No Market Thaw for Frozen Food

By Salvatore Pellingra, Vice President Global Application and Innovation Development at ProAmpac

Frozen food has become one of the fastest growing segments in the grocery store, offering consumers a wide range of economical, healthy and convenient options like vegetables, proteins and fruits. Factors behind this growth include changing consumer behavior; increasing product demand due to COVID-19; packaging innovation and sustainability.

Consumer Trends

A key market driver is the on-the-go lifestyle of modern consumers, and that continues to make frozen food an attractive choice for health and convenience. Whether it’s meal-ready cooking or part of meal prep, consumers are making frozen food a consistent part of their spending habits in-store and online.

Prepping, snacking and entrée frozen-meal solutions can be readied from the toaster, stove top, oven, microwave or straight from the package (especially ice cream!). These options save time by reducing the number of meal preparation steps. Some brands offer a more convenient, less-mess option using a cook/heat/steam-in bag, which is preferred by 74 percent of consumers.[1] These bags can go straight from the freezer to the microwave without additional ingredients, containers or utensils. Additionally, not washing utensils and dishes is an often-overlooked sustainability benefit.

For consumers that prefer a more traditional or homemade style of cooking, brands offer pour-to-prep options that can be placed in microwave, oven, or stovetop-safe containers for heating, cooking, and serving. Currently, microwaves and ovens are the top two appliances for frozen food preparation.[2]

A critical selling point for frozen food is the extended shelf-life verses fresh. Frozen foods can be packaged in single-use or resealable packages to meet specific consumer and product needs. With 84 percent of consumers preferring resealable packaging, flexible packaging[3] companies like ProAmpac work to provide reclosure options durable enough to withstand rigors of reuse coupled with the environmental conditions of cold storage. For example, pre-zippered rollstock options that use INNO-LOK® technology, a front-facing zipper, allows brand owners to integrate the reclosure into their front panel graphics as well as provide consumers with a wide opening from which to gather product. Providing reclose options, pourable designs and portioned packages help provide consumer convenience, extend the shelf-life and minimize freezer burn.

Another area of growth for the frozen food segment is eCommerce. With the recent expansion of mail-order meal kits that provide consumers an easy meal prep experience, frozen food products are expanding. Within the shipping crates, food is packaged for a meal with precisely measured ingredients as well as serving sizes. This eliminates the need to purchase seldom used ingredients that clog up the pantry and can end up as waste after long storage.

COVID-19 Market Demand

Because frozen food is an economical choice for healthy food selections with a long shelf life, the market has seen an additional increase in consumer spending since the onset of COVID-19.  According to AFFI, “After a 94 percent surge in mid-March, overall frozen food sales are holding at 30 – 35 percent increases in April 2020 vs. a year ago.”[4]

Storing food in the freezer at home allows consumers to shop less frequently and stock up on staple produce they may have otherwise bought fresh.[5] Also, evidence suggests that frozen foods have a higher general nutrient benefit when compared to fresh, because the flash freeze process locks in nutrients at peak ripeness while fresh nutrients can vary over storage time.[6] This is an important factor for health-conscious consumers during a global pandemic and can result in a favorable nutrient to price ratio.[7]

In addition, consumers have adjusted spending habits to include frozen foods in preparation for shortages, and these trends are anticipated to continue post-COVID as well.

Packaging Innovation

As frozen food continues to be such an important part of the consumer’s daily and weekly meal routine, packaging will continue to evolve as well. No longer is the frozen aisle only boxes and bags. Now consumers experience packaging innovation with pouches, reclose options, recyclable solutions and branded graphics that pop off the shelf.

Retail cases have changed from horizontal to vertical and packaging has followed. More packages are designed to stand up to provide a better billboard for the product and the brand. Surface printed pillow bags are moving to higher gloss reverse printed laminations with more graphic pop and substantial feel. These have, in turn, been moving to stand-up pouches either premade or formed on form-fill-seal machines.

Although paperboard boxes have been prominent in the aisle, these often have an internal bag or a poly-coating to provide moisture barrier and product protection. Many of these have been transitioning to pouches to eliminate the extra packaging. The flexible pouches ship more in the same space, minimize distribution costs, and fit more packages in the retail case cutting down on the cost of restocking. Flexible packaging is also able to provide more graphic options, from a high-end soft touch, to a matte, somewhat frosty look, to a paper-touch coating providing an organic feel. In addition, because most frozen foods only require moisture barrier, the transition to recyclable pouches is not a big challenge for brands.

Frozen food packaging also helps optimize storage space in retail and home freezers. Over 80 percent of consumers prefer a variety of packaging sizes.[8] Whether these provide portion control or value purchases for larger household sizes, the range of package offerings are important to both consumers and brand owners. All provide retailers with options to stand or neatly stack products while providing consumers options to organize and optimize freezer space, ensuring products are visible and accessible.

Sustainability

The growth in frozen food parallels an increasing demand for sustainable packaging.   Eighty percent of consumers believe environmentally-friendly packaging is “somewhat important” or “extremely important”[9] Compounding that with an increasing number of brands and retailers making global commitments to sustainability, the demand will continue to grow for recyclable packaging, post-consumer-recycled-content, bio-based resins and compostable packaging solutions.

According to AFFI/FMI, frozen foods have a very high household penetration of 99 percent and almost 80 percent of households buy frozen vegetables to be cooked with homemade meals.[10] With nutritional, extended shelf-life and on-the-go consumer benefits, frozen food is well positioned for continued growth. Packaging will respond to the growth in demand, with consumer-convenience and sustainability innovations. There is no thawing for the frozen food market in sight!

About the Author:

Salvatore Pellingra is the vice president global application and innovation development at ProAmpac, where he focuses on new applications of and for flexible packaging and solutions for global and emerging brands.  Sal’s technical leadership contributes to the multiple packaging awards which has become a hallmark of ProAmpac’s reputation for innovation.

About ProAmpac:

ProAmpac is among the first to market recyclable polyethylene (PE) rollstock, bags and pouches to meet the requirements for frozen food packaging. In addition to its recyclable PE film, ProAmpac has engineered structures with paper and other renewable materials that are able to withstand the rigors of cold storage and distribution.

[1] AFFI Frozen Food Report 2019; pg. 45

[2] AFFI Frozen Food Report 2019 ; pg. 25

[3] AFF Power of Frozen Food Report 2019; pg 4

[4] https://affi.org/press-releases/new-data-suggests-frozen-food-surge-will-have-longer-shelf-life/

[5] https://affi.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/documents/Frozen%20Food%20Sales%20Amid%20COVID-19%20Consumer%20Research%20-%20FINAL.pdf

[6] https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/05/17/611693137/frozen-food-fan-as-sales-rise-studies-show-frozen-produce-is-as-healthy-as-fresh#:~:text=As%20for%20the%20assumption%20that,retain%20high%20levels%20of%20vitamins.

[8] AFFI The Power of Frozen Food Report 2019; pg. 45

[9] https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15087-consumers-want-sustainable-products.html

[10] https://affi.org/our-priorities/market-insights-retail/