SALINAS, Calif. — With the introduction of its Better Burger Leaf, Mann Packing Co. hopes to capitalize on continued growth in restaurant sales of higher-end hamburgers.

Limited shipments will start in September, said Gina Nucci, director of healthy culinary innovations at Salinas-based Mann Packing. Better Burger Leaf was introduced to the trade last July in Monterey at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference.

“This is a foodservice pack that we’re offering in a wash and trim, whole leaf singles,” Nucci said. “It basically crosses iceberg’s crunchy texture and sweet flavor with the round frilly leaf and curly edges of green leaf. The leaves are flatter with little to no rib, which means you’re getting more leaf on the sandwich and per carton.”

The product also has consistent green color across the leaf because of the lack or low profile of a rib. The grower-shipper is targeting casual and fine dining, a $69 million dollar market segment for burgers.

Casual dining has seen about a 20% rise in burger offerings, according to Mintel Menu Insights.

“What you’re seeing is the premiumization of burgers, with Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Smashburger as two examples,” Nucci said.

Chains like Burger King, McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. also offer premium hamburgers.

“When you look at it in advertisements, they have this beautiful, frilly green leaf on there, and it’s a nice color,” she said. “When you actually get the burger, it’s a white core of lettuce because a lot of people still use iceberg. We’re offering a combination of green leaf and iceberg, so they get the premium leaf and the crunch they want without using chopped, processed iceberg.”

Mann Packing has exclusive rights to the seed variety, developed in collaboration with Dutch company Nunhems, a division of Bayer CropScience.

“We just recently created a marketing agreement so we can actually put some marketing efforts and some money behind it in advertising,” Nucci said July 12. “So we’re not just promoting something that’s generic.”

“We continually go to Europe and Nunhems,” she said. “We found this head of lettuce about three years ago when we were in England looking at trials. We liked it and have been working with them ever since to take the seed commercial.”

Arcadian Harvest expands

Mann Packing also is adding a variety to its Arcadian Harvest petite whole leaves product.

Classic, the original variety, launched in early 2011 and is bred from combinations of green leaf, red leaf, tango, lolla rosa, Batavia and oak varieties. The grower-shipper has marketed Arcadian Harvest as offering better plate coverage than spring mix.

The new variety, Emerald, is being added to complement the Classic blend, Nucci said.

“It too is a foodservice item,” she said. “It’s a spring mix-style salad, but unlike spring mix they’re fully mature leaves. They grow in the same plant cycle as a whole head of romaine, green leaf or iceberg.”

That maturity makes the product hold up, according to the company.

“We’ve had chefs do analysis, and it yields 40% more than spring mix,” Nucci said. “A 1-ounce serving would equal 1.5 ounces of someone else’s spring mix.”

Volume was on the rise in July as Salinas production peaked.

Mann Packing’s name is often associated with broccoli products, but that can be misleading.

“We did a great job marketing broccoli, but we grow more romaine than broccoli and have for many years,” Nucci said. “Both in hearts and leaf.”

Mann Packing, naturally, also offers iceberg and green leaf, among other products.

“We’ve focused on the whole-leaf segment for foodservice and retail,” she added.