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Frozen Foods Proving To Be Pandemic Powerhouse

Nearly one year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, a new report finds frozen foods were among the fastest growing categories in the grocery store, with clear signs that Americans’ fondness for frozen will continue to grow.

The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) and FMI – the Food Industry Association on Feb. 18 released the second Power of Frozen report during AFFI’s Frozen Food Convention (AFFI-CON). The Power of Frozen 2021 identifies megatrends influencing the demand for frozen foods, including increased engagement in all categories, online shopping and health and well-being.

“The frozen food aisle has been a growth driver for retailers since 2016 with acceleration ahead of most other departments,” said AFFI President and CEO Alison Bodor. “Frozen foods are a pandemic powerhouse ringing in $65.1 billion in retail sales in 2020, a 21 percent increase compared to a year ago.”

In 2020, frozen food sales grew in both dollars (+21 percent) and units (+13.3 percent), with nearly all types of frozen foods seeing double-digit sales increases.

“Shoppers are nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and are having more family meals at home than ever before. They are looking for meal plans, culinary creativity and convenient, cost-effective solutions,” said FMI Vice President of Industry Relations Doug Baker. “The frozen foods category offers these benefits to shoppers and that’s why we see all areas – from meal ingredients to meal solutions – reaching new audiences and increasing purchases.”

The top-three frozen food categories with the largest percentage of dollar growth in 2020, according to IRI, include: Seafood (+35.3 percent); Poultry (+34.7 percent); Appetizers (+28.9 percent).

Bodor added, “It’s not just about what’s for dinner, especially for our core frozen food consumers. All meal occasions – dinner, lunch, snacks and breakfast – are contributing to an increase in frozen food purchases.”

As consumers turned to online shopping at a record rate, the vast majority were adding frozen to their digital cart. Over the past year, 42 percent of households that buy frozen foods have bought frozen foods online, up from 23 percent in 2018. Online frozen food dollar sales increased 75 percent in 2020, with frozen dinners/entrees, meat, poultry and seafood being the biggest online sellers.

The Power of Frozen was conducted by 210 Analytics and was made possible by Pictsweet, Wawona Frozen Foods, J.R. Simplot Co. and Firestone Pacific Foods.

Across many nutrition and production traits, frozen food consumers are most likely to be interested in “real” ingredients, followed by fresh frozen and the absence of artificial colors.

The interest in fresh frozen also aligns with another key finding from the Power of Frozen 2021. To most frozen food consumers (72 percent), it’s not frozen or fresh – it’s frozen and fresh.

“Mixing fresh and frozen in the same meal is a tell-tale trait of our core frozen food consumers,” added Bodor.

Amid the pandemic, the share of core frozen food consumers, defined as those who consume frozen food daily or every few days, rose from 35 percent in 2018 to 39 percent in 2020. High-frequency frozen food consumers are more likely than low-frequency consumers to purchase frozen foods for planned, specific occasions.

The American Frozen Food Institute is the member-driven national trade association representing all segments of the frozen food supply chain from manufacturers to suppliers and distributors. AFFI advocates before legislative and regulatory entities on the industry’s behalf, serves as the voice for the industry and convenes industry leadership to create an environment where frozen foods are essential in a dynamic marketplace.

As the food industry association, FMI works with and on behalf of the entire industry to advance a safer, healthier and more efficient consumer food supply chain. FMI brings together a wide range of members across the value chain — from retailers that sell to consumers, to producers that supply food and other products, as well as the wide variety of companies providing critical services — to amplify the collective work of the industry.