad kits" or "entrée salad starters." Of course, those names probably didn't test as well as Entrée Salads.
How to make the Idea Bigger: For salad dressing lovers, the dressing has to be great, or why bother? Many manufacturers of dressing have figured out the low-fat dressing taste, so where did Sara Lee get this one?
While having a disposable bowl was definitely seen as being a convenience ("nothing to wash and take home from work"), having to wash the bowl before use was puzzling. So was the need to provide one's own lettuce. We felt the convenience of the salad was compromised if users had to wash and prepare their own lettuce and the bowl. Or the cost was greater if they had to purchase a bag of precut lettuce.
Also the amount of packaging added up. Those who focus on less packaging were really troubled with the amount of waste this product created.
Rating: OK, despite all those criticisms.
Market potential: This product will struggle to connect with the consumer. Either Hillshire or others will keep working this idea (like McDonald's did with its first then second iteration of salads) to get right this idea of a deli salad.
Hollis Ashman, Jacqueline Beckley and Jennifer Maca are principals of the Understanding & Insight Group, a strategy and product development firm that connects with consumers using qualitative and quantitative approaches. See www.theuandigroup.com.