Frozen foods have been declining in sales over the past few years but new products with on-trend ingredients and packaging have proven to be a great business move for food manufacturers. Nielson data finds that sales of frozen meals grew two percent in the year ended Oct. 28, which is a significant increase from the 2.3 percent decline of sales in the year ended Nov. 1, 2014. Among the major food companies driving these changes are Conagra, Nestlé and Pinnacle Foods.
Chicago-based food manufacturer, Conagra, has taken steps to re-invent their iconic brands with on-trend flavors and ingredients. CNBC reports the company’s three major brands – Healthy Choice, Banquet and Marie Callender’s – have experienced a large growth in sales since getting a makeover and introducing new products this year.
Conagra CEO Sean Connolly believes the frozen food category will grow for years to come. He points out the consumer interest in buying more fresh food but he thinks millennials are a great market to target. Millennials will venture to the frozen food section in order to save money and find food that fits into their busy schedules.
“They don’t know if they’re going out for beer and buffalo wings or if they’re going to be eating a pre-planned dinner so it’s a last-minute, spontaneous decision. And having a meal on-call in the freezer when you’re ready, we believe, is a huge opportunity,” Connolly said at the Morgan Stanley Consumer Staples & Retail Conference on Tuesday.
Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine has undergone a makeover as well. The major brand is focusing less on diet-friendly foods and more on organically-sourced, gluten-free and high-protein meals. After recruiting French-trained director of culinary innovation, Lucien Vendome, Nestlé overhauled Lean Cuisine in what was the largest redesign in its 34-year history. Vendome helped to re-create the brand to focus more on trending ingredients. In addition to these new recipes, Lean Cuisine has been divided up into four assortments: Craveables, Comfort, Favorites and Marketplace. The last assortment focuses on organic, preservative-free and gluten-free options.
Last year, Pinnacle Foods launched two new healthy platforms: Birds Eye Flavor Full, which blends vegetables with bold flavors like buffalo and wasabi, and Birds Eye Protein Blends which combine vegetables with legumes and whole grains. Their frozen plant-based meat alternatives line, Gardien, also included in the Birds Eye portfolio, has proven to be a strong performer as well.
These product changes are proving to be a great way to target the changing consumer market. According to a recent study by Acosta, 26 percent of US consumers now shop the frozen foods section more frequently than they did a year ago. Though all generations reported buying more frozen meals, the increase in sales was primarily driven by millennials. This is great news for food manufacturers who are taking steps to re-invent their products in order to appeal to this demographic.