- Frozen food sales gained 17.4% between November 2020 and the same month a year earlier, according to data from IRI and the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) reported on by Winsight Grocery Business. The growth outpaced category sales for all food items, which cumulatively rose 9.3% during the same time period. The largest gains came from frozen processed poultry, seafood, snacks and beverages, where dollar sales all grew more than 27%.
- Although frozen dollar sales jumped significantly, they were far greater than the actual increase in volume sales, the grocery publication said. This reflects both inflation and retailers' pricing strategy for popular products.
- The archaic image of frozen food being less innovative or healthy had changed before the coronavirus, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend. When the virus first appeared, demand for frozen food spiked 70% between March and April, according to a survey by the American Frozen Food Institute. At the time, half of consumers concluded they would purchase more frozen alternatives in the coming months, a finding reflected in the most recent data from IRI and IDDBA.
Several months after frozen food saw an enormous sales boost, the category continues to maintain its momentum. Frozen food is often seen as an economical choice for shoppers that performs well during recessions, Eric Penicka, U.S. research analyst at Euromonitor, previously told Food Dive. In addition, it's seen as a practical one because of its convenience.
Consumers have had reduced access to restaurants amid the varying COVID-19 restrictions, and have relied on their own kitchens to feed themselves. But after nearly a year of cooking at home more frequently, a quarter of people are tired of it, according to a report by sales and marketing agency Acosta. Frozen food offers a convenient solution to cut down on the effort involved in cooking while still creating a meal at home.
The growing interest in frozen options is a significant shift from just a few years ago when the category was seeing among the greatest declines by dollar sales. Since that low point, manufacturers have worked to overhaul the image of their frozen brands, and they have largely succeeded. To reinvigorate their brands, food companies have modernized their packaging, turned to trendy offerings like bowls and added in more international flavors.
By investing in their brands to align more closely with current trends, frozen food powerhouses like Nestlé, Conagra Brands, B&G Foods and Mondelez International have repositioned themselves to appeal to households that are increasingly looking for convenient and healthy options that are easy to prepare.
During the pandemic, this strategy has proven to be especially beneficial as more people who do not typically purchase frozen foods have moved to the category. According to an April survey from the American Frozen Food Institute, 7% of consumers who previously, rarely or never purchased frozen foods pre-pandemic were buying these products. And those new consumers happen to come from the coveted demographics of Gen Z and high-earning millennial households with children. If companies can not only capture but retain these shoppers, there is a chance the growth in the frozen food category will have a long trajectory.
At the same time that frozen food saw significant gains, sales of fresh products posted more modest 7.8% growth in November, according to IRI and IDDBA data.
In prior months, the most frequently purchased frozen foods were meat, snacks and beverages. However, IRI data found frozen meat (except poultry and seafood) volumes were down by 10% in November year over year. Sales of frozen fruits and vegetables grew 15.6%, ahead of an 8.2% gain for fresh produce.
Frozen options are clearly valued by consumers, especially during the pandemic. Going forward, frozen foods' long shelf life may not be as crucial to households, but if manufacturers can highlight their products' taste, flavor, health and convenience qualities, this section of the store could remain sought-after for the foreseeable future.