Survey: Frozen foods continue to increase in popularity

12 Oct 2021

Frozen foods have experienced an ongoing bump in consumer popularity during the pandemic thanks to their long shelf life, attractive pricing and manufacturers’ willingness to innovate in the space. This trend, which has held strong for over a year, continues to grow, according to a recent report by Deloitte.

In the market research firm’s report that cited a survey it performed in July, Deloitte found that frozen food sales grew at nearly double the pace of fresh food, up 21% in 2020. Growth in sales volumes also paralleled price growth. Eighty-two percent of consumers perceived the increased cost of fresh food to be “more than was justified.” At the same time, these consumers had the impression that frozen food prices hadn’t increased at all and were interested in increasing their purchases from this category.

Survey: Frozen foods continue to increase in popularity

Beyond prices, concern about the shelf life of fresh food has driven more shoppers to test out frozen alternatives. In the survey, 45% of respondents said that the fresh food they purchased is being wasted more often now than it was in the past as the frequency of shopping trips remains below pre-pandemic levels.

For years, frozen food was dogged by the reputation that it was sub-par to fresh options. However, recent years have demonstrated a shift in this perception. According to the Deloitte survey, 40–50% of consumers said frozen is just as good or better than fresh, with frozen vegetables and frozen meat being the top two categories where the largest percentage of people expressed this sentiment.

The impression that frozen food is as good as fresh is particularly prevalent among younger consumers, Deloitte found, echoing findings from other research. Last year, the American Frozen Food Institute found that Gen Z consumers substantially increased frozen products purchases during the pandemic.

Manufacturers' focus on convenience, health and increasingly varied flavor options has overhauled the frozen food category in recent years. Companies like B&G, Nestlé, Conagra and General Mills have all taken steps to improve their offerings with an eye toward better-for-you ingredients labels and portion sizes.

As a result, younger consumers discovered, even before the pandemic, the ease of opting for a frozen solution to feed themselves amid hectic schedules. Then, the pandemic shifted the landscape entirely. Instead of fading into a forgotten aisle, frozen food once again offered the qualities that consumers sought. With limited ability to shop and the sudden need to cook meals at home – a novelty for many consumers – frozen food presented a cost-effective and easy-to-use alternative to shopping fresh.

Such a demographic-wide preference for frozen options may indicate a longer-term shift is underway. If younger consumers continue to rely on frozen food products to supplement their cooking routines, as these consumers grow in size and purchasing power, they will have a significant impact on the future of this category.

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