Frozen, Dry Foods Sales Changing Patterns

May 29, 2020
Frozen and shelf-stable foods have both surged in sales during the coronavirus pandemic, but shifts in those surges are beginning to emerge.

Frozen and shelf-stable foods have both surged in sales during the coronavirus pandemic, but shifts in those surges are beginning to emerge.

Frozen food sales rose 40% in the 11 weeks ending May 16 compared to a year ago, according to Nielsen sales data. The surge has even prompted a demand for extra freezer space to handle all that inventory: home freezer sales in early April almost doubled from a year ago.

As for shelf-stable foods, the stock prices of center-store stalwarts General Mills, Conagra Brands and Kraft Heinz are all up more than 20% since the beginning of March, compared with 3% for the S&P 500.

As the pandemic crisis wears on, signs of shifts in consumption are showing. At the beginning, consumers appeared to crave comfort food, like mac and cheese and frozen pizza, at the expense of health/wellness considerations.

A Conagra executive told CNN Business that this was still the case. But John Carmichael, president of Nestlé Food Division, said that Nestlé expects consumers to start placing more emphasis on nutrition, like his company’s new Life Cuisine line.

With shelf-stable products, there was likewise an initial surge in comfort food, with canned soup up more than 200% and potato chips up 63% in the week ending March 21 compared with last year. But in the week ending May 16, the sales increases were down to 22% for soup over a year earlier, and 15% for chips.

Conversely, a surge is emerging for staples and ingredients used in home cooking, with flour sales in the week ending May 16 up 73% from a year earlier, eggs up 42% and olive oil up 44%. The increase in cooking from home is likely to last, with consumers gaining confidence with practice, and especially because of layoffs and economic hardship forcing families to eat as cheaply as possible.

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