SALINAS, Calif. — A leading producer of bagged salads is breaking into one of the fastest growing bagged segments in the business: baby spinach.

Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. will begin shipping three bagged baby spinach products nationwide in mid-September. The new items, which join Dole’s existing salad blends line, are baby spinach, baby spinach with radicchio and baby spinach with red leaf.

The company will back up the new products with an industry push at the October Produce Marketing Association convention in New Orleans as well as national advertising, point-of-sale materials and coupons. The items, which will roll out nationally by mid-September, or about six weeks before the end of Dole’s MyGreen$ promotion, will contain the in-package coupons that are part of the MyGreen$ promotion.

The baby spinach comes in a 6-ounce bag, while the blends come in 5-ounce bags. They are expected to retail for about $2.80, which is about the average for other blends.

In marketing its new products, Dole will be able to take advantage of studies lauding the healthfulness of spinach. Nutrition experts say spinach is an excellent source of vitamins A and C as well as folic acid, iron and magnesium.

Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture studies indicate that per capita consumption of spinach has increased 15% in the past year. According to AC Nielsen, baby spinach salad sales grew four times faster than the total salad category in the year that ended March 17.

This is Dole’s first foray into selling bagged baby spinach. It joins numerous other grower-shippers in offering bagged baby spinach, but Dole is breaking new ground by offering blends with radicchio and red leaf.

Gil Oetzel, project manager for research and development for Dole, said the company had been looking into baby spinach for about 18 months. Research shows that consumers prefer salads with baby spinach rather than adult spinach because the baby spinach is more tender and has a milder flavor. The company wanted to create blends that offered exciting taste combinations and packaging that fit in with its blends color schemes, Oetzel said.

“Baby spinach is so popular now,” said Chris Mayhew, director of marketing. “We wanted to give consumers new options. The red leaf is a nice, mellow combination, and the radicchio offers a hearty flavor.”

Mayhew said that because consumers might find bulk spinach difficult to wash, pre-washed spinach like that in Dole’s new products can save time. Retailers should find the new products advantageous because they offer the salad segment more variety and therefore increased purchase frequency and incremental profits, she said.

“Triple-washed, bagged baby spinach blends seemed the next logical step for Dole in continuing to build the category,” Mayhew said.