Frozen Foods are Hot: Navigating Fast-evolving Consumer Expectations

By Alexus Medina, Director of Product Management, Sabert

You can see it when you walk into the grocery store. Consumers are spending more time in the frozen foods section seeking out prepared foods. The demand for frozen foods is increasing, with sales reaching $74.2 billion in the last year, according to the latest research from the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI). Within that, the ready meals segment makes up more than 40% of the frozen foods industry. AFFI research found shoppers value frozen foods as total meal solutions that can save time, are easy to prepare and meet their taste expectations.

At the same time, competition in the readymade category is heating up. Competition from restaurants and delivery services is forcing prepared food producers to ramp up their readymade offerings to ensure consumers choose their products when considering cost and navigating a hectic lifestyle. For frozen food producers, there’s a significant opportunity to offer readymade meals consumers crave.

All Roads Lead to the Freezer Aisle

Today’s frozen foods offer a whole new level of shelf appeal, taste, convenience, and sustainability. Here’s a closer look at some of the trends pushing consumers to seek out prepared foods at their local grocery store freezer section.

  • Busy Lifestyles – Many families have less time to cook thanks to dual-income households and people working more to make ends meet.
  • Better Frozen Foods – Today’s readymade frozen foods offer higher quality across more diverse cuisines, with healthy and plant-based options quickly gaining ground.
  • Rising Food Costs – Inflation and supply chain challenges are keeping food prices high and reorienting how families put food on the table.

Consumers recognize that they have options beyond restaurants and fast casual eateries to get good food quickly – and at an affordable price point.

Pushing Past the Perimeter

Frozen food manufacturers are exploring opportunities to tap into the growing trend of supermarkets becoming go-to destinations for readymade meals. The rise of “grocerants” has seen supermarkets significantly ramping up their fresh and prepared food offerings. These “perimeter offerings” serve as a bridge between traditional grocery products and restaurant items. Manufacturers recognize that the heightened presence of the target market in supermarkets, now accustomed to these establishments as dining destinations, provides an opportune moment to offer enhanced frozen food options.

Prepared frozen foods have their own advantages, attracting busy and cost-conscious customers with even greater flexibility and affordability options. A well-stocked freezer at home means families don’t have to leave the house, and these items can be cheaper than alternative solutions. Readymade frozen meals offer a broad array of cuisines and dishes, with the potential for integration with recognized brands or food personalities. The opportunity for frozen food manufacturers is to maintain this flexibility and affordability while remaining competitive on quality and consumer expectations.

The Potential in Packaging Performance

When people talk about innovations in frozen foods – and even fresh prepared foods – what they're really talking about are innovations in packaging. Packaging has become an indispensable component of satisfying consumer expectations and is the defining factor in several aspects of a product's success.

Packaging is integral at every step, from production to delivering customer satisfaction. Now, processors have a wide array of turnkey packaging options or fully customizable solutions designed to make it easy to use a company's existing machinery and technology while upgrading their packaging for the modern consumer.

Once the product is ready, packaging helps to protect food from damage during shipping and preserves the safety and quality as it makes its way through the supply chain and to the dinner table. It can also make or break the consumer’s experience. For instance, a durable material like CPET can go straight from the freezer to a microwave or conventional oven, creating a seamless cooking experience and cutting down on cleanup time and waste.

Packaging can also highlight the brand and product value proposition, such as displaying and promoting a chef partnership, exotic ingredient or health benefit to help consumers make an informed purchase. It's also a great vehicle to highlight sustainability commitments by adopting eco-friendly materials that won't impact performance.

Freezer Out the Competition with a Better Product Portfolio

Ultimately, innovative packaging is the secret ingredient to the success of any frozen food item. Working with the right packaging provider can be invaluable in capitalizing on the potential for improved products through improved packaging. Sabert has multiple substrates and portfolio options to help frozen food manufacturers and prepared food specialists take offerings to the next level.

Tip: Check out how Sabert helps processors find the right packaging solutions.