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The frozen foods industry has thrived despite being saddled with an unfair, misconception-riddled reputation of being nothing more than processed junk food designed to appear like conventional meals. Many thought of it as but novelty food products that were only there to gather ice in the family freezer, never to be served at the dining table unless desperate.
However, frozen foods have recently emerged from the tall shadow of fresh produce.
In the United States, people are now warming up to the concept of frozen foods as viable meal replacements, especially now in the age where everyone is seemingly always on the move. Many now realize that these frozen alternatives aren’t just there to provide convenience in time of need; they can also carry a nutritional wallop comparable, if not better, to their canned and fresh counterparts.
In this article, we will be looking at several facts and statistics regarding the consumption of frozen foods in the United States to understand how it has impacted our lives for the better these past few years.
A Brief History of Frozen Foods
The concept of freezing foods to prolong their edibility dates back to as early as 3,000 B.C. Historians believe that Romans used compressed snow to secure their food for later consumption.
Several millennia later, in 1924, a trader by the name of Clarence-Birdseye found a way to freeze food that aimed to preserve them for longer while still keeping most of its taste. This is the freezing method that has stuck with us until now, barring the improvements made throughout the years.
Soon, this became an industry in itself, thus creating the frozen foods industry.
Frozen foods are manufactured foods preserved using several varying freezing methods. Nowadays, it is common to see supermarkets or even your neighborhood grocery allot a sizable section of their store on frozen foods.
These frozen food sections are then divided into several subcategories, including frozen dinner, frozen pizza, ice creams, frozen breakfasts, frozen snacks, frozen appetizers, desserts, and many more.
Freezing foods is an easy, quick, and convenient way of preservation. Not only does it prolong foods’ lifespan, but it also manages to retain an optimum level of their original texture, color, and flavor. Not to mention keeping its nutritional content intact.
This makes it so that freezing is widely considered the ultimate food preservation method. And today, frozen foods are an established component of family life. So much so that it is now hard to imagine life without them.
And with that, let us now take a look at the impact of the frozen foods industry in the United States, particularly its consumption.
United States Consumption of Frozen Foods
Formerly known as ‘TV Dinner’ – coined by Gerry Thomas in the 1950s – the frozen food market has changed significantly over the past decade. Not only have they tremendously improved in terms of quality and taste, but there are now also better-for-you-options being introduced in the market that specifically cater to consumers’ needs.
This, and the surge of interest towards ready-to-eat meals driven by the recent pandemic, elevated the shopper traffic in the frozen food aisle busier than ever before.
The Best-selling Frozen Food Items in the U.S.
As per a Statista report, frozen novelties accounted for about 1.6 billion USD in sales last year in the U.S., making it the best-selling frozen food item in the specific region. The frozen novelty category consists of separately packaged frozen desserts, such as fudge sticks, juice bars, and ice cream sandwiches.
They are then closely followed by traditional ice creams, which recorded about 1.42 billion USD, and frozen pizzas which had a total sales of 1.07 billion USD. The sales revenue of processed chicken, shrimp, seafood, fish, handled entrees, and meat averaged between 424 million and 676 million USD.
According to IBISWorld, frozen food production in the U.S. this year is now valued at about 40.7 billion USD. While it has decreased a bit recently, the trend is still looking upward and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
The Companies that Dominated the Frozen Food Sector
The report also mentioned Nestle USA as the most significant player in the particular sector, being a present manufacturer for almost every single product category. Take, for example, the company’s frozen pizza segment. The Statista report notes that Nestle USA recorded total sales of over 2.3 billion USD in 2021 alone.
Apart from Nestle USA, frozen aisles in the U.S. usually also carry brands like DiGiorno for frozen pizza products, Stouffer’s for frozen dinner products, and Nestle Drumstick for frozen novelties.
Surprisingly, average consumer spending on frozen meals in the U.S. plummeted to its lowest in a long while in 2021, with average consumers spending only about 46.5 USD a year on it. This is almost half the over 70 USD/year spent on the same sector from 2007 to 2008.
While several factors can be attributed to this sudden downfall in consumer spending towards frozen goods, many believe the principal reason for it to be the general downturn of sales towards everything because of the pandemic.
Although frozen meals were in the downturn then, consumer spending on healthier frozen fruits shot up significantly, growing as much as 20% from the previous year. Total sales of frozen pizzas in the U.S. jumped with it as well.
As per the report, DiGiorno pizza sold over 265 million USD last 2020. This just reinforces that no matter the circumstance, U.S. people just love to get their pizzas!
Manufacturers have also made a point to increase their investment in the research and development of frozen foods, perhaps seeing the continually-growing demand in the specific sector. As a result of the strengthening of frozen food distribution, market growth also grew immensely.
Lastly, consumers are also found to be devoting a larger share of their time to leisure activities and sports more than ever, thus, creating the demand for convenient, time-saving foods.
And what better to satiate that need than frozen foods and snacks? With consumers expected to become even busier with leisure, sports, and work in the coming years, the opportunities in the frozen foods industry seem endless.
Frozen foods are now not only in demand for the convenience and accessibility they offer but also for the health quotient they provide. Thus, making them all the more appealing to this generation, where everyone is seemingly always on the move, barely making time for cooking. And with the growing selection of healthier options, such as gluten-free, vegan, and organic frozen foods, one can just imagine how big the industry could get a few years from now.