Frozen Foods Hold Greater Potential

Americans love frozen dinners and entrees for their convenience, are impressed by the recent innovations in ease of preparation and are motivated to purchase new frozen products that look appealing in the store. With variety and healthier alternatives, this category holds greater potential.

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By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

Americans love frozen dinners and entrees for their convenience, are impressed by the recent innovations in ease of preparation and are motivated to purchase new frozen products that look appealing in the store. That’s according to a Harris Interactive online survey of 1,718 adults, taken on behalf of the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), McClean, Va. In fact, each American chills out with six frozen meals per month.

What consumers seek
What do consumers look for when purchasing frozen foods for themselves or their family? A few look for new products (8 percent), 23 percent seek enhancements to existing products and 68 percent think both attributes are equally important. Exactly half choose a new product because it looks appealing at the store, according to survey by American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI). Asked about the most important frozen food innovations over the part 10 years, 27 percent declare it is ease of preparation, 26 percent vote for variety, 22 percent choose taste, 18 percent believe it’s product performance and quality after preparation and for 7 percent it’s nutrition.

Based on a technology developed by Clarence Birdseye, the first TV dinner debuted under the Swanson’s brand in 1953 as an shortcut for busy wives, who had begun flocking to jobs in increasing numbers. The dinner of turkey, corn bread dressing and gravy, buttered peas and sweet potatoes was a bargain at 98 cents and a joy to feast on it while watching “I Love Lucy” on a spanking new Philco television. Comforting new varieties, including fried chicken and Salisbury steak, were added soon. Granted, the food tasted and looked somewhat mysterious under that aluminum foil. But the idea that you could combine an entrée, vegetable and starch in the same, shiny three-part container, put it in the oven, cook it in a few minutes and serve it with no dishes to wash was a great convenience.

Convenience is still the No. 1 reason behind frozen dinners, which are ready (now in the microwave) in less than five minutes, according to AFFI. And, more than ever, they’re a quality choice, due to the combination of great taste (thanks to corporate chefs and specialized R&D teams), variety (everything from Southern to Malaysian), new technology and packaging that locks in flavor and freshness — plus healthier formulations, such as low-fat, low-calorie, vegetarian, low-carb and lower sodium.

In 2005, frozen foods reached $28 billion in sales, according to Packaged Facts, the publishing division of MarketResearch.com, Rockville, Md. (www.packagedfacts.com). Growth of 2.8 percent annually over the next few years — reaching $32 billion by 2010 — is predicted. Much of this growth will come from a renewed emphasis on premium fare with homemade freshness, natural/organic ingredients and “better-for-you” entrees catering to the needs of time-crunched families.

As the definition of “family” continues to evolve, so do the choices of innovative varieties in frozen food packaging. “Lifestyle marketing” has taken the industry by storm. Meeting the frozen food needs of empty nesters, DINKS (double income, no kids) and marrieds without children at home — today’s dominant household unit -- has become crucial to success.

New ethnic flavors accounts for most of the dollar growth in frozen foods.

New ethnic flavors accounts for most of the dollar growth in frozen foods.

Good-for-you meals for two are springing up in frozen food cases sporting greater varieties of organic-based and ethnic cuisines. Resealable packaging, individual portion sizes, multi-serve and portion-controlled packaging also have been introduced to meet the specific lifestyle needs of on-the-go Americans.

“Consumers are being bombarded with fresh food choices in retail, which is a huge challenge to frozen foods,” says Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. “People want frozen foods to be quick, easy, and taste like restaurant quality as they seek to upgrade their home meals with world flavors, high nutrition and gourmet fare.”

Entrée view

Top Brands of Multiserve Frozen Dinners/Entrees
  Sales ($ millions) Market Share
Stouffer’s Family Style Recipes $197 17.0
Stouffer’s 186 16.1
Bertolli 111 9.6
Private Label 84 7.2
Banquet Crock Pot Classics 65 5.6
Stouffer’s Skillet Sensations 63 5.4
Birds Eye Voila 56 4.8
Contessa 43 3.7
Banquet 38 3.3
On-Cor Classics 32 2.7
Gourmet Dining 30 2.6
On-Cor Traditionals 28 2.4
Tyson 27 2.3
Freezer Queen 23 2.0
Swanson Hungryman XXL 23 2.0
Total $1.159 billion  
Source: Information Resources Inc. (U.S. supermarket sales for 53 weeks ended June 18)

The frozen dinner/entrée category, with sales of more than $8.6 billion in 2005, continues to be the largest within the frozen market, comprising roughly 31 percent of total retail sales. Within the category are frozen handheld entrees (non breakfast), multi-serve frozen dinners and single-serve items, the largest segment.

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