Center Store

Frozen Foods Remain Sales Powerhouse

Sales up 50% over last year
Photograph: Shutterstock

Rather than showing any signs of slowing, frozen food sales during the week ending April 26, 2020, saw the highest increase over the same week last year since March 22, up 50.3%. The only department that came close to that was meat, up 49.7%. However, decreases in the deli and bakery department pulled down the overall perimeter performance to just over 23%. Center store edibles increased 31.4%.

Dollar Growth vs. Comparable Week in 2019

Source: IRI, total U.S., multioutlet, one week view percent change vs. year ago.

Food sales remained very strong the last full week of April. Free of the effects of Easter this year or last, the week ending April 26 provided a glimpse at the elevated everyday demand as a result of more meals having moved to at-home. At the same time, the shift to fewer but bigger trips continued and upended patterns remained in terms of day of the week, daypart, online ordering and brand and product choices. Since the onset of coronavirus in the U.S., the frozen food department has been a sales powerhouse, as shoppers looked to stock up and have access to healthy and convenient solutions. 210 Analytics, IRI and AFFI partnered to understand the effect for frozen food in dollars and volume throughout the pandemic.

Frozen foods generated more than $1.3 billion in the week of April 26—more than $442 million more than the comparable week in 2019. Frozen food unit sales were up 35.8%. The highly elevated consumer demand drove continued out-of-stocks at some stores.

On the Retail Feedback Group’s Constant Customer Feedback (CCF) program, a shopper said, “Lots of frozen vegetables were still empty. The selection was okay, but certainly not like normal. More hoarding, I guess.”

The consumer media coverage on the meat supply also resulted in another run on meat, starting the week of April 26. A shopper wrote, “I primarily went for frozen bags of chicken tenderloins and wings, but they were not available.”

On the fresh meat side, some retailers are once more implementing item limits on meat and poultry to stretch supply. Some retailers are also stocking up on more frozen meats to supplement the tight supply in fresh. “Based on the current market changes as well as announced plant closures, sourcing has been challenging to say the least,” said Samer Rahman, senior director of meat and seafood for Allegiance Retail Services. “With the news reports on plant closures, customers are under the impression meat will not be available in any form. They were alarmed by these reports and started loading up on fresh and frozen meats. The ability to rebound on product in the upcoming weeks is not likely. The demand is too high with limited product supply. I have had to explore additional options, from Australian meats to frozen chicken and burgers to have as an alternate offering to fresh the next few weeks.”

IRI sales data shows that frozen meat, poultry and seafood increased 68.0% over the week ending April 26 vs. the comparable week in 2019—its highest performance since the week of March 15.

A Deep Dive

The 68% gain in frozen meat, poultry and seafood was also the highest of the larger frozen categories. This translated into $415 million in animal protein sales for frozen food the week of April 26, an additional $122 million vs. the same week last year. Frozen meals, the largest share within frozen foods, increased more than 37%. This was driven by continued appetite for frozen pizza, that was up 53% over the week ending April 26 vs. the comparable week in 2019. Frozen snacks also continued to do well, up 76%.

Dollar Sales Change vs. Comparable Week Ending in 2019

Product and Share of Frozen Food Sales for Week Ending 4/26/20 4/26/204/19/204/12/204/5/203/29/203/22/203/15/203/8/203/1/20
Frozen department (excluding poultry)50.3%28.8%32.5%35.9%31.7%94.4%80.4%5.3%2.6%
Frozen meals (34%)37.2%27.7%21.5%27.8%25.4%99.3%88.6%3.3%-2.5%
  • Breakfast food
  • Dinners/entrees
  • Pizza
Frozen meat/poultry/seafood (32%)68.0%41.5%39.2%43.0%44.7%123.1%97.5%3.5%8.3%
  • Processed poultry
  • Meat
  • Seafood
Frozen desserts (23%)45.9%20.8%28.6%32.0%23.9%43.1%35.9%9.3%2.2%
  • Ice cream/sherbet
  • Novelties
  • Desserts/toppings
Frozen fruits and vegetables (12%)57.6%28.7%44.6%47.4%40.7%111.4%106.7%11.8%4.3%
  • Fruit
  • Potatoes/onions
  • Plain vegetables
  • Prepared vegetables
Frozen baked goods (3%)44.0%-6.9%63.2%42.4%38.9%87.8%56.8%1.4%-0.8%
Frozen snacks (4%)76.0%58.6%49.7%56.8%46.0%127.2%97.2%4.2%1.2%
  • Appetizers/snack rolls
Frozen beverages (<1%)65.4%41.9%63.2%62.9%59.5%142.9%114.5%8.2%-1.8%
  • Juices

Source: IRI, total U.S., multioutlet, one week view percent change vs. year ago

Dollars vs. Units

The slightly longer four-week look shows strong gains for both dollars and units across all areas of frozen. In most areas, dollar sales gains exceed unit sales by more than 10 percentage points. This typically points to consumers opting for larger pack sizes that have a higher per unit cost. It could also indicate some inflationary pressure.

Percent Sales Change Over the Four Weeks Ending April 26, 2020, vs. Year Ago

CategoryDollar SalesUnit Sales
Frozen department (excluding poultry)36.6%25.3%
Frozen meals28.3%17.9%
  • Breakfast food
  • Dinners/entrees
  • Pizza
Frozen meat/poultry/seafood47.3%36.4%
  • Processed poultry
  • Meat
  • Seafood
Frozen desserts31.7%21.1%
  • Ice cream/sherbet 
  • Novelties
  • Desserts/toppings
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables44.2%33.6%
  • Fruit
  • Potatoes/onions
  • Plain vegetables
  • Prepared vegetables
Frozen baked goods31.4%28.3%
Frozen snacks 59.9%49.1%
  • Appetizers/snack rolls
Frozen beverages57.9%46.7%
  • Juices

What’s Next?

Going into May, several states have released detailed plans for reopening in phases. The reopening of restaurants in these states, though often with social distancing and occupancy rate restrictions in place, may provide an indicator of consumers’ mental readiness and economic ability to reengage with foodservice. The widely covered meat shortages in consumer media caused another surge in meat demand, both fresh and frozen the first week of May, which likely means highly elevated numbers in next week’s results as well. For the foreseeable future, it is likely that grocery retailing will continue to capture an above-average share of the food dollar.

Anne-Marie Roerink is principal of 210 Analytics, which specializes in research for the food retailing industry and authors studies in meat, produce, bakery, deli, frozen, confectionery, snacks and retail operations. She can be reached at




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