Why your restaurant salad costs a lot of green.

While dining out, you’ve probably wondered why a salad costs as much or more than other entree items on the menu. After all, the primary ingredient is generally greens, which restaurants buy in bulk all year long. Salads typically also require less labor and energy to prepare. So why the hefty price tag?

Farm-to-table isn’t cheap.

Many restaurants, and fast-casual salad shops like SweetGreen, emphasize farm-to-table ingredients to meet consumer demand. Sweetgreen partners with more than 500 farms for their veggies, meats, and cheeses. But getting local, organic, and fresh ingredients isn’t cheap. According to SupplyChain, you can expect to pay 12% more than you would for similar dishes at traditional restaurants.

Lack of government subsidies.

According to the USDA, about 13.5 million people have limited access to healthy food. This is, in part, because government subsidies for food production typically go to the meat, dairy, and corn industries, while only a comparatively small portion supports fruit and vegetable growers.

Paying for a lifestyle.

Think you’re just buying a salad? Guess again. Chains like Sweetgreen are also selling you on a lifestyle. When you walk into one of these restaurants, the atmosphere is designed to attract people who want to eat healthy, exercise, and make enough disposable income to pay $15 for salad. It’s no surprise that most fast-casual restaurants are in cities and suburbs where consumers are used to spending a premium for what’s popular or “on trend.”

The science of a good salad.

Too much green? Too much color? Not enough filling ingredients? All of these factors go into the finely tuned machine of salad research and development. There is a lot of thought and testing that makes up the composition of your salad. Chop’t, for example, omits ingredients that no one has heard of, and instead focuses on “craveability” — salads that will fill you up and have the right amount of color, texture, and flavor.

In addition, salad ingredients tend to be highly perishable and, over the past two years, supply chain challenges and labor shortages have pushed costs up further.

The sad truth is that the high cost of produce is contributing to a world in which there are healthy eating haves and have nots. Food producers, packagers, retailers, and investors — of which I am one — must redouble efforts to produce fresh, healthy, plant-based foods that are affordable to more people.

For now, market forces are moving prices in the wrong direction and too many people are being left without a seat at the table.

Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.

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