Frozen food to remain category ‘heavyweight’ for months and years to come, suggests AFFI study

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / danielvfung
©GettyImages / danielvfung

Related tags Frozen food coronavirus AFFI

Just as shelf-stable pantry items have experienced surging sales in recent months, frozen food sales have exploded since the onset of COVID-19 with new consumers entering the category, finds a recent survey commissioned by the American Frozen Food Institute.

The survey was conducted between April 10 and 14 by 210 Analytics, and included a national sample of 1,200 US consumers between the ages of 18 and 75.

The vast majority (86%) of US shoppers reported buying frozen food items since early March when the pandemic hit the country, according to the report​.

After sales in mid-March surged to 94% over sales from the same time last year, overall frozen food sales dropped in April 2020, but are still approximately 30% to 35% above the same period last year. 

“This includes an equal share of frequent frozen food buyers, as well as consumers who don’t consider themselves regular purchasers,”​ said 210 Analytics principal and founder Anne-Marie Roerink.

The survey revealed that 7% of consumers who rarely, or never purchased frozen foods pre-pandemic are now buying frozen foods.

“This is a tremendous expansion of the category that could have long-term implications,”​ Roerink said. “This includes Gen Z buyers, as well as Baby Boomers who left the category during the TV dinner era – returning now to find newer, tastier products.”

American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) president and CEO Alison Bodor commented, “These results show growth in the category that goes beyond the popularity with millennials that was illustrated in our ‘2019 Power of Frozen’ study​.”

One-third of consumers see frozen food as safer than fresh

In addition to new feet down the aisle, consumers who purchased frozen food before the pandemic are changing their buying patterns: 70% bought more frozen food than usual, 68% agreed that their purchases included different items than usual and 72% picked up different brands than usual because of unavailability.

Consumers’ top motivations for purchasing frozen foods include a desire for longer-shelf life items (60%), to stock up in case of food shortages (58%), the ease of preparation frozen food provides (46%), and their belief that frozen foods are safer than fresh items (33%).

The most frequently purchased categories were frozen vegetables, meat/poultry, and pizza. AFFI reported that first-time trial was highest for frozen meat/poultry, sides, fruit and entrees, with single- and multi-serve entrees registering double digit growth among first-time buyers.

Post-pandemic projections

The survey also found that consumers are very happy with their frozen food purchases in regards to convenience and product quality. According to AFFI, convenience received the top rating, with an average of 4.3 on a five-point scale and quality was second-highest, with an average of 4.1.

Overall, 50% of respondents who bought frozen foods since early March said that they expect to purchase a lot more or somewhat more frozen foods in the next few months. AFFI noted that frozen foods sales likely will be elevated across specific demographics, including in urban areas and high-income zip codes. Families, particularly households of five or more people, also are more likely than smaller households to buy more frozen food in the upcoming months. 

“This study suggests frozen will remain a category heavyweight for months and years ahead as the category attracts new and returning customers who are relying on a variety of frozen foods to provide much-needed convenience and satisfaction,”​ said Bodor.

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