From the October issue of Drovers CattleNetwork.
 
In the world of frozen foods, it is the best of times and the worst of times.

For the past few years, sales numbers have not looked good: Sales of frozen dinners, snacks and side dishes were down 1 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, when they were down 1 percent from 2011, according to Food Business News.

The increase in other convenient options, such as ready-to-eat foods prepared in grocery stores, is one reason. Changing consumer preference is another. Today’s consumers are less likely to be satisfied with the traditional frozen offerings. They are interested in minimal processing, fresh ingredients, fewer additives, low-sodium or gluten-free choices — none of which are automatically associated with frozen foods. That’s why the big brands of old, such as Green Giant, Birds Eye and Lean Cuisine, no longer dominate the freezer cases the way they once did.

Instead, newer names are trying to find their place in the freezer and revive the category by targeting what consumers want today. Amy’s Kitchen is among them, touting non-GMO ingredients and gluten-free and organic options. The company’s website emphasizes its origins as a family business, and a consumer newsletter creates a sense of community around the brand.

Another is Atkins Nutritionals’ frozen meals, which launched in 2013 in response to consumer interest in high-protein options. They were among the 12 products recognized in Nielsen’s 2015 Breakthrough Innovation report, meaning they generated at least $50 million in U.S. sales in their first year and at least 90 percent of their first-year sales in their second year.

Luvo is another relative newcomer. Luvo’s founder told the New York Times that when she saw research showing that consumers shop the frozen aisle the same way they make selections from a menu, she created Luvo’s meals with that fact in mind — rather than making low price the primary driver, as it had been for most frozen meals in the past. So Luvo’s meals include options like kale ricotta ravioli, chicken and harissa chickpeas, and red-wine braised beef with polenta. The dishes, which contain minimal amounts of salt, fat and sugar, are packaged in parchment paper pouches that steam-cook the food evenly, are environmentally friendly and allow the consumer to easily transfer the food onto a plate — instead of eating from a plastic tray.

These products may very well help right the ship for frozen foods over the next few years. According to a recent report from the International Food Information Council, sales of natural frozen foods made from what consumers perceive to be “real,” or unprocessed, ingredients have increased, unlike traditional frozen foods.

The report also predicts that frozen-food manufacturers will continue to put forward the message that freezing acts as “nature’s pause button” — in other words, minimally processed, healthy foods that are frozen are still minimally processed, healthy foods.

Even with the stagnant sales growth of recent years, frozen foods are still a major force in grocery sales, bringing in four times more in sales than the deli department, according to Nielsen. Further, industry experts are bullish about the changes the industry is making. The frozen-foods segment is expected to grow by $1 billion between 2014 and 2019, says market researcher Packaged Facts.In the world of frozen foods, it is the best of times and the worst of times.

For the past few years, sales numbers have not looked good: Sales of frozen dinners, snacks and side dishes were down 1 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, when they were down 1 percent from 2011, according to Food Business News.

The increase in other convenient options, such as ready-to-eat foods prepared in grocery stores, is one reason. Changing consumer preference is another. Today’s consumers are less likely to be satisfied with the traditional frozen offerings. They are interested in minimal processing, fresh ingredients, fewer additives, low-sodium or gluten-free choices — none of which are automatically associated with frozen foods. That’s why the big brands of old, such as Green Giant, Birds Eye and Lean Cuisine, no longer dominate the freezer cases the way they once did.

Instead, newer names are trying to find their place in the freezer and revive the category by targeting what consumers want today. Amy’s Kitchen is among them, touting non-GMO ingredients and gluten-free and organic options. The company’s website emphasizes its origins as a family business, and a consumer newsletter creates a sense of community around the brand.

Another is Atkins Nutritionals’ frozen meals, which launched in 2013 in response to consumer interest in high-protein options. They were among the 12 products recognized in Nielsen’s 2015 Breakthrough Innovation report, meaning they generated at least $50 million in U.S. sales in their first year and at least 90 percent of their first-year sales in their second year.

Luvo is another relative newcomer. Luvo’s founder told the New York Times that when she saw research showing that consumers shop the frozen aisle the same way they make selections from a menu, she created Luvo’s meals with that fact in mind — rather than making low price the primary driver, as it had been for most frozen meals in the past. So Luvo’s meals include options like kale ricotta ravioli, chicken and harissa chickpeas, and red-wine braised beef with polenta. The dishes, which contain minimal amounts of salt, fat and sugar, are packaged in parchment paper pouches that steam-cook the food evenly, are environmentally friendly and allow the consumer to easily transfer the food onto a plate — instead of eating from a plastic tray.

These products may very well help right the ship for frozen foods over the next few years. According to a recent report from the International Food Information Council, sales of natural frozen foods made from what consumers perceive to be “real,” or unprocessed, ingredients have increased, unlike traditional frozen foods.

The report also predicts that frozen-food manufacturers will continue to put forward the message that freezing acts as “nature’s pause button” — in other words, minimally processed, healthy foods that are frozen are still minimally processed, healthy foods.

Even with the stagnant sales growth of recent years, frozen foods are still a major force in grocery sales, bringing in four times more in sales than the deli department, according to Nielsen. Further, industry experts are bullish about the changes the industry is making. The frozen-foods segment is expected to grow by $1 billion between 2014 and 2019, says market researcher Packaged Facts.