Frozen foods don’t deserve such a bad rap, say manufacturers preparing image overhaul

By Elaine WATSON and Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Many commercially available frozen ready meals have lower sodium and saturated fat levels than home-cooked equivalents, says ConAgra
Many commercially available frozen ready meals have lower sodium and saturated fat levels than home-cooked equivalents, says ConAgra
Leading food manufacturers and retailers have joined forces to launch a consumer education campaign designed to change the way consumers think about frozen foods. 

Organized under the auspices of the American Frozen Food Institute, the Frozen Food Roundtable comprises ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Heinz, Hillshire Brands, Kellogg's, Nestlé, Pinnacle Foods Group and The Schwan Food Company, with involvement from Walmart.

We can ensure that consumers receive the facts about frozen foods

The campaign is designed to challenge consumer misperceptions about frozen food, Corey Henry, VP of communications at the American Frozen Food Institute, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Consumers research shows that the grocery shopping public often misperceives the health and nutrition attributes of frozen foods, how those foods are made and how frozen foods can be made an integral part of meal planning and grocery shopping.​”

The campaign will attempt to “engage consumers in a comprehensive way that's never been done before to emphasize the value and benefits of the wide range of products available in the frozen food aisle​”, said Henry.

Frozen food aisle home to constant innovation

Lean Cuisine salad additions
Nestlé USA's new Lean Cuisine salad additions range is a category first. The meats and vegetables are packaged together in a steamer bag, which allows for quick warming in the microwave. The dressing and toppings are separately packaged, allowing consumers to customize their creations. Lettuce suggestions are made on pack.

The multimillion dollar campaign - which will launch later this year - will also serve as a reminder that the frozen food aisle is “home to constant food innovations​”, he added. 

“Recently the frozen food aisle has seen the introduction of foods that utilize new cooking techniques, such as steaming, that make cooking even easier and enhance flavor."

Frozen foods have fewer preservatives, lock in more nutrients, generate less food waste, and help people manage their weight via portion control

According to an online survey of 1,013 Americans conducted by Braun Research for ConAgra Foods in March, four out of five US consumers believe that frozen foods are ‘highly processed’ and not as nutritious as 'fresh' foods.

Special K flatbread breakfast sandwich
Speaking at the company's AGM last week, Kellogg CEO John Bryant said new launch Special K frozen breakfast sandwiches were "on track to be roughly a $70-80m business this year"

In reality, frozen foods typically have fewer preservatives than many fresh prepared foods, lock in more nutrients, and generate less food waste, said food trends expert Phil Lempert, who works closely with ConAgra.

"Frozen fruits and vegetables are typically harvested and flash frozen, which slows the loss of nutrients compared to their raw counterparts in which the nutrients continue to degrade over time. 

"Some raw produce can spend as much as half of its peak freshness period in distribution."

Frozen entrees often have less sodium and saturated fat than home-cooked equivalents

Meanwhile, many frozen ready meals have lower sodium and saturated fat than home-cooked equivalents, said ConAgra, which presented a ‘myth-busting’ session at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Philadelphia last year in which nutrition manager Dr Kristen Reimers presented an analysis of the nutritional content of four of her firm’s frozen entrees with a home-cooked equivalent.

This showed that sugar, fiber and protein levels were much the same, while saturated fat and sodium levels were lower in the ConAgra products.

Research also shows that frozen ready meals are a cost-effective tool for weight management, providing a more appealing and filling option at lunchtime than a bar or meal replacement shake - with fewer calories, sodium and fat than many snacks and sandwiches, she said.

“Yet so few registered dietitians recommend frozen meals to clients.”

Packaged Facts: Volumes in US frozen food market are stagnating

ConAgra launched a new range of individually portioned frozen Greek yogurts under the Healthy Choice brand last May

However, volumes in the $44bn US retail frozen foods market are going backwards, according to market researcher Packaged Facts.

And while ConAgra and others have recently introduced innovative new products such as Greek frozen yogurt and baked entrees to the fixture, the category as a whole is suffering due to “changing consumer eating patterns, shopping patterns and demographics and lack of excitement in frozen foods categories and merchandising​”, it claims.

Retailers, meanwhile, are contributing to the category malaise by “focusing on the fresh foods perimeter to the detriment of center store categories”, ​while competition is also intensifying from restaurants and shelf-stable foods, says Packaged Facts.


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