Healthy Choice Café Steamers range taps into consumer demand for organic entrees

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Healthy Choice launches four new frozen entrées

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ConAgra Foods is launching four new organic frozen meals under the Healthy Choice brand as new data from Nielsen reveals that organic entrees are the bright spot in an otherwise sluggish frozen foods category.

“Healthy Choice stands alone in its delivery of fresh-tasting meals cooked with the magic of steam,”​ Alan Brooks, associate brand manager at ConAgra Foods, told FoodNavigator-USA. According to Brooks, what makes the product different is a tray-in-tray steam cooking method that “delivers fresh-tasting meals with crisp vegetables and juicy proteins.”

The four new microwaveable offerings: Unwrapped Burrito Bowl, Sweet & Spicy Asian-Style Noodle Bowl, Three Cheese Tortellini, and Creamy Spinach and Tomato Linguine, were developed based on consumer flavor trends. Retailing for around $3.29 each, the products will reach full national distribution​ this month.

Organic leads frozen entrée growth

“One thing we heard from core Healthy Choice consumers is a desire to eat more organic foods. As a result, we expanded the Healthy Choice Simply Café Steamers line to include four delicious meals made with USDA-certified organic ingredient,” ​Brooks said.

Numbers seem to agree with Brooks’ statement about consumer demand in frozen organics. In general, frozen aisle sales have been lackluster in recent years, dipping 3% in the year to June 2015 but growing a modest 0.5% in the year to June 2016, according to Nielsen​ data. “Products like frozen dinners and entrees are losing sales to fresh products like ham and ground beef,”​ Nielsen reported back in 2015​.

But some subcategories within the frozen aisle are experiencing growth. “[There’s] a shift towards health and wellness considerations, and in particular towards organic food,”​ Jordan Rost, vice president of consumer insights at Nielsen, told FoodNavigator-USA. “We’re seeing a big point of growth in frozen foods as well, related to organic,” ​he added.

And as more Americans than ever are living in a single household​ with a busy lifestyle (or at least, perceived to be busy​) it’s easy to see how the convenience of an organic, frozen meal is appealing. Rost referenced a report in Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer​'s May 2016 issue, written by retail insights expert Todd Hale using data from Nielsen, which said organic frozen entrees are driving the growth in the $52.2 billion US frozen food category, making up $337 million in sales in the year ending May 2016.

Flavor trends with crossover appeal

“A trend that we’re seeing in growth is really foods that appeal towards the shifting multicultural landscape,”​ Rost said.

He pointed specifically to an increased interest in spicy, Tex-Mex-inspired flavors like those found in frozen taquitos (+4% in the year ending June 2016), as well as a palette for vegetables that weren’t part of the American diet until the 21st​ century, like edamame (+7% in the year ending June 2016).

“This isn’t only, in my view, a reflection of the changing landscape with the population in terms of their cuisine and heritage, but the influence of their cuisine and the crossover appeal from one culture to another,” ​he added.

Coincidentally, two of Healthy Choice’s four new releases include the two examples Rost used: edamame in the Sweet & Spicy Asian-Style Noodle Bowl and a Tex-Mex spiciness in the Unwrapped Burrito bowl.

“We understand that people’s food preferences are continually changing, so we maintain a constant dialogue with the individuals who eat our food to ensure we’re providing even more options that satisfy these needs,”​ Brooks said.

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