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Ready Pac continues to focus on innovation with new chef hire

In an effort to continue its leadership role in the single-serve salad segment, Ready Pac Foods Inc., based in Irwindale, CA, has bolstered its product development team with the hiring of Chef Thomas Helsel as its new executive research chef.

Tom-Helsel-Headshot
Tom Helsel

Reporting directly to Sara Samala, Ready Pac’s research and development manager, who is also is a trained chef, Mr. Helsel brings with him a wealth of culinary experience.

“We are thrilled to have Chef Thomas join our talented team,” said Barbara Dan, Ready Pac’s vice president of marketing and research and development. “His ability to provide culinary expertise, focus on creating gold-standard recipes, and contribute to companywide new product innovation initiatives adds a tremendous amount of value to what we offer.”

Tristan Kieva, director of marketing at Ready Pac, told The Produce News that the company is continually researching consumer trends and developing recipes to follow those trends.

“Even though it’s not a totally new product, the Ready Pac Bistro Bowl salads are constantly being reinvented with new products and new flavor ideas to keep consumers coming back for more,” Ms. Kieva said. “As an example, we recently launched a new Smokehouse BBQ Style Ranch salad, which has smoked barbecue chicken breast, Monterey jack cheese with fiesta peppers, fire-roasted super sweet corn, black beans, shredded carrots, tri-colored tortilla chips and barbecue ranch dressing on a bed of Romaine and Iceberg lettuce.”

She added that Chef Helsel will be instrumental in developing new recipes, noting that he has experience in product development.

Chef Helsel has been in the foodservice and retail product development arenas for the past 25 years, most recently as a senior research chef with Campbell Soup Co. In his role at Campbell’s, Mr. Helsel led the retail soup culinary team of chefs covering all Campbell’s brands providing innovation, events leadership, culinary activities, culinary training, coaching, and commercial product design and maintenance.

In this role, he served as Campbell’s culinary liaison and collaborated with Wolfgang Puck and his team on their line of soups, broths and stocks.

His previous experience includes working for Sodexho, Marriott Corp. and Trump Plaza as both a corporate chef and restaurant manager. He also worked as a cake decorator with Häagen Dazs.

Ready Pac has long been a leader and innovator in the processed lettuce category. It was the first company to offer processed lettuce to both the retail and foodservice trades, and it has continued to create many new products over the years.

Ms. Kieva said that innovation has been the hallmark of the company for four decades and continues to be the focus of the research and development team.

In recent years, the firm has focused a good deal of attention on the single-serve salad category with very good results.

Ready Pac's Bistro Bowls line.
“The Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Salad created the category 10 years ago, and today we still have a 73 percent market share,” she said. “In fact, the single-serve salad segment is the fastest-growing segment in packaged salad, growing at plus-19 percent compared to a year ago for the 52 weeks ending July 16, 2011.”

She added that retail scan data show the Total Packaged Salad category is up 1.6 percent over the same time period, with Ready Pac’s single-serve salads driving that growth.

“What makes our product unique? We offer eight chef-inspired, gourmet recipes with dressings and ingredients like those found in restaurants,” Ms. Kieva said.

The Ready Pac Bistro Bowl salads are merchandised in the produce department and are designed to provide consumers with a great value for lunch, with a suggested retail price of $3.99. Ms. Kieva said that the average buyer of the product purchases two at one time, which suggests “pantry loading” for consumption later in the week. She said that the product has a longer shelf life than the salads that are typically created and sold in a supermarket‘s deli section, which allows for the pantry loading.

But Ready Pac is not content to simply grow its volume of single-serve salads sold in the produce department. The firm is also actively promoting its new “Salad Singles” deli bowl salads, which are designed to be sold in the supermarket deli department.

While the Bistro Bowl salads are whole-meal solutions and include a protein, the Salad Singles are designed as a meal accompaniment to hot foods, sandwiches and other deli offerings.

Ms. Kieva said that each Salad Singles bowl salad has less than 200 calories and was designed with a suggested retail price of $2.99 per unit.

Crystal-clear packaging showcases the fresh ingredients inside, while non-produce items are portion-packed, allowing for maximum shelf-life.

As with Ready Pac’s other single-serve salads, all Salad Singles bowls include lettuce, toppings, dressing and a fork. There are four varieties in the line: Garden Salad, Caesar Salad, Fiesta Salad and Spinach Dijon Salad.