Gloppy dressing full of preservatives. Sounds appetizing, right? That is not what the people buying and eating pre-made coleslaw thought. But that is what was available for delis and restaurants 20 years ago… coagulation on cabbage. The remedy was to make it fresh everyday like you’d do at home or in chef-led kitchens, but for quick serve chains, that was a cumbersome task to be added to all the other things needed to keep operations running. Franchise and chain operators simply didn’t have time for that.

The band-aid was pre-made coleslaw in all its unappetizing glory — the copious preservatives producing the “gloppiness factor” that stuck pretty darn well to cabbage. If necessity is the mother of invention, then this gloppy dressing spurred on a little bit of the innovation that we now see today.

A Little Fresh-Cut History

Let’s go back 40 years. At that point in foodservice, chopping and preparation was being handled back of house. But with the arrival of franchising, other facets of food preparation were beginning to be standardized, from recipes to ready-made items that took brand recognition from the sign on the street to the flavor of the food you were ordering. In the mid 1970’s shredded lettuce started showing up in fast food chains bringing produce into the revolution that was going on with food preparation.

Slaw Needed Help

Back to the slaw. 20 years ago things were not at all palatable with the preservative-ladened dressing that was supposed to slow down the spoilage of the cabbage. It may have been a great solution if the secondary effect of those preservatives was not a gloppy texture and chemical taste. But freshly prepared coleslaw had its own disadvantages for busy kitchens with the work that had to go into preparing it.

The first issue was cabbage and carrots had to be washed and chopped daily. With the advent of fresh-cut produce, that step was now easier in addition to more consistency with the final chop of the cabbage.

A big problem that showed up was variations in the recipe throughout the restaurant chain’s locations. A customer eating at location A may or may not get the same coleslaw as location B, and consistency in expectation was a big part of the success of these chains.

Another issue was storage of the ingredients. The produce was kept in the cooler, the dressing elsewhere. It created another step to find the ingredients to mix. A dressing with less preservatives also required refrigeration, and wasn’t always given that.

Innovation Saves the Day

This is the point where fresh cut innovation collided with that gloppy dressing. What happened was the already chopped vegetables were combined with a pre-measured, refrigerated dressing packet, and then keep it in the same box, always stored in the cooler. It was so simple… open the packages each day, mix in the dressing, and bam, you have freshly made coleslaw! All the tedious steps were now shouldered by the processing facility by taking out the measuring and consolidation of the ingredients. Soon the driving force behind this new idea was simply, “Great Coleslaw starts Fresh Each Day!”

And the Idea Caught On

That was what was happening in the world of deli and foodservice 20 years ago, and one of the first to pioneer and launch these kits into the market was Mark Vaughan. Coleslaw was the first and the kits began to become more complex with multiple ingredient packets, and new flavors and combinations were explored.

From that point, adaptation of fresh cut kits grew and like any other great idea, was deployed by other industry players until it became standard practice. Those with recent careers or just starting out in foodservice may not realize issues like this that shaped kitchen operations in the quick serve industry. Even now, there are still some chains struggling with these issues but find the solution is as simple and easy as a fresh-cut produce kit.

Innovations Marches On

Mark is once again on the same evolutionary path with his partnership with GreenGate Fresh — the path that source processors take as they grow and create more value to customers. It starts with processing fresh-cut lettuce items and cabbage and then taking those fresh items and combining them with dressings and trimmings to form kits. It’s an exciting path to be on once again, this time backed by experience and insight from Mark’s early career. It makes you think, what creative flavors will emerge in the future for this partnership, and will another gloppy dressing bring about even more fresh-cut invention? Time can only tell.

Amber Parrow is the marketing director for Fresh Avenue, a group that represents produce farms and producers with national sales and marketing. You’ll find her with a camera in a romaine field or behind the computer promoting brands that promote quality, safe, and nutritious food.