As we approach the midway point of 2021, sales of frozen foods are flying high. It can be tempting to attribute this success to the onset of the pandemic and the changes in our shopping habits it has forced. But look a little deeper, and we can see different trends—not only driving a resurgence in the popularity of frozen food, but shifting the perception of what these products are capable of.
In fact, it appears the longer-term growth in the industry is being partly driven by a combination of increased public demand for healthier foods, and the realization that frozen products can provide these health benefits.
COVID-19 lockdowns have undeniably had a significant bearing on frozen food’s popularity over the last year. The Grocer reported a sales increase in the UK of 16% as early as April 2020—with frozen options proving popular for consumers looking to stock up on large amounts of food. However, a look at which types of frozen foods are seeing the biggest growth is very revealing. Research from Spins in Q4 of 2020 found:
Plant-based diet-friendly sales had risen by 28% year-on-year
Vegan diet-friendly sales had risen by 28% year-on-year
Paleo diet-friendly sales had risen by 26% year-on-year
Interestingly, research also shows that sales were growing in frozen food pre-pandemic too. For instance, 2018 saw a 2.6% growth in sales in the US—a big achievement given sales were negative as recently as 2016. Throw into the mix the fact that 43% of millennials now claim to be buying more frozen food than they were previously, and it’s clear that it is more than just the pandemic leading us to the freezer aisle.
Returning to the eye-catching growth in plant-based, vegan and paleo diet frozen foods, this suggests that the wider public demand shift towards health-conscious, plant-based, wellness-oriented and even immunity-boosting foods is having a particular impact in the frozen sector. But why is this? The answer is a mix of price, convenience and—crucially—perception.
For a long time, the general consensus has been that to get the most out of food from a health and wellness standpoint, fresh (or chilled) was the way to go. Frozen food was generally considered the easy, cheap option—but little more than that. Of course the truth has always been that frozen products pack a considerable nutritional punch. A study in 2017 concluded that there was no difference in the levels of antioxidants and nutrients found in fresh and frozen produce. If anything, vitamins and nutrients are likely more prevalent in frozen fruit and vegetables—as they are frozen in at the point of maximum ripeness.
The sales breakthrough has come from the smartest frozen food manufacturers and brands communicating this fact better to the public—and rebranding frozen as a source of high-quality food with real health credentials. The research from Spins found that among frozen food products, non-GMO claims are up 30% year-on-year, vegan-friendly claims are up 27%, and 25% more are plant based-positioned. The number of Paleo-certified frozen products is up 35% and allergy-friendly claims are up 36%.
These impressive figures are a mix of new product launches targeting these in-demand areas, and simply savvier labeling and marketing promoting the inherent benefits of frozen foods. It’s not just frozen produce which can benefit from this, but frozen meals too. Frozen products are seen as very effective gateways to plant-based foods in particular. Their more competitive pricing and convenience have never been in question—but with frozen products now having their health benefits more effectively communicated to consumers, it is proving a winning combination.
While parts of the frozen industry have shown themselves to be adept at repositioning to meet these new dietary demands, there is still more that can be done. Businesses operating in the traditional frozen meals sector may have found it particularly difficult to capitalize. But it is possible. Diversifying product ranges to include more plant-based, vegetarian/vegan and diet-friendly options should be a real area of priority for such businesses.
This comes with its own challenges—which is where software built for the food industry can help. Our solution—Aptean Food & Beverage ERP—helps manufacturers quickly develop popular and cost-effective recipes using a wealth of data. It also makes allergen management much more straightforward, allowing businesses to open up guaranteed “free from” ranges without disrupting production of their other products.
To learn more about how powerful food ERP software can help your frozen food company fully benefit from the huge opportunities currently up for grabs, contact our team today!