Cooler Than Ever

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Cooler Than Ever

By Lynn Petrak - 09/02/2015

Meteorologists may be predicting a record El Niño weather pattern this year, but the forecast is cold and frozen for many parts of the nation, thanks to innovations and improvements in refrigerated and frozen foods.

The center of this cold snap will be the Lone Star State during the annual National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Convention, running Oct. 11–14 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

While temperatures in the Dallas area are often in the 80s during October, the convention will be all about the big chill, with events and opportunities ranging from one-to-one business appointments to general-session presentations to the industry’s prestigious awards night.

These networking and educational opportunities come at a pivotal time for the refrigerated and frozen food industries. After years of flat to declining sales in the frozen sector, certain categories are gaining steam. Among the bright spots: natural frozen foods, frozen snacks and frozen hand-held breakfasts.

According to a study released earlier this year from Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, there are other dynamics driving trends in frozen foods, including consumers who are using frozen snacks as meal replacements. Meanwhile, Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts recently released a study showing that consumers “are slowly warming up again to frozen foods, due to both the well-known convenience of the products and the recent introduction of more natural and organic frozen offerings that are lending the segment a much needed health halo.”

In a further testament to the future of frozen foods, research from Mintel has found that Millennials are more likely to buy and consume frozen foods, including snacks and authentic ethnic meals.

Overall, sales of collective frozen food categories will rise to $23 billion in 2019, up from $22 billion last year, Packaged Facts predicts.

On the fresh side, refrigerated foods — especially those that are deemed healthy, natural, organic and clean-label — are faring well in the marketplace. In its list of top food trends for 2015, the Chicago-based Institute of Food Technologists ranked fresh and refrigerated food first, pointing out that nine in 10 adults believe that fresh foods are healthier and that 78 percent of consumers are making an effort to buy more fresh and refrigerated foods.

As with frozen foods, there are segments of note within the refrigerated arena, such as the consumer embrace of specialty foods; according to the New York-based Specialty Food Association, sales of specialty foods have reached $100 billion, with hot refrigerated categories spanning cheese, yogurt, refrigerated pasta sauce, pizza sauce, fresh pasta and eggs, among others.

There has also been a flurry of activity on the R&D front, evident across all subcategories and dayparts in supermarket refrigerated and frozen food sections. New launches, product line extensions and rebranding efforts have contributed to this increase in interest and consumption (For examples, see the New Product Spotlight on page 114).

Given the flurry of activity, this year’s convention provides a forum for learning and discussion, which will ultimately lead to additional innovation and growth, according to Julie Henderson, VP communications at the Harrisburg, Pa.-based National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA). “From beginning to end, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Convention is structured to help attendees make valuable connections with the people and companies that can make a real impact on their business,” Henderson asserts. “Nowhere else can attendees meet with as many diverse companies individually and face-to-face in such a short period of time.”