Stew Leonard’s  Norwalk, Conn., store president Andrew Colton summed it up best when describing a line of store-made salad mixes: “Kale is hot right now.”
Kale, along with other dark green leafy vegetables like collards and chard, has enjoyed a surge of popularity beyond natural food stores and beyond the traditional cooked dishes typically associated with such produce. These types of leafy greens resonate with customers won over by their health benefits.
“They’re pretty easy to promote because they kind of get that health halo of being a super food with the nutrients,” like beta-carotene and fiber, said Leah McGrath, the Ingles Markets  dietitian.
At Ingles, based in Asheville, N.C., beet greens have become popular in the past year, McGrath said. She also has seen an increase of plastic clamshell containers with pre-washed greens, such as kale and beet greens, that traditionally would be cooked but are now often used as salads.
Kale salads are equally popular at other retailers, and some customers will pay a high premium for prepared items.
“Kale is everywhere,” Anna Castellani, one of the owners of Foragers City Grocer in New York, told SN in a previous interview. “Everybody wants it, and they want it raw. One of our best sellers is our kale green salad. It’s raw kale with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and we put a seasonal fruit in it.” The salad costs $12.95 a pound.
Kale is also one of the top sellers in Foragers’ fresh produce department. “We sell cases and cases of kale,” Castellani said.
Read more: Foragers Searches for the Best of Everything 
Salads can be a way to get customers who might not otherwise eat kale to try it. MOM’s Organic Market, a nine-store chain based in Rockville, Md., has seen success with in-store demos.
“Kale salad is very popular, a raw kale salad with an avocado dressing,” said produce buyer Soren Huber. “That’s a good way of marketing, when people taste stuff. I’ve had so many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t like kale, I don’t like kale.’ And then they try the kale salad and they’re like, ‘Oh, can you make that again? What is that? Can you sell that packaged?’”
MOM’s also recently invited Olivia’s Organics to do demos with its Cooking Greens at a few of the chain’s newer stores, and certain locations have cafes that make use of leafy greens in salads and made-to-order meals. Customers can purchase “steam bowls” that consist of greens, vegetables, beans and a sauce mixed together and cooked in a steamer, said Huber.
For some regions of the U.S., like the South, the kale trend is nothing new.
“It’s more [a question of] how they prepare them than necessarily getting them to eat them,” said McGrath, the Ingles dietitian.
In other parts of the country, customers may need a little bit more guidance. Whole Foods Market  of Austin, Texas, shares recipes for kale and other greens on its blog. A recent post discussed greens that are best eaten in fall and winter — among them collards, kale, mustard greens and turnip greens — and suggestions for how to prepare each one.
Natural food stores continue to come up with new ways to reap the health benefits of dark green leafy vegetables. At Erewhon Natural Foods, a single-store independent in Los Angeles, fresh greens are utilized in store-made bottled drinks and at the in-store Tonic Bar. A line of organic cold-pressed juices includes Just Greens, made with kale, parsley, dandelion, cucumber, celery, romaine and apple.
Tonic Bar manager Jason Widner also serves up the kale-heavy “Hannah’s Greens” drink, named for a customer who provided the recipe, a coconut smoothie that contains kale, and a “super food green smoothie” with rapini (broccoli rabe) and spirulina, a nutrient-rich blue-green algae.
Some customers prefer their greens without added flavors. “The biggest thing is them getting shots of kale or dandelion,” said Widner.
Leafy greens are also an optional ingredient in juices at MOM’s in-store cafes.
“People can make up pretty much any juice they want,” said Huber. “They make them to order. But we do have some specials available,” like “The Chiller,” which contains apple, orange, spinach and mint.
These types of drinks may be headed toward the mainstream. Ingles sells a Bolthouse Farms smoothie that contains wheat grass, spirulina and spinach.
— Additional reporting by Roseanne Harper
Sidebar: Bashas' Celebrates Leafy Greens
CHANDLER, Ariz. — For this year’s third annual Arizona Leafy Greens Week — a celebration of a $1 billion industry in the state — organizers invited Bashas’  as a partner for the first time.
“Since we’re the hometown grocery, we’re always looking at ways to celebrate what’s available right here in our own backyard,” said Kristy Jozwiak, Bashas’ director of communications and public affairs.
Arizona Leafy Greens Week will take place Nov. 11-17. The Chandler, Ariz.-based retailer will promote leafy greens across all of its formats, which include Bashas’, Food City and AJ’s Fine Foods, with ads and in-store signs.
The emphasis will be on the local nature of the greens and Bashas’ support for local farmers. Jozwiak said the local produce that will likely be in stores at that time would include different varieties of lettuce and bok choy.
“These leafy greens are delivered within four hours or less from Yuma and in most cases sent directly to our stores,” said Jozwiak. “So you’re really getting a fresh local product. And I think customers like to know that and respond well to local produce. Especially when it’s in season.”
Depending on the timing of the first leafy greens shipment to stores, Bashas’ hopes to have a kick-off event that might incorporate participation from Gov. Jan Brewer, who officially proclaimed the Arizona Leafy Greens Week celebration.
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