AUSTIN, TEXAS — Frozen foods are a “pandemic powerhouse,” growing 21% last year to $65.1 billion in retail sales, according to a report from the American Frozen Food Institute. However, the product developers at HumanCo believe much of the market remains ripe for reinvention. The first product offering from the company’s new Snow Days brand is an organic, grain-free pizza bite, a direct hit to General Mills’ piping-hot Totino’s business.

“With Snow Days, we saw a great opportunity to disrupt a large and growing segment within frozen foods that in the competitive landscape we did not see a ton of brands delivering what we believe is needed in that space,” said Will Lisman, chief commercial officer.

HumanCo is a mission-driven holding company focused on backing and building health and wellness brands. The Austin-based enterprise was established by Jason H. Karp, a co-founder of Hu Kitchen and Hu Products, which was acquired earlier this year by Mondelez International, Inc. Its roster of investors and advisers include Indra K. Nooyi, former chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, Inc., and Brian Kelley, who previously led Keurig Green Mountain Inc. and was a president at The Coca-Cola Co.

Snow Days is the first brand created by HumanCo, which last year acquired a majority stake in Coconut Bliss, a brand of non-dairy frozen desserts. HumanCo also invested in Montys NYC LLC, a maker of a cashew-based cream cheese-style spread.

The brand addresses a common conundrum faced by millennials, many of whom yearn for their favorite childhood snacks but strive to eat more wholesome foods, Mr. Lisman said.

Will Lisman, HumanCo“What we’re trying to do is take the junk food we all grew up eating and make it OK to eat again and provide that feeling of freedom and liberation to indulge in things we love without the side of guilt that sometimes comes with it,” Mr. Lisman said. “We believe we have an incredible, epic product. At the same time it’s got the cleanest ingredient label and deck in the category.”

The product features a cassava-based crust, mozzarella cheese sourced from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows, and a sauce packed with tomato, sweet potato, carrot, spinach, onion and olive oil. A serving provides 10 grams of protein.

“As much as it’s about what goes in… it’s equally important to make sure that we’re not allowing any of the bad stuff to get in there,” Mr. Lisman said. “Snow Days is made with no artificial ingredients, preservatives, grains, or gluten. It’s GMO-free.”

The frozen food report, released in partnership with FMI – the Food Industry Association, found frozen food consumers are most likely to be interested in ingredients perceived as natural as well as the absence of artificial colors.

“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 Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at FMI. “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.”

Over the past year, 42% of frozen food consumers purchased frozen foods online, up from 23% in 2019. Online frozen food dollar sales grew 75% in 2020. Snow Days is launching online at prior to an eventual retail rollout, Mr. Lisman said.

“What we’re trying to do is take the junk food we all grew up eating and make it OK to eat again.” — Will Lisman, HumanCo

“We do have plans and aspirations to also launch in retail but we want to focus on a direct-to-consumer launch coming out of the gate to drive awareness behind the brand and also allow us to capture learnings and continue to optimize and refine,” he said.

He said the company is developing additional flavors and product forms to add to the Snow Days line.

“We feel there is sufficient runway within the frozen snack space,” Mr. Lisman said. “When you look at some of the leading brands in this category, Totino’s is close to a $1 billion business… there is sufficient runway for us to build a brand and continue to innovate and deliver unique and incremental experiences for the consumer over time.”

Canceled classes due to severe winter weather may become obsolete based on the recent adoption of remote learning; however, the branding behind Snow Days is intended to evoke the joy and nostalgia of school closings among older generations.

“That’s really the emotional territory we’re going to play with the brand — fun, playful, clever, cheeky,” Mr. Lisman said. “We recognize consumers in general have been awakened to the benefits of eating healthy. We have a responsibility that comes with that, but we all long to be kids again, to go back to the days where life was more carefree and you didn’t have to worry as much.

“We thought there’s no better way to do that than to reinvent food that we all loved as kids like the pizza bites, but do it for mom, dad and the kids. It’s not a kid’s brand, but it’s a brand for the kid in all of us.”