From pizza rolls to egg rolls, or popcorn chicken to pretzel poppers, frozen snacks fulfill cravings in a convenient, easy and affordable way, after just a few minutes in the microwave or a quick pop in the oven.
Indeed, although they’re on the smaller side of portion sizes, appetizers and snacks are big business: According to Chicago-based research firm IRI, sales of frozen appetizers and snacks hit $1.8 billion over the 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2014.
In its special category report on frozen snacks, released last April, Chicago-based research firm Mintel predicted that sales of frozen snacks would reach $5.1 billion by 2018. According to that report, while growth in snacks has been fairly negligible in recent years, future growth is expected because of consumers’ more frequent snacking habits and interest in convenient and affordable foods, along with more product introductions and reformulations from manufacturers.
According to Mintel Food Analyst Amanda Topper, such reformulations and product launches will help propel growth, particularly in items that are considered better-for-you and that include “real” ingredients. She cites the success of some brands that have touted the organic and natural aspects of their products. “In frozen snacks, we still see people buying pizza rolls and hand-held pockets, but there is a bit of a balance now, as we’re seeing organic gain traction,” she says. “I think we’re seeing a trend toward cleaner product labels and more information on the package, whether it’s the calorie and fat content, or if the product contains real cheese, for example.” Authentic ethnic snacks are also gaining a foothold among increasingly discerning consumers, she notes.
Analysts’ findings are playing out in a number of ways in the marketplace. In the organic segment, for example, Petaluma, Calif.-based Amy’s Kitchen is finding an audience with items like organic hand-held pockets, burritos and snacks, including organic bean-and-cheese burritos and spinach pizza. Likewise, the Evol line of frozen organic foods, based in Boulder, Colo., includes unique snacks like its Street Tacos, a hand-held item that aims to evoke the cachet of gourmet food trucks.
Shoppers can find more authentic ethnic snacks and appetizers in the freezer case, too. Stamford, Conn.-based Saffron Road, for instance, markets its snacks as hors d’oeuvres, with distinctive varieties like Turkish Figs and Goat Cheese, and Crispy Samosas with Saag Paneer.
The appetizer and snack category is also benefiting from a spillover of the restaurant trend of small bites, which fall somewhere between meals and traditional appetizers. King & Prince Seafood, of Brunswick, Ga., for one, has introduced a line of Small Plates/Bar Bites, including Jambalaya Fritters, Crispy Southern Flounder, and Lobster & Seafood Pups.
Meanwhile, the nation’s leading food companies are focusing R&D efforts on new and improved snacks and appetizers. Solon, Ohio-based Nestlé USA, for its part, has reformulated and rebranded the Hot Pockets and Lean Pockets lines, a move that spurred increased sales, and the venerable Tyson brand, based in Springdale, Ark., continues to expand its line of Any’tizers, which now offers options like Grillin’ Wings Rotisserie Flavored Wings.
Topper agrees that in snacks, as with other frozen foods, consumers want to know more about how the products are made and why they would be on par with fresh counterparts. “There is a need to promote the fact that these foods can be as good as, or better than, fresh,” she says.
The appetizer and snack category is benefiting from a spillover of the restaurant trend of small bites, which fall somewhere between meals and traditional appetizers.