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From fruits, entrees, ready meals to desserts, frozen foods are experiencing record sales in the past year. Research indicates the trend is likely to persist beyond the pandemic era as consumers have more healthier and convenient frozen food options than ever before.
Frozen foods perfectly align with busy lifestyles of today while offering variety, nutrition, ease of preparation as well as food safety.
What are frozen foods?
Frozen foods are manufactured foods preserved using freezing methods. Supermarkets typically have a frozen food section with subcategories such as frozen dinner, entrées, frozen pizza, sherbets, ice cream, frozen snacks, frozen breakfast foods, frozen desserts and appetizers as well as frozen vegetables.
The appropriate storage temperature for frozen foods is 0-degree Fahrenheit or -18 degrees Celsius or below. Freezing is an easy, quick and convenient way of preserving foods. Appropriately frozen foods retain an optimum level of their original flavor, texture and color as well as nutrition as compared to other food preservation methods. At freezing temperatures, food spoilage or poisoning microorganisms are unable to grow, which ensures safety of the frozen food.
Frozen foods- a brief history
The origin of the concept of freezing foods to preserve them dates back to 3000 B.C. Romans are believed to have used compressed snow to store food. Clarence-Birdseye, a trader, is credited with the invention of freezing method to preserve food in 1924. The first frozen dinner was created by Gerry Thomas in the 1950s that became popular as ‘TV dinner.’
‘Value added’ frozen products including frozen oven chips, frozen ready meals and frozen desserts flooded the U.S. market in the 70s. Frozen food soon became an established component of family life in this decade.
The global perspective
In 2019, the frozen food market across the world was worth $291.3 billion. Hectic lifestyles and intensifying focus on RTE ( Ready-to-Eat ) food products are the factors that are expected to drive market growth in this segment in the coming years. In addition, rise in disposable income and consumer willingness to invest in shelf-stable foods are also fueling the growth of frozen foods market globally.
By 2025, the market value of frozen foods is expected to reach $ 312.3 billion with a growth rate of 5 percent. Technological innovations in the cold chain sector, changing retail landscape, apart from expanding demand for convenience food are the key driving factors.
Frozen food sales by category in the U.S.
A Statista report indicates the sales of frozen foods in the U.S. by category in 2019. Among all categories, the largest volume of sales recorded related to ice cream. The revenue from ice cream sales amounted to $ 1.42 billion. The top ice cream brands that U.S consumers bought were Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers that generated over $400 million in sales each.
Frozen novelties are second in the list of the best-selling frozen food categories with a total sales revenue of $1246 million. Frozen pizza at $1071 million and single serve entrees/dinners at $997 occupy the third and fourth position in the list. The sales revenue of processed chicken, handled entrees, shrimp, seafood, fish and meat averaged between $424 and $676 million.
Multi-serve dinners, appetizers, hash browns, plain potatoes and fries were the least selling frozen food categories. The sales revenue of hash browns, potatoes and fries amounted to $379 million in 2019.
In 2020, the overall frozen food sales were worth $53.06 billion in the U.S. while $1071.56 million worth of frozen pizza was sold. Frozen chicken sales hit a sales revenue figure of $ 553. 37 million in 2020.
IBISWorld predicts that the market size for frozen foods by 2021 will reach $36.3 billion in the U.S. The frozen food industry market size has grown at an average rate of 1.3 percent from 2016 to 2021.
Average consumer spend on frozen foods
Households in the U.S. spent $40. 28 annually on frozen vegetables in 2019 while the spend on frozen fruits was $11. 66. American households also spent $67.48 on frozen meals annually.
Another study reveals that the largest revenue generator in the frozen food segment is frozen ready meals. The next in line are frozen poultry and meat products. Frozen potatoes are slated to register the fastest rate of growth between 2019 to 2027 with the rate pegged at 4.8 percent.
Some factors attributed to growth in frozen food sales include increasing use of frozen foods by popular fast food brands including Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonald’s, Frozen Potatoes and Subway. The other factor is increasing women employment rate. As per the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, employment rate for women in 2019 was 46 percent. With less time available for cooking, families increasingly rely on frozen foods.
Manufacturers are increasing their investment in research and development of frozen foods. In addition, the strengthening of frozen food distribution network is also contributing to the market growth in these categories.
Consumers are also devoting a larger share of their time for leisure activities and sports that are creating the demand for time-saving convenient foods such as frozen snacks, entrees and meals. With consumers expected to spend more and more time on leisure, sports and work in the coming years, the opportunities are immense for the frozen foods industry.
The market leaders in the frozen foods industry include Conagra Brands, General Mills Inc, Nestle, Kellogg Company, McCain Foods Limited, Kraft Heinz Company, Kidfresh and Aryzta in the U.S.
Conagra Brands, a leading food company in North America, introduced over two dozen new frozen food products in 2020. The company responded to the growing demand among consumers for frozen foods during the pandemic.
Food tech innovators such as Cadence Kitchen, are modernizing frozen cuisines using liquid nitrogen. The company announced in 2020 a range of preservative-free menu items across 200 retail locations. The offerings include frozen foods that can be converted to chef-made perfection in just seven minutes.
Frozen food demand during the pandemic
The frozen foods segment in the U.S. witnessed a sharp spike in demand with 70 percent of consumers stepping up their frozen food purchases during the lockdown in 2020. A survey from the American Frozen Food Institute revealed that many new consumers who had earlier never bought frozen foods before the pandemic also purchased frozen foods. The most frequently bought frozen food categories included vegetables, pizza and meat.
As per the survey, top reasons consumers cited for buying frozen foods were
· To stock up in lieu of food shortages
· long shelf-life
· ease of preparation
· limiting number of trips to the supermarket
In 2020, the top frozen food categories that had the highest dollar growth, according to IRI, were seafood with 35.3 percent, poultry at 34.7 percent and appetizers at 28.9 percent. The frozen food aisle in groceries have continued to be major revenue generators since 2016 for retailers. During the pandemic, the frozen food section raked in $65.1 billion in 2020 that translates to 21 percent increase from 2019.
Consumers are having family meals more than ever during the pandemic. While they are looking for convenience, they also want culinary creativity and cost-effective food solutions. These are precisely the benefits that frozen foods offer.
The survey from AFFI showed that while Millennials were the top consumers of frozen foods during the pandemic, other segments such as singles, baby boomers and women also sought these foods.
However, even before the onset of the pandemic, frozen foods departments across grocery stores had witnessed $918 million growth by the end of June 2019. As per the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association, the total sales of frozen foods reached $54.6 billion. The top five categories included ice cream at $6.7 billion, pizza at $4.8 billion, novelties at $4.6 million, seafood at $4.8 billion and complete meals at $4.5 billion.
Pizza, seafood, vegetables, prepared potatoes and frozen food novelties recorded solid growth with higher dollar sales percentage in 2019 as compared to 2018.
While frozen food were earlier seen as unhealthy options, companies in the recent times have worked to offer healthy frozen options. This has also been a key factor that has contributed to market growth. Industry leaders such as Conagra, Nestlé, General Mills and B&G Foods have invested significantly in terms of money and time to revamp frozen foods. Apart from update packaging, they are focused on incorporating plant based and premium ingredients to cater to the health-conscious consumers.
Besides, frozen food manufacturers are introducing options that cater to the global taste palette.
Frozen foods are not only in demand for the convenience they offer but also for the health quotient. Manufacturers are offering healthier options in line given the rising gluten-free, vegan and organic food trends. With the ongoing pandemic creating an awareness on the importance of strengthening immunity, consumers are seeking frozen foods that cater to their needs of personalized nutrition.
Record sales of frozen foods during the pandemic and strong performance of the market in the recent years indicate the industry is likely to go from strength to strength in the coming years.