State of the Industry: Turbo-charged frozen products
Our 2013 State of the Industry report explores market information for the bread aisle, sweet goods, cookies, bars, snack cakes, frozen baked goods, tortillas, pies and more.
The frozen baked goods segment shifts into high gear with the creation of more single-serving product lines, healthier ingredients and upscale flavors.
It’s overdrive for frozen baked goods, as clever flavor innovations and the proliferation of single servings have helped move these products into the fast lane. The bottom line is that consumers want two very different things: They want to indulge themselves, but they still want to eat healthy. So taste is the main driver, but manufacturers are downshifting portion sizes, “polishing up” package labels and gearing up with more nutritious ingredients.
Within the frozen food segment, frozen desserts have been driving a good deal of growth. “Specifically, frozen pies are one of the leading segments, growing by approximately 20% in the last three years,” says Karen Presnell, brand manager for the Marie Callender’s line at ConAgra Foods, St. Paul, Minn. “This has been driven by premium brands, including Marie Callender’s and Edwards.”
Easy does it
In addition to being single-serve snacks, frozen items, like other bakery products, have to offer consumers more convenient and time-saving options. Marketers in the frozen baked goods segment have witnessed a continuous consumer emphasis on convenience, coupled with simple ingredients and a high-quality taste experience. “The main players in the segment have appealed to the end consumer through different product offerings that allow consumers to indulge but portion control at the same time,” Presnell says.
To that end, Marie Callender’s introduced both fruit and cream single-serve pies. The business has grown to account for more than $35 million in retail sales as of April 2013, according to a report by Chicago research firm IRI.
Other major brands that play a significant role in the single-serve desserts space include Edwards and Sara Lee.
“Consumers are looking for new alternatives to everyday desserts, something different than ice cream, novelties and cookies,” Presnell says. “The frozen desserts category is leading with innovation to meet this need.”
With the goal in mind to satisfy consumer needs for year-round special occasions, ConAgra Foods has leveraged the strength of the Marie Callender’s brand to introduce innovative flavors including Peppermint Cream Pie during the holiday season and Mint Chocolate Chip pie during the spring/summer season.
The company also introduced single-serve cream pies in 2012. Flavors in this line include Coconut Cream Pie, Key Lime Cream Pie and Chocolate Satin, which come in single-serve cups for consumer portion control as well as portability.
Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands Inc., on the other hand, offers Edwards Desserts singles in 11 flavors with a two-pack design.
“Right now, we’re seeing an increase in the popularity of individual desserts with the shift toward more personal snacking among consumers,” says Larry McFadden, director of Sara Lee Desserts. The Chicago, Ill.-based company is part of Hillshire Brands. This year, Sara Lee Desserts introduced Sara Lee Perfectly Portioned for 2 Fruit Pies in Apple and Cherry flavors to tap into this trend. The pre-baked, 10-oz. pies offer a smaller and quicker serving option.
“At the same time, taste preferences are expanding,” McFadden adds. “More consumers are now seeking new dessert flavors and more varieties.” In fall 2012, the company introduced Sara Lee Lemon Pound Cake to its frozen pound cake portfolio, which includes All Butter, Light & Dreamy, Original Butter and Double Chocolate varieties. Because the Cookies & Cream flavor is growing in popularity in the refrigerated and frozen sweets categories, Sara Lee also recently debuted a Cookies & Cream Cheesecake.
The individual- and portion-sized trend has extended to frozen baked foods for children as well. “Consumers are seeking single-serve and individually wrapped products that make portion control easy,” McFadden says.
The popular pancake
Also popular are mini pancakes, which represent almost 25% of all pancakes sold, according to IRI. “Our research shows that kids like mini-sized foods in their favorite flavors, but there are currently no flavored mini pancakes available,” says Lisa Barrette, senior director of marketing for Aunt Jemima Frozen Breakfast, Peoria, Ill., a Pinnacle Foods Group brand.
The company took those observations and created Lil’ Griddles, positioned as a nutritious and convenient breakfast solution. Varieties include Blueberry mini pancakes, Original mini pancakes and Cinnamon French Toast sticks. The line has no preservatives, high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors and colors.
State of the artisan
Despite wanting healthier ingredients and smaller portions of many of their favorite frozen baked products, consumers certainly don’t want to give up taste. Fortunately, there have been a number of gourmet-inspired frozen baked goods product launches making this unnecessary.
“Consumers are seeking artisan rolls, such as focaccia and ciabatta, that have more culinary-inspired flavors and textures,” says Matt Cardon, brand manager at Eagle, Idaho-based Alexia Foods. “Also, for the bread category specifically, we see that consumers are seeking more whole grains and higher quality ingredients.”
Alexia Foods recently launched a Sweet Potato Roll with a soft and sweet texture that contains 8 g. of whole grain. “We saw an opportunity to leverage sweet potatoes as an on-trend superfood and bring consumers something truly different,” he says.
Cardon adds that the company will continue to find new ways to bring chef-inspired artisan breads to the marketplace. “These are where the greatest opportunities for growth lie,” he says. “Platforms that can deliver on chef-inspired, artisan breads with specific health benefits like whole grains will see continued growth.”
Along with smaller portions and cleaner ingredients, frozen baked products also must address different ethnic and dietary needs. “Smaller portions of existing products were a stepping stone to our mini desserts,” explains Debbie Marchok, vice president of marketing at The Eli’s Cheesecake Co., Chicago. “But dietary needs and clean ingredient labels continue to be more and more important to customers.”
This spring, Eli’s launched a number of new products, including a Mini Apple Pie, Mini Cherry Pie, Mini Chocolate Hazelnut Hand Pie, Mini Brown Sugar Walnut Hand Pie, Mediterranean Honey Cheesecake and Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake. Eli’s-To-Go debuted prepackaged cheesecakes in 3-in. rounds and 3-in. square cheesecake desserts in six flavors.
Eli’s also offers a red-white-and-blue sampler cheesecake that includes cherry, blueberry and original plain flavors for the bakery/deli channel. “Sampler cheesecakes continue to be a favorite for consumers because they make the flavor selection decision easy when serving to family or guests,” Marchok says.
With the economy taking a turn for the better, a number of frozen baked goods companies are concentrating on gourmet products rather than value lines. “For our company, there is a real demand for high-quality products, whether it’s on the foodservice, supermarket or convenience store side,” says Andy Axelrod, president of Love and Quiches Desserts in Freeport, N.Y.
The company recently launched a Greek yogurt cheesecake with 25% less fat and 50% more protein than a traditional cheesecake product. “We also introduced a mango cheesecake, since there is a real surge in this flavor’s popularity,” Axelrod adds.
Sweet and salty
One of the most popular trends in food right now is balancing sweet and salty flavors. “Salted caramel has been one of the hottest food trends, showing up just about everywhere,” says Susan Allen, senior director of brand marketing at Schwan’s. To address this trend, the company offers Edwards Desserts Salted Caramel Pie. Edwards Mounds Coconut Crème pie, meanwhile, addresses the growing popularity of nostalgic flavors.
One of the challenges frozen baked goods manufacturers have faced is balancing the needs of consumers who want both high-quality taste and no excessive amount of fat, calories or empty ingredients. “Some of our consumers say it’s important to include wholesome ingredients in their diets,” Barrette says. “So, in return, we’re making the necessary updates to focus on the inclusion of simplified ingredients in some of our products. [We also are eliminating] preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors.”
In many cases, manufacturers are going that extra mile to include more nutritious ingredients in frozen baked goods. “Consumers are searching for healthy attributes beyond low-fat and low-calorie, and are looking for products that offer other benefits, such as real fruit, antioxidants, less sugar, gluten-free and organic/ natural ingredients,” Presnell says.
As part of its effort to rev up the healthfulness of its lines, last year, Alexia Foods renovated its artisan rolls to include more whole grains. “We used all-natural, 100% whole-wheat flour that combines the nutritional benefits of whole grains with the finished recipe qualities of traditional refined flour,” Cardon explains. “We essentially keep the gourmet/artisan taste and texture, while providing important nutritional benefits that only whole grain can. The result is that each of our Alexia Artisan Rolls contain between 8- and 16 g. of whole grain.”
And small indulgences are still a part of the frozen baked goods segment. With an eye for more authentic ingredients, Schwan’s Mrs. Smith’s line now incorporates real butter in the crust.
“Many items out there are high in calories, but are still healthier because these have clean labels and no preservatives,” Love and Quiches’ Axelrod says. “People want to reward themselves, and we don’t see that going away.”
Formula One favorites
Frozen baked goods manufacturers are also incorporating eye-catching packaging and contemporary production techniques that are allowing the category to shift into high gear. Easy-to-use packaging facilitates portion control, preparation and portability. “We continuously explore ways to improve our packaging and engage consumers in this process to understand exactly what they prefer,” Barrette says. “We are working to bring new solutions to life for them.”
Alexia Foods also updated its packaging graphics last year. “Our new and improved look depicts the chef-inspired, artisan nature of our all-natural breads,” Cardon says. “And we now carry the Whole Grain Council certification stamp on the front of each package to help communicate the health benefits of our rolls.”
In the coming months, frozen baked goods will most likely see some supercharged sales, due to their increased focus on consumer preferences. At least, that’s the plan. “We see this segment moving toward mini and grab-and-go options to continue making it easier for mom and fun for kids,” Barrette concludes. “There will continue to be packaging improvements, as well as flavor enhnancements as this segment evolves.”
In anticipation of growth in the premium segment and restaurant-inspired gourmet desserts, ConAgra Foods says it will be introducing single-serve, restaurant, gourmet-inspired desserts under the Bertolli brand. “We expect that innovation will continue to lead the growth in this segment, and manufacturers will continue to offer unique product offerings that satisfy consumer needs for both special and everyday occasions,” Presnell says.