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After years of declining sales, frozen foods are making a comeback. Frozen food sales rose 2.2 percent overall last year, and frozen vegetables jumped 4.5 percent, according to the latest Nielsen data.
With March's Frozen Food month just around the corner, find out why people are taking a closer look at frozen, and how a little promotion savvy can help you increase sales not just in the frozen category, but all across store—including the fresh departments you’re known for!
Preserved at the peak of freshness, frozen fruits and vegetables offer the flavors of fresh, ready to use whenever you need them.
“In many cases, we’re looking at from field to pack in 72 hours,” agreed Rod Anderson, director of sales for Pinnacle Foods, an IGA Red Oval partner. For several vegetables, such as green beans, broccoli, and corn, the ability to freeze immediately after harvest results in a more flavorful product than the ones that take weeks to travel long distances to stores to be sold fresh," he said. It appears that people are catching on to this, seen in strong sales of frozen vegetables, which jumped 4.5 percent in the last year to $3.03 billion, according to Nielsen Data.
IGA’s Kim Kirchherr, registered dietitian and IGA health and wellbeing adviser, agrees. “Frozen fruits and vegetables got their start on a farm just like fresh options. They just have a different storage capacity built in for convenience, which is great to manage food safety and food waste while benefiting from nutrition and ease of preparation, so they are great companions to the fresh, local favorites IGA stores carry from all the food groups,” Kirchherr said.
“People can start with the basics to incorporate into whatever eating style they’re excited about,” said Kirchherr. In addition to time-saving benefits, using frozen to round out meal preparation can give a home cook a confidence boost, she said. For example, if you don’t have strong knife skills, frozen veggies are already cut for you. Or you can buy pre-cooked and frozen seafood if you are unsure about how to prepare certain types of fish, she said. Not to mention having a well-stocked freezer gives extra flexibility. “All the food groups are in your house all the time if you stock your freezer with all the great options available to us now,” said Kirchherr.
According to the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRFA), there are more than 3,700 different foods represented in the freezer aisle, including many wholesome options that cover breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack-time, entertaining, and specialty food occasions. Kirchherr and Anderson point to trending items that make it easier to incorporate fruit and vegetable options, such as pasta-shaped veggies and riced cauliflower.
Even frozen pizza manufacturers are incorporating more veggies in toppings and experimenting with cauliflower in crusts. Vegetable protein convenience foods are more flavorful and interesting than they were in the past, too, said Anderson, pointing to meatless “fish” and other meat substitutes.
Pinnacle’s Gardein brand has quadrupled its sales in recent years, he said, largely due to “flexitarians,” people who aren’t adhering to a specific diet but are looking to curb their meat consumption for personal reasons. According to Anderson, while even five to seven years ago gluten free options or meatless chicken tenders might have been specialty foods, they are now mainstream and premium products grocers don’t want to miss out on, especially since many are selling at higher price points than traditional frozen offerings, making it a win for people trying to add more vegetables and diversity into their meals and for businesses wanting to meet their shoppers' demands.
Consumers’ increased desire for food transparency have led to additional improvements in the quality, ingredients, and variety of prepared frozen foods. According to NFRFA, an emerging trend in prepared frozen entrees are food manufacturers working with expert chefs in innovative test kitchens across the country to develop and market new dishes.
For Kirchherr, another big benefit of frozen is the ability to exercise portion control. “No matter what the eating occasion is or how you choose to eat, you can portion out entrees, and pair frozen options with fresh salads, or a whole grain side,” she said. Examples she gives: “take-and-break” pre-made cookies allow you to make as many or as few as you want to help keep an eye on more decadent options, or buying the big bag of frozen veggies, using what you need, and saving the rest for future meals.
With portioned meals and pre-cut produce that doesn’t leave anything to waste, frozen foods offer great value for the consumer.