In a food culture that increasingly prizes clean label, fresh flavors and nutritional benefits, companies working in the freezer case need to integrate selective strategic innovations while holding true to the convenience and quality shoppers have come to expect in classic, category-leading frozen snacks and appetizers.


Market data

The frozen appetizers/snack rolls category finished the reporting period on a positive trajectory, up 1.56 percent to $2.2 billion for the 52 weeks ending April 16, 2017, per IRI, Chicago.

General Mills, leader of the segment, saw a slight dollar sales decline of 0.46 percent to $544.7 million stemming from the slight dip in sales of its segment-leading Totino’s Pizza Rolls line, down 0.91 percent to $525.8 million, per IRI.

Ruiz Foods, which includes a range of El Monterey taquitos in its product lineup, had another good year, up 10.05 percent to $216.9 million. Private label likewise saw positive growth, up 9.73 percent to $168.1 million.

Frito-Lay made a strong entrance to the freezer case with its launch of Doritos Loaded in late 2016. For the reporting period, the product garnered $28.7 million in sales. The bite-sized, triangle-shaped snacks are filled with cheese and covered in a crispy Doritos-flavored crust.

State Fair, a Tyson Foods brand, saw good growth of its corn dogs products for the year, up 47.86 percent to $20.9 million. The line includes snack-sized Classic Mini Corn Dogs and 100% Beef Mini Corn Dogs.


Looking back

“The brands and products that are winning offer relevant flavor and size varieties, provide functional benefits like portability/microwaveable, meal replacement/satiety, unique flavors and give consumers an opportunity to try new types of cuisine,” says Nicci Trovinger, marketing manager, Totino’s, General Mills, Minneapolis.

In August 2016, Totino’s launched two new products: Pizza Sticks, in Pepperoni or Cheese, and Stuffed Nachos, in Supreme (taco-seasoned chicken and beef, red bell peppers and jalapeños) and Queso (cheese, onions and red bell peppers).

“For Stuffed Nachos, we took an item that tastes amazing and everyone loves—nachos—but made it more convenient and easier to eat by turning it into a stuffed bite,” says Trovinger. “With Totino’s Pizza Sticks, we really wanted to enable a product that was easier to eat on the go than our current pizza roll offering.” Pizza Sticks have been optimized for microwave preparation and are wrapped in a to-go pouch.

Some producers of frozen snacks and appetizers are using strategic tactics to attract select consumer demographics to the freezer case. “When it comes to snacks today, consumers are seeking better-for-you options that are also satisfying and delicious,” says Charlie Pace, president and CEO, Smart Flour Foods, Austin, TX. “They appreciate products that meet special dietary needs, like gluten-free, and value wholesome and nutritious ingredients like ancient grains.”

Smart Flour Foods added a new gluten-free choice to the freezer case with its launch of Snack Bites in March 2017. The company’s uses a gluten-free blend sorghum, amaranth, teff and chia for the line. The cheeses are hormone-free, and the meats are uncured, free of nitrates and nitrites. “The Snack Bites are also free of artificial colors and flavors, made with several organic ingredients, and free of many allergens including wheat, nuts, tree nuts, soy and eggs,” says Pace.

“We have come to understand that millennials in general are influencing our food culture,” says Giselle Restrepo, senior manager, consumer insights and analytics, Schwan’s Co., Bloomington, MN, pointing toward the demographic’s high standards for food.

“There is a lot more competition for the snacks space generally, and millennials are consummate snackers,” says Denis Neville, CEO, CoreFX Ingredients, Chicago. “So the frozen market needs to change how it positions its offerings.” He points toward authentic ingredients, shorter labels and transparency as key pivot points.

In October 2015, Schwan’s announced a commitment to simplify ingredient labels for its entire branded foods portfolio. “The focus was on simplifying ingredient labels and sourcing real, high-quality ingredients,” says Stacey Fowler Meittunen, senior vice president of product innovation and development.

Schwan’s has now reformulated its entire Pagoda line, including its Potsickers and Crab Rangoon, which were completed in late 2016. The Pagoda Potstickers also now feature a new Lime Ponzu dipping sauce—and 60 percent less sodium than before. Additionally, the Crab Rangoon now contains 100 percent real crab meat, and more of it. Honey Sesame Chicken Wontons and Korean BBQ Style Beef Wontons joined the Pagoda line in February 2017.

Pagoda saw an increase of 4.94 percent for the reporting period to $53.0 million, per IRI.

“Consumers are looking to push flavor boundaries with sweet plus heat, sweet plus heat plus smoke, and spicy-salty-savory global flavor combinations,” says Michael Gunn, director of culinary, Chef Collective Member, Schwan’s Co.

While some demographics lean toward culinary inspirations, classic Mexican flavors still find a market across mainstream America. To that end, Ruiz Foods has introduced an El Monterey Bigger! Bolder! Taquito line inspired by its foodservice roller grill Tornados, available in Beef, Cheddar & Monterey Jack Cheese, and Chicken & Monterey Jack Cheese.


Looking forward

“Flavor differentiation is front and center in the frozen snacks and appetizers market,” says Roger Lane, marketing manager, savory flavors, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, IL. “This has played out in several different ways. The first is more globally focused flavors and inspiration from more unique regional cuisines. South American, smaller Asian countries like Vietnam and the Middle East are all in play. The second is specific chile heat and flavor. Chiles have long been used in this category, but chiles aren’t all equal. They have various heat levels and without the heat level, other notes come out—fruit, chocolate, smoke.”

Influences from restaurants, food trucks and general culinary experimentation have changed the playing field. “Consumers nowadays are looking for more than just convenience,” says Jean Shieh, marketing manager, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, CA. “With a wide variety of options from large corporation brands to private labels, brands have to differentiate themselves with more flavor choices, higher quality, healthier options and clean labels.” She points to frozen appetizer concepts like like ancho chile avocado bites or chipotle taquitos to “bring out the spicy side of dough-based products by highlighting the use of a specific chile variety.”

Lane notes that chile flavors like peri peri, fermented notes like kimchi or gochujang, and smoky notes like hickory or mesquite can all pique consumer interest.

Shieh also suggests that natural umami flavor ingredients can provide the savory essence for ethnic dishes like dumplings and spring rolls “to brighten up and round out the overall flavor” while maintaining a clean label.

According to the April 2017 “Frozen Snacks—U.S.” report from Mintel, Chicago, the industry has seen a 9.1 percent increase in GMO-free claims in frozen snacks. Shieh notes that when striving to appeal to millennial shoppers, aspects like minimally processed, non-GMO, no artificial ingredients and preservative-free should set the tone for future product development.