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Frozen food 2.0: Saffron Road notches up triple-digit growth as shoppers seek flavor, authenticity, and 'clean food'

By Elaine Watson+

26-Mar-2014
Last updated on 26-Mar-2014 at 15:52 GMT

Picture: Relayfoods
Picture: Relayfoods

If chef-inspired brand LUVO grabbed a lot of the limelight at the recent Expo West show, another exhibitor on a mission to revitalize the frozen case is premium world cuisine brand Saffron Road, which has been generating enviable growth in both the conventional and natural channel since its national launch in 2011.

While many firms have struggled to generate any growth in the frozen aisles, SPINSScan data for natural frozen entrées in the conventional channel (24 weeks to January 18th, 2014) shows that Saffron Road notched up 111.3% growth, ahead of EVOL at 50.3%, Amy’s at 5.9% and Kashi at - 8.2%. (The category overall was up 6.4%.)

And while a good chunk of that growth (around 65%) is coming from increased distribution - Saffron Road is now in stores from Target, Kroger, Safeway, Publix and Food Lion to Earthfare, Whole Foods and Sprouts - the rest is from strong repeat sales, Jack Acree, executive vice president at brand owner American Halal Company told FoodNavigator-USA.

“I think what you see changing is that retailers like Safeway and Target are integrating natural frozen brands like ours into their mainstream frozen sections in blocks and that’s great for us as we get traffic from everyone instead of customers that just shop the natural section.

“Retail sales were just shy of $20m in 2013 - around $19m - and we don’t see growth slowing down anytime soon.”

Consumers don’t want ‘manufactured nutrition’

Shoppers bored of bland frozen dinners are responding to Saffron Road’s ‘clean food’ credentials - Halal, sustainably farmed, all-natural, antibiotic free - but above all to its “authenticity and flavor”, added Acree, a serial entrepreneur who  helped build two of the fastest growing startups in the industry: Terra Chips and Alexia Foods.

And while trend-watchers talk a lot about the success of smaller store formats, fresh foods and the perimeter - rather than frozen foods - the solid growth of brands such as EVOL, LUVO and Saffron Road proves that consumers haven’t given up on frozen meals, they just want something more inspiring, he observed.

“Frozen meals are very convenient, and shoppers still want convenience. But we’ve also expanded into a several categories beyond frozen entrees including simmer sauces, frozen handheld snacks and desserts - and we could go into many more.

Saffron Road's chickpea snacks have been doing "extraordinarily well", says Jack Acree. Picture: Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki

“The simmer sauces work well in the meal-preparation category, which I think has a huge amount of potential. Young people want something convenient that can be prepared in a few minutes, but they also want to cook, and they want quality, authenticity and flavor.

“We’ve also moved into the snacks category with chickpea snacks - which have been doing extraordinarily well. Crunch is where it’s at in the snacks category right now, but people also want something tasty that is naturally high in protein and other nutrients. They don’t want manufactured nutrition.”

So are other snacks in the pipeline?

“There are other things to be done in ethnic snacks,” said Acree. “We also think there’s potential to tap the kids’ market down the road.”

Non-GMO Cheerios: I think it’s way too early to tell if this was a good move for them

Saffron Road has recently introduced Korean entrees

With several products now certified by the Non-GMO Project verification process and more to come, Saffron Road is also committed to sourcing non-GMO ingredients, said Acree.

But do consumers care about this as much as some people say?

While General Mills has not seen a sales lift after reformulating Original Cheerios to remove GMOs, this doesn’t mean shoppers aren’t bothered, claimed Acree.

Indeed, given that so many stores still have old stock to work through and General Mills doesn’t publicize the change on the front of pack (it's hidden on the side), it’s possible that a lot of consumers simply aren’t aware that anything has changed, he speculated.

“I think it’s way too early to tell if this was a good move for them.”

As for younger consumers, particularly those that shop in the natural foods channel, GMOs are a big issue, and avoiding them makes sense for brands trying to appeal to this demographic such as Saffron Road, he added.

“For them I think it is less about health and what we’re putting into our bodies that what we are doing to the planet.” 

Indian, Thai, Korean, Moroccan…

Saffron Road was founded by Adnan Durrani, who founded Vermont Pure in 1991 and was also a principal investor in Stonyfield Farms (sold to Danone in 2001).

The Saffron Road product range, which initially focused on frozen Indian meals, now includes a wide range of Asian and Middle Eastern entrees (chicken pad thai; Moroccan lamb stew), snacks (crunchy chickpeas), handheld frozen snacks (Chana Saag, Korean taco with Chiocken), chicken nuggets, broths, Hors D’oeuvres (Turkish figs & goat cheese; dates, tamarind & walnuts), desserts (Kashmiri Lemon Ginger mini tarts), sauces (lemongrass basil, harissa, tikka masala).

The most recent additions to the range are Korean meals and tacos.

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