The popularity of frozen meals continues to grow but food manufacturers wanting to take advantage of this “must adapt to rapidly shifting consumer evaluations of the quality of frozen meals”, according to the Hartman Group white paper called “Redefining Quality in Premium Frozen Dinners and Entrées”.
It said that consumers are increasingly driven by the desire to maximize quality-of-life experiences as well as maintaining their health, while flavor and freshness often override cost and convenience.
Consumers associate freshness with minimal processing and the use of as few ingredients as possible. The report suggests that seemingly unnecessary ingredients indicate over processing and consumers want the ingredient list to be easy to understand and “real” (such as sea salt or organic basil).
Fresh attributes include whole ingredients and no additives and fresh claims “now easily trumps natural as a marketing cue” as natural claims are overused.
At the same time consumers are increasingly driven by quality-of-life factors.
The report said: “Specific occasions for use are diverse in terms of presenting opportunities for new frozen food entrées of the future.
“Singles cooking for themselves represent a specific opportunity, while we believe the office lunch occasion has been summarily underestimated by frozen entrée marketers.
“Both opportunities underscore a potential for more size and portion options within the overall desire for higher quality taste and flavor experiences.”
The American frozen food market is a $29bn industry and frozen pizza and ready-made meals represent 41 percent of all frozen food sales, or approximately $11.8bn.
Frozen dinners or entrées are worth $6.1bn with the single-serve sub-segment valued at about $3.7bn.
However, consumers consider conventional frozen food flavors as “monotonous, drab and simple”.
The Hartman paper says that the flavors which create the most distinction connect strongly to naturally derived ingredients, not synthetically engineered flavors, particularly and the American palate is also shifting toward more fun, exciting and exotic flavors.
Texture is another issue as the report adds: “From an objective standpoint, the perception of freshness in frozen foods is often hindered by the accumulation of water upon heating.
“Although consumers believe that the texture of frozen foods has improved drastically in recent years, improving upon this feature will go a long in cuing freshness.”
Product narrative is also an important quality indicator as it reflects a consumer desire for transparency regarding ingredient sourcing and the story behind the food production process.
It concluded that the most energetic and compelling frozen brands are leveraging quality distinctions of freshness, flavor, and authentic narratives. They include Seeds of Change, Helen’s Kitchen, Rising Moon Organics, Ferndale Foods and Ethnic Gourmet.
And although small in overall market share, it said these niche brands are realizing higher rates of growth than most conventional brands.