- Conagra Brands is finding success in the once unpopular frozen food space. CNBC reports that the food manufacturer’s three iconic brands — Healthy Choice, Banquet and Marie Callender’s — have all posted sharp growth since getting a makeover and introducing new products earlier this year.
- CEO Sean Connolly thinks on-the-go millennials will increasingly turn to the frozen aisle to save both time and money, according to CNBC. "They don't know if they're going out for beer and buffalo wings or if they're going to be eating a pre-planned dinner, so it's a last-minute, spontaneous decision. And having a meal on-call in the freezer when you're ready, we believe, is a huge opportunity," Connolly said to CNBC at the Morgan Stanley Consumer Staples & Retail Conference on Tuesday.
- The food giant has revamped its frozen food portfolio by adding premium, healthy and on-trend products such as Healthy Choice's line of protein meal "Power Bowls" and a collection of lighter fare with more vegetables and lean proteins under its Marie Callendar's label. Connolly said one of the good things about targeting millennials is they are not overly focused on price. They're less likely to believe that a frozen meal should cost less than a dollar, considering they tend to pay far more for a cup of coffee.
Frozen foods could be on the comeback trail. Nielsen data finds that sales of frozen meals grew 2% in the year ended Oct. 28, a vast improvement from the 2.3% decline in the year ended Nov. 1, 2014. Conagra is among the major food companies driving change in the category.
The manufacturer has taken some much-needed steps to transform itself into a more modern, innovative food company, including incorporating on-trend flavors and ingredients to reinvigorate some of its iconic brands. Based on these sales results, efforts seem to be paying off.
Other frozen food makers like Nestle, Pinnacle Foods and B&G Foods are also investing in the segment by revamping ingredients, flavors and packaging with a focus on today's definition of health. These brands are also driving that focus home with marketing messages that distinguish the newer offerings as exciting, inventive and anything but a typical frozen meal.
Nestle's Lean Cuisine has undergone a major brand overhaul to focus less on "diet"-friendly foods and more on organic, high-protein and gluten-free meals. B&G Foods is rejuvenating the Green Giant brand, which it acquired from General Mills in 2015, by introducing a line of frozen vegetable products such as Mashed Cauliflower, Riced Veggies and Veggie Tots. A new line of frozen veggie "pasta" debuts in January.
Last year, Pinnacle Foods introduced two new better-for-you platforms: Birds Eye Flavor Full, which pairs vegetables with bold flavors like buffalo and wasabi, and Birds Eye Protein Blends, which are side dishes that combine vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. The frozen plant-based meat alternative brand Gardein, also included in Birds Eye’s frozen portfolio, has been a strong performer as well.
These efforts are proving to be savvy investments as consumer schedules grow increasingly hectic. A recent Acosta study finds 26% of U.S. consumers now shop the frozen foods department more frequently than they did a year ago. All generations reported buying more frozen food, but the increase was driven in large part by millennials, 43% of whom said they bought more frozen foods compared with last year. This spells good news for frozen food manufacturers, especially those that remain focused on providing the healthy and convenient product solutions that consumers seek.