Skip to main content

Frozen Food Handbook


Wake-up Call

Starting with the earliest daypart, demand for a convenient breakfast via frozen foods is awakening.

According to data from Chicago-based IRI for the last 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2015, overall sales of frozen breakfast foods reached $3.02 billion, a 2.23 percent increase from the same time last year.

Within the category, manufacturers and retailers are providing breakfast meal solutions to on-the-go and time-strapped consumers through hand-held breakfasts. IRI found that hand-held breakfast sales increased 3.78 percent to nearly $1.5 billion in the past year.

According to Chicago-based Mintel’s 2015 report on frozen breakfasts, the frozen breakfast hand-held segment grew to $1.1 billion in 2015, from $642 million in 2010, and is pegged to rise to $1.5 billion by 2020. The report also noted that consumers largely believe that the taste of retail frozen hand-held breakfasts are comparable to that of hand-held breakfasts offered by restaurants.

Breakfast entrées have shown growth, too, up 2.99 percent from last year, for a 52-week total of more than $598 million, according to IRI. Winners in that segment, as identified by the market research firm, include Hillshire Brands, posting a 15.88 percent gain in sales, and Kellogg’s, with a 14.96 percent increase.

Elsewhere, frozen breakfast is taking other forms. For example, Jimmy Dean, a brand of Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, recently added a bacon-egg-and-cheese breakfast flatbread, with a croissant-style flatbread individually wrapped with a crisping tray.

As for traditional frozen breakfast items, even plain toaster waffles are getting a makeover. The venerable Eggo brand from Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. recently unveiled new Oats and Berries Waffles, made with steel-cut oats and berries and no artificial flavors or colors.


The Great Grazing Nation

With more consumers grazing — Chicago-based Mintel reports that 94 percent of Americans snack at least once a day, and more than half snack two to three times a day — grocers can tout the snacking options in their frozen food cases.

In a 2015 report, Mintel found that although the potential is there for frozen snacks, the competition for shoppers’ snack dollars is strong. “While consumers are moving toward more frequent snacking occasions, they are also increasingly demanding snack options that require essentially no preparation or cleanup,” the reported noted.

To bolster frozen foods as snacks, brands can position their products as solutions for grazing occasions. “Consumers are not just looking for frozen meal solutions, but also frozen options that will solve snacking occasions,” points out Stacey Fowler Meittunen, SVP innovation and development at The Schwan Food Co., in Marshall, Minn., who notes that the company’s Pagoda brand, the fastest-growing brand in the Asian snack category, features snacks made with real, flavorful ingredients.

Such natural ingredients are likely the wave of the future in the segment, too. “Future growth for the category could stem from manufacturers’ efforts to meet demands for lower levels of fat, calories and sodium, as well as products that are less processed and which utilize natural ingredients,” the Mintel report observes.


The Main Event

As grocers deliver convenience to busy shoppers who have plenty of other choices for entrées, one way to diversify sales is to ensure that the freezer case isn’t as stone cold as the frozen items in it.

Product innovation is a major way to entice shoppers as they walk down the frozen food aisle. In tandem with attractive packaging, new products that lend something different to the traditional concept of frozen entrées can spur sales.

The interpretation of “something different” in frozen entrées increasingly includes natural, organic, allergen-free and other better-for-you items from brands like Amy’s Kitchen, Evol, Kashi and Cedarlane Natural Foods. According to Chicago-based Mintel’s’ “Global Food & Drink Report 2016,” such items fit the bill when it comes to the current consumer mindset: among other things, the Mintel report found that consumers are looking for “less processed” food and are intrigued by information on product origin, ingredients or inspiration.

New York-based retail analyst Burt Flickinger affirms the significance of natural/organic entrées from a demographic perspective, noting that classic frozen entrées are typically consumed by consumers between the ages of 45 and 74. “The demographic for natural and organic frozen entrées would be 16 to 35, and that’s the customer that traditional supermarket chains don’t see as much,” he points out.

Moving to more personalized meals from vintage TV dinners, some entrées are designed to be used in customized ways. The Banquet line, from Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, includes a new series of Meal Starters, including Taco Night and Sloppy Joe Night varieties. For sloppy joes, users just microwave the appropriate Meal Starter according to the package directions and divide the mixture among buns.

Meanwhile, it’s not quite a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, but there’s a continued effort to capitalize on consumers’ taste for dining away from home, with frozen entrées co-branded with fast-casual restaurants like TGI Fridays, Marie Callender’s and Chili’s.

P.F. Chang’s Home menu from ConAgra is another example. “Consumers want an experience that is relevant to them — whether it’s enjoying their favorite meals or discovering new ones,” says Brand Manager Derek Wong, citing new items like P.F. Chang’s Skillet Meals, all-protein meals prepared just like in the brand’s restaurants.

Flavor is another way to differentiate frozen entrées. As the Mintel Global Trends report shows, consumers are ratcheting up their tastes and expectations, seeking out ethnic fare, bold or spicy foods, and other exotic flavors.

Examples of the influence of new flavors in frozen entrées abound in the freezer case, where one can find Jamaican beef patties, breaded eggplant slices and chicken satay, among many other options.

At Columbus, Ohio-based Kahiki Foods Inc., Director of Marketing, Innovation and R&D Scott Corey says that interest in ethnic foods, especially Asian cuisines, is still on the rise. “The growth in Asian immigration and restaurants is leading to more interest in Asian flavors. Last year, sales of Asian branded frozen food products increased 9 percent, while the overall frozen meals category was flat,” he points out, noting that in the past year, Kahiki has introduced 11 items, including a line of Bowl & Roll single-serve entrées and a line of Yum Yum Stix in a hand-held format.

Ramping up flavor is done in other ways, too. Schwan’s, for example, partnered with a group of chefs last year in a new program called the Schwan’s Chef Collective. “Our goal is to engage a select group of innovative culinary experts who share our passion for creating and celebrating great food and positively impact the way people eat. By doing this, we hope to establish and showcase credibility in food and demonstrate our culinary commitment to excellence,” explains Dimitrios Smyrnios, CEO of The Schwan Food Co., in Marshall, Minn.

Meanwhile, vegan frozen entrées are also more numerous than they were even a few years ago. “Beyond Meat, Sophie’s Kitchen and Miracle Foods Global have taken plant-based and vegan options by storm. These are tied to convenience to the ‘newer’ vegan consumers, already challenged with creating meals from scratch,” says Jason Jackowiack, natural product research expert for SPINS, a Chicago-based provider of retail consumer insights, analytics and consulting for the natural, organic and specialty products industry.

Side Dishes

Side Show

If almost all Americans are snacking, a lot of them are apparently eating side dishes, too. In its 52-week tracking period ending Dec. 27, 2015, Chicago-based IRI found that sales of frozen side dishes rose more than 24 percent, for a total of more than $472 million.

Across the side dish subcategory, IRI found gains among many brands, including Nestlé USA (20.8 percent), Birds Eye Foods (67.5 percent) and General Mills (30.5 percent).

Frozen sides include ubiquitous products like fries and vegetables, but even within those mature segments, new products and innovations lend a new look and taste to frozen offerings. Well-established brands like Green Giant and Birds Eye are continuing to add items, including Green Giant’s new Fire Roasted vegetable blends and Birds Eye’s new protein blends.

Frozen Desserts

Best for Last

These days, shoppers are looking at a greater variety of SKUs in the dessert area of the frozen food aisle. Like other parts of the frozen section, it’s not a vanilla world anymore, even if vanilla remains a top-selling ice cream flavor.

When it comes to ice cream, grocers are diversifying their dessert offerings with different types of frozen dairy treats, including custards, gelato, yogurt and even kefir. Within each of those subcategories, shoppers can find something for their palates, whether their goal is indulgence, as with items like Häagen-Dazs’ new Artisan line of ice creams, or experimentation, as with Purple Door super-premium ice cream in a whiskey variety.

Nondairy frozen desserts are also finding case space, thanks to items from such brands as Arctic Zero, Brewla and Nana’s Crème. As with ice cream, flavors are running the proverbial gamut in this nondairy segment. “Innovation in the nondairy dessert subcategories seems constant. Evolving dairy-free options are on the rise, with bases of cashew, banana and even avocado now making the list of featured ingredients; soy-free options are becoming more appealing,” says Brittany Blumer, natural product research expert at SPINS, a Chicago-based provider of retail consumer insights, analytics and consulting for the natural, organic and specialty products industry.

As in other categories — and even with the ongoing taste for indulgent desserts — consumers have expressed interest in healthier desserts. According to David Koehler, associate brand manager for the Healthy Choice brand from Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, Healthy Choice just launched a fudge bar and smoothie bars made with natural ingredients. “They’re all 80 calories or less and contain five or seven real ingredients,” he notes, “most of which you have in your kitchen at home: skim milk, cane sugar, cream, natural cocoa and real fruit.”

New Product Showcase

1 Beretta Farms has added chicken strips to its line of frozen entrées. Made with white meat sliced from whole chicken breasts, the strips are free from any preservatives, artificial colors or flavors.

Bertolli Skillet Meals have expanded to include Chicken Carbonara and Three Cheese Tortellini with Bacon varieties.

2 Birds Eye has introduced a Steamfresh Full Flavor line of protein blends, consisting of Barbecue Sweet Corn, Ranch Broccoli, Teriyaki Broccoli, Buffalo Cauliflower, Sour Cream & Onion Potatoes, Wasabi Peas, Fiesta Lime Corn, and Sweet Chili Carrots.

3 Bob Evans has come out with a Sausage Biscuit Sandwich in a convenient single-serve package, ready to heat and eat.

4 Schwan’s Edwards brand introduced Triple Coconut Crème and Vanilla Caramel Crème pies.

Grainful, which transforms natural steel-cut oats into quick lunch and dinner options, has developed a line of frozen Steel Cut Sides.

5 Healthy Choice Simply Café Steamers are made with 100 percent natural chicken or meatballs and no artificial ingredients.

Kahiki Foods Inc. has rolled out a line of Bowl & Roll single-serve entrées that include an Asian meal in a bowl served with an egg roll. Also new is a line of Yum Yum Stix.

6 Luvo Inc. has rolled out such items as Luvo Chicken & Harissa Chickpeas and Chicken Chorizo Chili.

Marie Calender’s Pot Pies have introduced two additional products: Chili Pot Pie and Broccoli Cheddar & Potato Pot Pie.

Marie Calender’s Frozen Desserts now include Pumpkin Pecan Streusel and, in California, Claim Jumper Pecan Pie.

Michael Angelo’s is now offering a line of frozen seafood entrées with such varieties as Seafood Primavera, Shrimp & Kale Piccata, and Shrimp Scampi.

7 P.F. Chang’s New Skillet Meals, all-protein meals the way the P.F. Chang’s restaurant makes them, are available in Signature Spicy Chicken and Honey Chicken varieties.

8 Ruiz Food Products Inc. added Beef, Bean and Cheese Chimichangas; Taco Beef Burritos; and a Signature Chicken and Jack Cheese Quesadillato its El Monterey line.

The Schwan Food Co. will revitalize its Red Baron Thin & Crispy offering in 2016 with both a packaging refresh and new flavors, including BBQ Style Chicken and Bacon Lovers Red Baron.

Tyson Foods has rolled out the Tyson Better for You Breaded Chicken line, made with 100 percent natural ingredients and featuring six frozen items. Among the varieties are Lightly Breaded Italian Strips and Whole Grain Fillets.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds