Health-conscious consumers are more likely to peruse the produce section than head to the frozen aisle. However, even these shoppers have nights when they would rather pop something into the microwave than prepare quinoa with organic vegetables. The frozen industry has hopped onto this need, and today’s frozen food items are almost as likely to make claims such as “all-natural” as they are “ready in under five minutes.”
Consumers’ focus on better-for-you foods has led to a mass exodus from the frozen aisle, industry observers say, but retailers have the opportunity to win back frozen shoppers by stocking products that promise convenience and quality ingredients—all in one package.
Good Food Made Simple is bringing consumers back into the frozen aisle with products that are certified made-with-organic and boast other wholesome qualities.
“I think we’re bringing the good food shopper who has left the frozen aisle back to frozen,” says Julia Khodabandeh, director of marketing for Wellesley, Mass.-based Good Food Made Simple. “Good food consumers want convenience too, they have just been trained to avoid the frozen aisle because of the lack of clean, organic products that have been available in the past. We’re seeing a resurgence of brands that are inviting those consumers back to frozen.”
Health-conscious shoppers are not immune to long workdays and juggling numerous responsibilities. Despite these challenges, better-for-you consumers are not willing to compromise on the food they serve their families or put into their own bodies.
“Consumers have increasingly hectic lifestyles and want quick, high-quality meals that they are proud to serve their family,” says Alan Brooks, associate brand manager of Chicago.-based Conagra Brands. “Frozen meals offer the perfect solution, and consumers continue to take notice and appreciate all of the recent innovations that help frozen meal solutions to even better meet their needs.”
Healthy Choice, a Conagra brand, recently expanded its Café Steamers line to include four varieties that speak to consumers’ demand for organic ingredients and global flavors. The new products include the Unwrapped Burrito Bowl, Sweet & Spicy Asian-Style Noodle Bowl, Three Cheese Tortellini and Creamy Spinach & Tomato Linguini.
“Retailers need to take on plenty of natural and organic SKUs because these are really what the customer is looking for,” says Mike Adair, founder and CEO of Franklin, Tenn.-based, Red’s, which just introduced an Organic Bean and Rice Burrito, its first vegan offering. “By transforming the frozen food aisle into a quick stop for healthy, easy dinners, retailers can help us attract a larger audience as the demand grows.”
The move away from the traditional TV dinners that once filled the frozen aisle is largely driven by Millennials, observers say. Consumer research conducted by Smart Flour Foods found Millennials are more concerned with what they are eating than their older counterparts. Specifically, the research found Millennials seek out products containing healthier nutrients and appreciate “free from” foods like gluten-, preservative- and hormone-free.
“From what we can tell, there has been no better time for the better-for-you industry,” says Sameer Shah, vice president of marketing for Austin, Texas-based Smart Flour Foods. “Americans and people all over the world are paying more attention to what is in their food.”
Smart Flour Foods appeals to consumers by offering them comfort food, like frozen pizza, with a better-for-you twist, Shah says. The company’s pizza offerings are synthetic preservative-free and are made with hormone-free milk and ancient grains. The crusts are also Non-GMO Project Verified.
Better for You Foods is also wooing consumers with frozen pizzas that are made with organic ingredients, hormone-free cheese and ancient grains. Amy Lotker, owner and head of sales and marketing for the Delray Beach, Fla.-based company, says Better for You Foods makes sure the pizza’s desirable qualities are explicit on the packaging by using large type that calls out to health-conscious consumers.
“Millennials are some of our best customers,” Lotker says. “They differ from earlier generations in that they demand natural, better-for-you foods and they expect them to be omnipresent. Like technology, Millennials see no reason why they should be expected to eat ‘fake’ food any more than they should be expected to use a rotary phone.”
Saffron Road Foods has been talking to consumers about what they expect from grocery and noticed younger consumers have an updated definition of “better for you,” says Jack Acree, executive vice president of the Stamford, Conn.-based company. Key factors in this Millennial-driven definition include products that use animal protein that was humanely raised and without antibiotics, as well as clean ingredient decks.
“Since Saffron Road was the first frozen entrée to offer antibiotic-free chicken and lamb, this move by the consumer validates our early innovation,” Acree says.
Millennials also have a strong conscience when it comes to sustainability and the planet, observers say. These consumers often go for brands that share the same values. Luvo, based in Vancouver, Canada, offers products that prioritize a sustainable food system, such as offerings that contain ingredients like antibiotic-free animal protein. Luvo’s new Planted Power Bowls are Non-GMO Project verified, gluten-free and vegan.
“Millennials want to support brands that have people-, animal-, and planet-friendly practices,” says Samantha Cassetty, vice president of nutrition for Luvo. “They prioritize brands that share their values.”
Stocking the frozen aisles with better-for-you options is not enough to convince consumers to shop there, however. Retailers must catch the attention of consumers that have migrated away from the frozen aisle and show them that options are now available that fit in with their lifestyles and values, observers say.
“From the retailer’s standpoint, merchandising is key,” Khodabandeh says. “Really build out blocks in frozen breakfast that accentuate brands like Good Food Made Simple and products like our Belgian puffs, which are clean, fun and pretty unique to the category.”
In addition to creating eye-catching displays, retailers have an opportunity to bring consumers into the frozen aisle by offering in-store demos. Retailers can give these demos an extra boost by placing them in areas of the store where shoppers that are rarely found in frozen are more likely to frequent.
“We’re big advocates of promoting or demoing our products near produce, where our shopper tends to spend a lot of time in the store,” Cassetty says.
Retailers can also organize in-store events and demos that focus on better-for-you products, like a gluten-free fair or a healthier foods showcase, Shah suggests. Providing consumers with ideas for how to use better-for-you frozen products at home and turn them into healthy, balanced meals that take less time to prepare is another great way retailers can boost frozen sales.
Luvo recently hosted a demo in which they partnered with Gotham Greens, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based grower of local, premium produce. The company paired Gotham Greens’ butterhead lettuce with its Orange Mango Chicken to make Orange Mango Chicken lettuce wraps.
“There was so much interest and excitement about both products,” Cassetty says. “Shoppers are used to thinking about lettuce with salad dressing but this showed them new ways to use both products in a way that competes with meal kits, but requires less cooking, cleanup and packaging waste.”