Why Frozen Foods are Winning in the Grocery Aisles


Frozen foods are gaining traction as kitchen staples for many reasons: convenience, a long shelf life, and an abundance of healthy food options. This was especially the case in 2020, but the pandemic is not the only reason why frozen dinners, side dishes, pizza, appetizers, ice cream, and other frozen foods sales are rising. Several factors are contributing to the frozen aisles’ increasing popularity, including healthier lifestyle choices, life-changing events, value, and taste. The food industry is tapping into these factors and reaping the benefits.

Frozen is Hot

Frozen food sales rose 17.4 percent between November 2020 and the same month a year earlier, according to data from IRI and the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). The growth surpassed category sales for all food items, which cumulatively rose 9.3 percent during the same period. The categories with the largest growth included processed poultry, seafood, snacks, and beverages, where dollar sales all grew more than 27 percent. These figures are a significant shift from a few years ago when frozen foods were experiencing some of the greatest declines by dollar amount.

The top motivators for increased frozen food purchases, post pandemic:

  • Buy food with a long shelf life (60 percent)
  • Stock up in case of food shortages (58 percent)
  • Limit grocery store trips (51 percent)
  • Make mealtime more convenient (46 percent)
  • Save time on food prep and cleanup (36 percent)
  • Purchase food believed to be safer than fresh counterparts (33 percent)

The Frozen Food Consumer

Frozen food consumption spans every age, income, and ethnicity. This audience includes families with children and adults-only households. The more people in a household, the higher the likelihood they are shopping the frozen aisles. Millennials and foodies are also looking for five-minute heat-and-eat solutions that cater to their worldwide flavor profiles and hunger for fresh-tasting ingredients.

Eating frozen meals and other foods are often linked to life-changing events. For example, a newborn arrives in a household and it causes unpredictable hours and a shift in routine. As a result, the family opts for the freezer section in grocery stores and membership warehouses rather than preparing homecooked meals.

Appealing to Lifestyle Diets

Items in today’s freezer cases don’t always translate into highly processed. Once notorious for being high in sodium and preservatives, eating the right frozen foods is now an easy way to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet. Food brands are taking note and fine-tuning their frozen products to be more aligned with trending dietary lifestyles. In natural and regional grocery channels, plant-based and vegan diet purchases were both up 28 percent, with Whole30 and paleo diet purchases up 27 percent and 26 percent respectively.

Ways to Win

For suppliers and retailers, communicating to customers that the price-value-convenience-health equation works to their advantage. By showing customers how select frozen food categories are healthy, affordable, and easy-to-prepare alternatives to fresh food fare, brands are increasing traffic and market share.

Highlighting specialty attributes like organic, non-GMO, Fair Trade, gluten-free, dairy-free, and ethnic fare can go a long way toward promoting the frozen food aisles as healthier and more value-aligned destinations. Try communicating to shoppers that frozen food options are just as tasty and healthy as fresh. An example of food brands capitalizing on trending attributes includes Amy’s Gluten Free Burrito Black Bean & Quinoa, Luvo Thai-Style Green Curry Chicken, Trader Joe’s Mildly Spiced Organic Vegetable Burritos, and No Evil Foods Chicken Plant Meat.

Bagged frozen fruits and frozen vegetables are convenient and almost as good as their fresh counterparts. Improvements in flash-freezing enable produce manufacturers to lock in the freshness fact, preserve nutrients, and minimize ice crystals from forming inside their product. The facts you can store frozen produce longer and they typically cost less than fresh fruit and vegetables are bonus points for food marketing.

Reinvention Works

When Conagra refreshed three of its frozen brands: Healthy Choice, Banquet, and Marie Callender’s, comparable sales for all three categories went from declining drastically to rising three quarters in a row. The microwavable Power Bowls from Healthy Choice were the biggest winner. With trendy ingredients like kale, edamame, and quinoa, and exotic flavors like Korean beef and Cuban pork, the frozen meals gave vegans, vegetarians, and other lifestyle eaters an incredibly delicious, quick-heating option. As an added bonus, the bowls are made from plant-based fiber which appeals to eco-minded consumers.

For years Stouffer’s relied on its frozen lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and other comfort foods to fuel sales. Recently, the company adapted to the changing consumer market by introducing boxed frozen meal kits that rival delivery service channels like Blue Apron and Purple Carrot. Established brands such as Green Giant and Birds Eye are also evolving from selling frozen veggies in preservative-heavy sauces, to selling riced vegetables, spiralized zucchini, and a whole lineup of cauliflower-based products.

The future of the frozen foods category is dynamic and everchanging. Find out how Alliance can help your brand satisfy consumer appetites and gain healthy returns.

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