Industry News

Q&A: Exploring the pandemic’s effect on the frozen food category

May 11, 2021
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This post is sponsored by Acosta.

The massive surge in home cooking brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has caused shifts in grocery shopping behavior, including increased demand for frozen foods. In this interview, Acosta Senior Manager of Business Intelligence Christina Davis discusses what factors are driving growth in the frozen food category and what retailers and frozen food brands can do to maintain growth and attract new customers.

Acosta Senior Manager of Business Intelligence Christina Davis
Davis

How much did frozen food sales grow in 2020, and how much of that growth will continue into this year and the years ahead?

Frozen food sales grew 20.6% in 2020. Prior to COVID-19, sales growth in frozen foods was trending close to that for total store. As COVID-19 forced the “at home” trend for work, school and meals, frozen foods’ growth exceeded that for total store.   Categories within frozen such as frozen seafood, frozen dessert and frozen breakfast are still showing growth at over three times that of total edibles growth year-to-date, according to Nielsen data for the 14 weeks ending April 3. Overall demand for frozen foods is expected to remain accelerated.

Produce, pizza, snacks and entrees are the frozen categories purchased more frequently during the pandemic vs. pre-pandemic. What is driving growth in these particular categories?

Frozen foods have been one of the biggest cooking trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three factors have fueled growth:

1. Product innovation

2. Increased need and desire for convenience

3. Cooking more meals at home

All of these factors contributed to shoppers stating that they bought these particular categories more often than they did prior to the pandemic. Our research indicates that convenience and easy preparation are the top purchase drivers. In categories such as frozen vegetables and seafood, shoppers indicate “healthy” as a top purchase driver. 

What innovations can we expect in the frozen food category as a result of the surge in sales?

Over the past five years there has been tremendous innovation in frozen and the pandemic has driven trial that many brands needed. In particular, innovation has pushed taste and quality ahead of convenience as premium offerings have proliferated across frozen categories -- think healthy ice cream, gourmet frozen pizza and diet-specific items (e.g., Keto, dairy-free, etc.).

Overall demand for frozen foods is expected to remain accelerated, and the key for innovation will be aligning with shopper demand.      

What can retailers do to meet shoppers' evolving needs in the frozen category?

Shoppers understand the value and convenience that frozen food offers, and promoting awareness and inspiration of meal solutions often drives sales versus just a discounted price. Innovation will continue to be important, but the bar will be higher for line extensions that bring something unique and relevant.

What do frozen food brands need to do to attract new buyers? 

The biggest barriers to buying frozen food remain similar to what they were pre-pandemic, including concerns about nutritional value and price, and a preference for fresh products, especially produce. Innovation and messaging that is focused on health, value and freshness will resonate with shoppers. Now that shoppers have tried and repeated using frozen products, many will stick with them.    

Download the report, “The Pandemic-Fueled Growth of Frozen Foods,” to learn more.

Christina Davis is senior manager of business intelligence at Acosta. She has 25+ years of CPG and pharmaceuticals experience working across all areas of the marketing research spectrum from both the client and consulting sides. Her strengths are leveraging consumer and shopper insights across syndicated data and primary research to launch major brands and to develop shopper marketing and category management programs at Acosta. Davis has a BS in applied mathematics from Georgia Southern University and an MS in statistics from Georgia Tech.