Donna Berry 2019CHICAGO – The competition for the food dollar is intensifying as shoppers are accelerating their engagement with restaurants, said Anne-Marie Roerink, president, 210 Analytics LLC, San Antonio. Despite the shift, frozen foods continue to be a pandemic powerhouse. The first 30 weeks of the year brought $386 billion in food and beverage sales, which was down 1.1% versus the same period in 2020, according to data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), Chicago. Frozen foods had the highest increase versus the pre-pandemic normal of 2019 at 22%.

“The dominance for frozen food in 2020 was supported by high-household penetration, strong trips and an elevated basket size,” Ms. Roerink said. “And yet, three out of the four July 2021 weeks see trips and basket size match or exceed the 2020 numbers. That explains the continued high sales levels for frozen food when compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 baseline and a return to prior year levels.”

All July 2021 weeks came in close to $1.3 billion in sales, according to IRI data. For each, this meant double-digit increases versus the pre-pandemic 2019 baseline.

“Two out of the four July weeks managed to post sales gains over the highly elevated 2020 levels,” Ms. Roerink said. “This bodes well for the weeks and months to come.” 

Categories fueling the growth include breakfast foods (11.8% in July 2021 versus July 2020) and dinners/entrees (4.3%), which are both sizeable categories. Other notable areas are frozen meat (2.7%), processed chicken (10.4%) and appetizers/snacks (12.2%).

“Much like seen in 2020, it appears that at least some consumers are shifting to frozen protein as the fresh meat department is dealing with significant inflation,” Ms. Roerink said.

“People are looking for variety in foods that fit their different lifestyles while delivering on taste and value.” – Megan Smargiasso, Nestle USA

Innovation in all the categories is helping consumers fight pandemic food fatigue. Several applications also focus on better-for-formulations to assist with weight management and getting into shape.

“People are looking for variety in foods that fit their different lifestyles while delivering on taste and value,” said Megan Smargiasso, brand manager-Life Cuisine, Nestle USA, Solon, Ohio. “For Life Cuisine, we are using a fast innovation model to launch new products quickly with fast prototyping and consumer testing, so we can meet those needs with relevant, on-trend meals.” 

Adnan Durrani, chief executive officer and founder, Saffron Road, Stamford, Conn., said, “While this past year certainly brought tragedy and immense struggles, it also created a revived interest in the universal tradition of gathering around the table for a big family meal, bringing multi-generational households together.”

In response, Saffron Road now offers two of its best-selling single-serve Asian-inspired meals in family-size packs. They are chicken pad Thai and chicken biryani, along with the newly launched pineapple fried rice with chicken. 

“We want to make it not only easy and convenient for families to continue the elevated at home dining experience with our delicious and healthy offerings in our family size line, but we also want to share the joy that delicious international foods can bring,” Mr. Durrani said.