Frozen food is having more than a moment. Demand has soared since the pandemic, with NielsenIQ reporting sales of more than $66 billion for the 52-week period ending Feb. 6, 2021, a 23% increase over the previous year. In fact, the freezer case is so hot, Trader Joe’s devoted an entire podcast (Episode 34) to "Fail-Safe Freezer Finds for Dinner (And More)," hosted by marketing team members Tara Miller and Matt Sloan.
“We definitely saw trends that we were not expecting. Overall frozen has seen great growth,” said Trader Joe’s category manger for frozen, identified as Mary Ann. “Appetizers—huge growth there—more than just double-digit growth. Everything from items we’ve carried every day for many years, like the Mac and Cheese Bites, our Samosas, and new favorites like the Buffalo Chicken Poppers. [And] breakfast items—our croissants, our Chocolate and our Almond Croissants, especially.”
Trader Joe’s believes sales in categories such as frozen appetizers and breakfast are up for several reasons, including more people working from home and new cooking techniques that allow for restaurant-style preparation in the kitchen.
“It’s the advent of the air fryer that’s definitely moved the appetizer section,” said Mary Ann, who added that Trader Joe’s is introducing a Breaded Fried Ravioli, the Monrovia, Calif.-based grocer’s first product to have air fryer instructions on the directions for cooking.
With more people cooking at home than before the pandemic, the grocer is also seeing frozen food serve as a base for consumers to put their own spin on a TJ’s product. President of Stores Jon Basalone recommends adding chicken or Italian sausage to the frozen Penne Arrabbiata. While another crew member dished about adding walnuts and broccoli to its wildly popular Mandarin Orange Chicken.
In compiling results for this year’s Customer Choice Awards, Trader Joe’s noted that pasta items like the Penne Arrabbiata, mac and cheese, and gnocchi had surged in popularity. Bagged frozen pastas are doing particularly well, noted the frozen food category manager, along with frozen Italian entrees that offer a restaurant-inspired experience.
Recent product introductions including Cacio e Pepe and Fiocchetti with Pink Cream Sauce are both strong sellers, reports Trader Joe’s. As is the grocer’s longtime customer frozen food favorite French Onion Soup, and its newly inspired spinoff—French Onion Mac and Cheese. “It’s basically French Onion Soup mixed with Mac and Cheese flavor wise,” said Miller.
“Pasta seems to be getting a buck-the-gluten-free-trend treatment, where people are returning to that carb that’s so comfortable," observed Sloan.
Frozen seafood sales have also surged during the pandemic, with NielsenIQ reporting more than $7.1 billion in sales for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 6, 2021, a nearly 32% increase over the previous year period.
The category is also going swimmingly at Trader Joe’s, where a pack of Branzino Fillets for $9.99 and Argentinian Red Shrimp are trending.
Frozen uncooked or fresh meat sales are also seeing tremendous growth, reports NielsenIQ, which found that the category reached nearly $3.8 billion in sales for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 6, 2021, up more than 20% from the previous year. At Trader Joe’s, Grass Fed Angus Beef for $5.99 a pound is a fan favorite.
When it comes to frozen vegetables, Trader Joe’s points to its Vegetable Foursome, Organic Riced Cauliflower, Roasted Potatoes as convenient ways for consumers to round out a meal in minutes.
And with the pandemic severely limiting international travel, international frozen foods are also flying out of the freezer case at Trader Joe’s. Products such as Cha Siu Bao Pork Buns, Garlic Naan from India, Butter Chicken from Canada, Palak Paneer and Channa Masala made in New Jersey, Vegetable Samosas, Vegan Tikka Masala, and Fiery Chicken Curry are all resonating, reports the grocer.
“There’s such an appreciation for foods from all over the world in [the frozen food] section,” said Miller. “It’s such a great way for people to be able to travel without having to travel.”
Trader Joe’s recently broadcast its 12th Annual Customer Choice Awards Winners via its podcast, episode 33. The awards featured many return favorites, such as Mandarin Orange Chicken and Unexpected Cheddar, as well as some new products Trader Joe’s shoppers line up to buy.
Each year, the Monrovia, Calif.-based retailer invites customers to pick their top products in a variety of categories, as well as their No. 1 product overall. Shoppers can communicate picks via email or Instagram. For a look at last year’s winners, click here.
For years, customers all-around favorite Trader Joe’s product was the Mandarin Orange Chicken, but last year its throne was usurped by Everything But The Bagel Seasoning. This year, however, the popular frozen chicken entree that Trader Joe’s calls “the sweet and savory sovereign of the freezer case” took back its title.