Frozen food has been around for years–95 years to be exact. Although people have been freezing food as a method of preservation for around 3,000 years, the modern process of flash-freezing fresh foods was first discovered and developed by Clarence Birdseye while catching fish during winter. Birdseye noticed that when fish were frozen immediately after being caught, they tasted just as good when thawed out months later. The flash-freeze method was born.
By the early 1970s the microwave was a common household appliance. Convenience became the only focus while nutrition fell by the wayside. Frozen waffles, TV dinners, and pizzas became standard frozen fair. Unfortunately, the perception of frozen meals as lacking in nutrition prevailed playing second fiddle to fresh produce. Until now.
The recent innovation in the frozen category towards healthier cuisine has brought shoppers back to the aisle, and dramatically expanded the number of available sub-segments. There are now shelves for gluten-free, cauliflower, organic, veggie-burgers, dairy-free, gelatos, ultra-premium pints of ice cream, and more. According to Nielsen Retail Measurement Services (NFRA), non-GMO claims were up 10.1%, organic claims up 9.3%, gluten-free claims 4.2%, and free-from artificial colors/flavor claims up 6.3% in 2018 over the previous year. These types of new healthy food options look to disrupt current perceptions around frozen food as being a “backup plan” between trips to the grocery store.
Frozen food isn’t making a comeback per se (the category already has 99% household penetration) but more of a resurgence. According to a Mintel global report, 34% of frozen food marketing launches in 2018 were targeted at ethical and environmental concerns, while 21% were items targeting “natural” customers. These culturally aware brands are helping to lift the entire category 2.6% on top of a $7 billion base.
Innovation will continue to play a major role in the frozen category resurgence. Convenience is no longer the only attraction for consumers as the category branches out into new healthy segments. Category growth is now surging down a once stagnant aisle and as innovation continues to pour in, it will be long before we see this trend thaw.