Opportunity lies in the frozen food aisle for retailers to meet current shopper needs
In 2020, Americans’ busy schedules got even busier as much of the country shifted to working from home indefinitely. Consumers traded office lunch dates for leftovers at home in between calls, and dinnertime became a juggling act of getting food on the table while helping kids with homework or finishing up work. As a result, convenience foods are more of a staple than ever before.
According to Power of Frozen in Retail, a 2021 report from the American Frozen Food Institute and FMI–The Food Industry Association, the frozen category generated $65.1 billion in retail sales in 2020, a year-over-year increase of 21%. What’s more, online purchases of frozen foods jumped an astounding 75%, “with frozen dinners and entrées, meat, poultry, and seafood leading the way.”
Throughout the past year, “the frozen food aisle saw a huge resurgence,” says Karen Jobb, Chief Customer Officer at Amy’s Kitchen. “Frozen food was already on a growth trajectory leading up to the pandemic, but once COVID-19 hit and shoppers began stocking up, the frozen food category saw unprecedented and unrelenting demand. And since then, growth has continued, telling us that people who may not have purchased frozen in a while came back, liked what they tried and are continuing to come back for more.”
These trends are likely to continue for the foreseeable future, with consumers as busy as ever and looking for quick, satisfying meals that don’t require hours in the kitchen.
For grocery retailers, the opportunity is huge. Fluctuating stay-at-home orders and restaurant closures over the past year have forced consumers to eat at home far more often, but many of them don’t have the time or desire to create gourmet from-scratch meals multiple times a day. For these shoppers, frozen foods that offer the nutrients and flavors they want are highly appealing. Plant-based foods also do especially well with consumers seeking better-for-you options. Plant-based pizza and macaroni and cheese, for example, have proved to be big sellers.
“Grocers are looking to meet the growing demand for convenient, wholesome prepared meals,” Jobb says. “Retailers are also expanding plant-based offerings and looking for more variety, flavors and options that are meatless and also cater to other dietary needs like gluten free.”
Retailers should therefore stock a wide variety of frozen options to ensure every shopper can find something they’ll like. Think items “that taste great and are also made with quality ingredients, so shoppers can feel good about what they’re buying and consuming,” Jobb says.
“There’s also a growing interest in global flavors, especially as consumers continue to eat the majority of their meals at home and are looking for more variety,” she adds.
Comfort food favorites for the whole family
During the pandemic, comfort foods have reigned supreme. Market research company OnePoll found, in fact, that the average person is consuming comfort foods at least five times a week and snacks six times a week. Nearly 7 in 10 of survey respondents said they’ll continue to turn to comfort foods with the same frequency once the crisis subsides.
Notably, many of the “most devoured” comfort foods revealed in OnePoll’s research can be found in the frozen food aisle—and in Amy’s Kitchen’s lineup of easy-to-prepare foods, which are made with organic, high-quality ingredients. Options such as pizza, which 55% of survey respondents said they are eating during the pandemic, and macaroni and cheese, which 39% said they are eating, provide nourishment and indulgence.
Family-size portions of classic comfort foods also sell well. With consumers turning to comfort foods frequently, it follows that they’d be looking for comfort foods for the whole family. Retailers can satisfy this need by offering family-size options of comfort foods in the frozen aisle.
Flavorful plant-based options
While plant-based meats and cheese ingredients are enjoying a turn in the spotlight, they’re not the only plant-based options in which consumers are interested. According to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, a pre-pandemic survey, only about 6% of consumers said they followed a vegetarian or vegan diet, but 34% of consumers say they were eating a vegetarian or vegan dish at least once a week. These numbers are sure to increase post-pandemic.
What’s more, 16% said they were eating more vegetarian options than they were two years prior, and 12% say they were eating more vegan options. For shoppers who just want a meatless meal every now and then, being able to find familiar, flavorful, convenient frozen meals will be key to increasing their interest in trying something new.
Retailers can capitalize on consumers’ growing interest in plant-based foods—and their need for convenience—by stocking complete plant-based meals that can be prepared quickly and provide the great taste and wholesome ingredients shoppers are seeking.
“Life has changed a lot since the pandemic, and a lot of our habits—especially work-life balance—will look different post-pandemic,” Jobb says. “With that, we don’t see demand for frozen food waning anytime soon. Long gone are the days when frozen food was considered bland or unhealthy. Now consumers are turning to frozen as a destination for high-quality, flavorful food that’s easy to prepare.”
A plant-based pioneer with more than 30 years of expertise across the frozen and canned soup categories, Amy’s has among the highest repeat purchase rates across the category. To read more about current consumer trends and category insights, visit tradeinsights.amys.com.