As Julie Minor of CCH reported, supermarket customers in Massachusetts who buy prepackaged salads such as Caesar, Chef, Cobb, Santa Fe, and Asian salads are subject to sales tax on those salads. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue recently issued a letter ruling finding that salads that are prepackaged and sold by a supermarket are taxable as restaurant meals.
In her letter ruling, Massachusetts Commissioner of Revenue Amy Pitter determined that the salads qualify as taxable "combination plates" that are sold as a unit reasonably and commonly considered a meal. To support this finding, the commissioner noted that the salads:
- are packaged in an amount suitable for one person;
- contain various food items that are combined with lettuce or other greens, rather than just containing varieties of lettuce or other greens; and
- are packaged in a bowl or similar container for ease of consumption.
The commissioner also noted that a grocery store does not ordinarily qualify as a restaurant, "except for any part of such a store that sells hot and cold meals and beverages on an eat-in or to-go basis." By selling hot and cold meals and beverages, a grocery store qualifies as a restaurant, at least in part, and the items it sells in its restaurant part or parts are taxable.
The commissioner found that the prepackaged salads are taxable regardless of the fact that they are sold where no seating is available, in the produce or deli section of the supermarket. The fact that customers are expected to eat the salads off the supermarket premises also does not affect their taxability. The determination of taxability also does not depend on where the salads are prepared, either in the store or off the supermarket premises by a third party, or whether there is a fork and/or napkin in the salad container.