Frozen Food Packaging Trends and Consumer Insights

Demand is growing for frozen foods, and more consumers value convenient and sustainable packaging

By Nathan Klettlinger, Global Marketing Director for ProAmpac

Frozen food is one of the fastest growing market segments for healthy food options and overall convenience. According to the American Frozen Food Institute, FMI Study, “The Power of Frozen in Retail 2021,” frozen foods have a very high household penetration of 99.2% and grew 21% from 2019 to 2020.  According to the IRI CPG Demand Index, this trend continued into 2021 with frozen foods experiencing another 6% increase between 2020 and 2021 for the week ending Nov. 11.

While frozen foods experienced significant growth, not all segments of frozen food grew equally.  Segments such as seafood (whose most popular item is shrimp), appetizers, potatoes, breakfast and pizza grew their share of frozen spend between 2016 and 2020. This reflects the desire to have a restaurant-type experience at home. Consumers are also turning to frozen produce for its quality over fresh produce because the quality of fresh produce has been perceived to decline due to supply chain and shipping challenges.

With these growth trends, it’s critical to keep abreast of consumer requirements and the changing landscape of frozen food packaging.

Ease, convenience and quality matter most to consumers

Ease of preparation was stated as the number one criteria for buying frozen foods, for both low-frequency and high-frequency customers. In alignment with ease of preparation, reclose features were considered “very important” by 44% of consumers in 2020 up from 28% in 2018.  Packaging suppliers offer Innolok reclose features that can be pre-applied to rollstock, allowing reclose features on packaging to be included while still running current vertical form/fill/seal equipment.  New equipment also can be purchased with the ability to apply a zipper, fold a gusset during filling, and create various packaging formats.

In addition, 80% of consumers believed pre-portioned packets are “very important” or “somewhat important, preventing them from having to repackage bulk foods into smaller packages. This trend provides an opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate their products by adding these additional convenience features.

Sustainable frozen food packaging is important

Sustainability is becoming more critical for frozen food packaging, with 79% of consumers believing recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging is “somewhat important” or “very important”.  Many surface-printed polyethylene packages are already recyclable, and manufacturers can check with their packaging supplier to verify recyclability. However multi-material laminates commonly used to make gusseted pouches and steam-in-bag packaging are often not recyclable. Conventional multi-material laminates are preferred for their excellent aesthetic appeal, improved stiffness in standup pouches, and the ability to be used in steam-in-bag applications. They also have potential to be run at very high speeds on form/fill/seal equipment.

Key considerations need to be made when moving from a multi-material laminate to a more sustainable recyclable structure. Heat resistance is commonly different with recyclable films and typically has a lower heat resistance than conventional laminates. Increasing heat resistance in recyclable films can allow higher run speeds, better seal appearance, and ease of applying reclose features.

In addition, the package must be designed to withstand the rigors of cold chain distribution at the fill weight used, and the package must have appropriate puncture resistance for puncture prone foods such as fries and green beans.  Each situation is unique with no two products, filling machinery setups, and distribution chains the same.

Compostable packaging is also a key area of interest by brands and retailers. While compostable packages do have their place, it is critical to consider the package price and if consumers have appropriate infrastructure to compost the package.  In many sauceless frozen food applications, the package is clean and dry after use, rendering it suitable for recycling if the packaging material is recyclable.  Recycling is generally preferred over composting unless the package is helping more food waste reach the compost heap.

Evaluate the environmental impact of packaging

While making packaging recyclable or compostable is an important qualitative aspect of sustainability, in some cases it can be important to measure the quantitative aspects of a package.  Enter Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), a tool that allows the prediction of impacts to the environment such as greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and fossil fuel usage.  Best used when comparing two or more packaging types, LCA allows organizations to better understand the tradeoffs between packaging types and make decisions in alignment with their corporate objectives and customer objectives.

Online frozen food sales continue to grow

Year on year frozen food growth in e-commerce was up 46% for the week ending June 13, 2021, a significant growth considering we were well into the COVID-19 pandemic June 2020. Approximately 12.5% of frozen food is purchased via e-commerce channels, allowing huge room for future growth. A presence online and in social media is critical for growth.  When shipping frozen food to the home, it is important to test the package in a way that represents home shipping. The package should both protect the product as well as provide a favorable use experience for the consumer.

About the Author

Nathan Klettlinger is the Global Marketing Director for ProAmpac. He leads the ProAmpac strategic marketing team whose goal is to align company objectives with customer needs. Nathan held roles in product development, product management and market segment management for food packaging.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Akron.

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