In many ways, the frozen snacks category presents a paradox. IRI, Chicago, notes that frozen appetizers and snack rolls took in $1.93 billion for the 52 weeks ending May 17, 2015. In its April 2015 “Frozen Snacks—U.S.” report, covering frozen appetizers, snack rolls, pretzels, bagel bites, potato skins and handheld sandwiches, Mintel values the overall U.S. frozen snacks category at $4.5 billion—certainly not a revenue-generator to sniff at.

The snack industry overall is up. Analysts unendingly expound upon the “snackification” of America, as people shift away from three square meals to six mini meals. Mintel reports that 94 percent of U.S. adults snack at least once a day. We live in an age that glorifies small plates, portion control and convenience.

But any way IRI or Mintel slices the frozen snacks category, it’s clearly flat.

Nevertheless, bright spots of growth help point toward the next generation of frozen snacks and appetizers that will breathe new life into the category.

Market data

IRI reports that the frozen appetizers and snack rolls category was up 0.40 percent in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending May 17, 2015 to $1.93 billion. The top three companies in this segment, General Mills, Ruiz Food Products and Ore-Ida Foods, all saw gains in percentage of dollar share increase, up 3.66, 3.42 and 3.50 percent, respectively.

The runaway top brand in this segment, Totino’s Pizza Rolls from General Mills, was up 4.68 percent in dollar sales for the period, accounting for $529.15 million in sales. General Mills also saw a boost from its new Totino’s Pizza Rolls line extensions, with launches starting last December. Its Bold Rolls products have garnered $19.29 million to date, taking the No. 16 brand slot in the segment.

The No. 2 brand in frozen appetizers and snack rolls, El Monterey—consisting of various taquitos and other snack products, like mini chimichangas (“Mini Chimis”)—a Ruiz Food Products brand, was up 5.33 percent in dollar sales to $164.01 million, per IRI. The No. 4 brand, Delimex, an H.J. Heinz Co. line, also offers various taquitos, and was up 2.72 percent in dollar share to $133.56 million.

Farm Rich sits in the No. 3 brand slot for frozen appetizers and snack rolls, down 6.09 percent in dollar share to $135.73 million. The Rich Products Corp. brand offers products like Mozzarella Bites, Queso Cheese Bites and Pepperoni Pizzeria Bites.

Private label products, in the No. 5 brand slot, showed the strongest growth within the top five, per IRI, with 9.07 percent dollar share growth over the 52-week period. “Private label wants in on the action in this category, and they are launching new products,” says Kim Holman, director of marketing, Wixon, St. Francis, WI. She expects private label share of the segment to continue on an upward trajectory. “As snacking continues to be more important in consumers’ lives, it is expected that private label will continue to drive new items into this category.”

Looking back

“This category is an area of consistent innovation,” says Holman, with many new items launched every year.

A key market for frozen appetizers and snacks is convenient entertaining. As we have seen in other snack categories, maintaining shopper interest often relies on introduction of edgy flavor profiles.

In 2013, General Mills expanded its Totino’s Pizza Rolls line to include two Bold Rolls products: Buffalo Style Chicken Rolls and Jalapeño Popper Rolls. It also launched Totino’s Pizzeria Chicken Parmesan Rolls and Meatball Marinara Rolls. Also new from Totino’s is the Blasted Crust line of Pizza Rolls, available in Cheddar Blasted Crust Pepperoni, Ranch Blasted Crust Pepperoni, Buffalo Ranch Blasted Crust Pepperoni, Nacho Cheese Blasted Crust Pepperoni and Chipotle Blasted Crust BBQ Chicken. Totino’s also entices and entertains is target market via its Totino’s Living website, at, home to quirky, youth-oriented demographic multimedia explorations.

Ethnic frozen appetizers and snacks continue to fare well. Two of the top five brands in the segment focus on Latin American snacks, offering taquitos and items like miniature chimichangas. In late 2014, Ruiz Food Products redesigned the packaging for its Extra Crunchy Taquitos products, adding bold, eye-catching graphics.

Private label continues to bring innovation to the segment. Target’s Archer Farms brand offers Chicken Poblano Firecrackers, Spinach & Artichoke Purses and Chicken Pot Pie Bites. At Whole Foods Market, its premium Whole Foods Market store-brand line includes Vegetable Potstickers, Potato & Pea Samosas and Tandoori Chicken Samosas.

Looking forward

Capturing the morning on-the-go breakfast snack market could breathe new life into frozen appetizers and snacks.

Cinnabon, owned by Focus Brands, recently announced its first savory product, Sausage Bites—with plain Cinnabon dough wrapped around sausages—initially targeted at the convenience foodservice market.

Johnsonville Sausage has also entered this segment with its new Johnsonville Sausage & Gravy Stuffed Biscuits. The product features sausage and gravy completely enclosed in a buttermilk biscuit, transforming the classic morning biscuits-and-gravy dish into an on-the-go option.

“Small, snack-size options are being launched that focus on classic breakfast flavor profiles with eggs, cheese and a protein,” says Holman. She notes that the H.J. Heinz Co. brand Bagel Bites just launched a line of breakfast items, positioning them as a “good source of protein.” She adds that manufacturers have started capitalizing on the idea of “breakfast all day.”

John McIsaac, vice president, strategic business development, Reiser, Canton, MA, says he has been seeing an increase in equipment purchases for frozen snacks and appetizers. “Individual-portion items, such as battered/breaded cheese sticks, are hot from an equipment standpoint,” he says. “Our ethnic appetizer producer customers are also on the rise with more line purchases, expansions and plant openings than in recent memory.” He also notes a surge in small producers with new products contacting them to try out ideas.

McIsaac says more customers are ordering attachments for their lines to accommodate smaller portions like appetizers. “We are developing equipment for tighter weight control on smaller portions,” he says.

“We also see growth in the Mexican-style products, such as taquitos and burritos,” continues McIsaac. New Latin American snacks hitting the market include black bean empanadas, stuffed masa arepas, pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese rolls) and jalapeño corn fritters.

Shopper demographics not typically prone to buying frozen appetizers and snacks might identify with more-authentic ethnic options. “Ethnic snack options continue to be a mainstay in this category,” says Holman, “but this trend seems to be targeting more-authentic and unique ethnic items,” citing samosas and tamales wrapped in corn husks as examples. “Consumers are looking for more-authentic flavors and experiences with their food.”

Premium is another key trend for this category, continues Holman. She suggests high-end flavor profiles like breaded mushroom bites with roasted garlic and olive oil, and gourmet items like lobster crostini. “Consumers continue to entertain at home and are looking for quick gourmet appetizers that they can share with guests.”

McIsaac also notes that gluten-free frozen appetizers and snacks is a growth area.

Holman takes gluten-free a step further, tapping free-from products as emerging. “Consumers want to understand what is in their food,” she says. “They want transparency. There are many consumers that have chosen a certain lifestyle or have an allergy toward an ingredient, such as gluten, that has made them review their food ingredients. Non-GMO, gluten-free, hormone-free and no additives or preservatives are claims that are experiencing growth in this category. The growth is not as fast as it is in other categories, but we believe it is just starting in appetizers and snacks.”

 Holman also points toward foodservice for inspiration. “Restaurants understand that consumers, for the most part, split their spending between retail and foodservice,” she says. Foodservice brands continue to see the retail freezer case as a potential growth strategy. “They have strong brand names that will help drive trial of hopefully tasty products that will drive repeat purchase. Restaurant brands will help drive category innovation, as retail brands will have to keep up with, and leapfrog, their innovative flavor profiles and culinary feel to drive their brands. Consumers are always a fickle bunch, always looking for the new, next best thing.”