The frozen snacks and appetizers category has seen steady growth over the past few years thanks to the combined avenues of convenience and culinary diversity manufacturers are bringing to market. These products nicely accent the category, finding a home alongside longtime staples that likewise continue to see growth.


Market data

The overall appetizers and snack rolls category saw another year of growth, up 3.8 percent to $2.3 billion, per IRI, Chicago for the 52 weeks ending May 19, 2019. All of the top five companies within the category’s core segment likewise saw growth, with the segment up 4.1 percent. Notable moves this year include Kraft Heinz Co. passing private label to claim the No. 3 spot in the segment, growing 3.3 percent to $246.9 million. And Rich Products Corp. moved into the top five with 8.8 percent growth to $146.9 million.

General Mills anchors the top spot in frozen appetizers and snack rolls with its popular Totino’s brand, which grew 6.4 percent to $606.6 million, per IRI. Ruiz Food Products has been on a growth tear over the past few years, and saw another great year. Its flagship El Monterey line, which includes a range of taquitos, grew 31.5 percent to $305.2 million. Kraft Heinz saw growth of its two primary brands in this segment: Bagel Bites was up 2.1 percent to $162.4 million, and the TGI Friday’s brand grew a nice 18.4 percent to $72.7 million. Rich Products saw its Farm Rich line grow 8.8 percent to $146.9 million. Other notable growth in the segment came from the MegaMex Foods brand Don Miguel, which offers taquitos, flautas, mini tacos, empanadas and more, up 67.5 percent to $37.5 million, and the Conagra brand P.F. Chang’s Home Menu line, up 40.5 percent to $24.6 million.

The frozen pretzel segment saw a decline of 2.5 percent to $74.0 million, per IRI. J&J Snack Foods Corp. holds an almost 80 percent market share in this segment. While the company overall saw a slight decline of 1.5 percent to $59.1 million, a bright spot was its Auntie Anne’s line, which grew 32.6 percent to $2.9 million. Its core brand, Super Pretzel, dropped 1.8 percent to $39.9 million. Hanover Foods Corp. saw another year of growth for its line of Hanover frozen soft pretzels, up 9.2 percent to $4.6 million. And Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen saw its line of gluten-free frozen pretzels grow 11.7 percent to $298,768.


Looking back

In 2018, Totino’s expanded its core line with Mini Snack Bites. “We love keeping our consumers delighted by introducing new flavors and products alongside our family favorites,” says Mike Siemienas, spokesman, General Mills, Minneapolis. “Mini Snack bites is just that. We wanted an even more-snackable, poppable option that our fans would love. Totino’s launched Mini Snack bites in both Pepperoni and Combo in a large 125-count box and 20-count single-serve bags.”

Siemienas also notes that Totino’s has expanded its main Pizza Rolls line with a Cheeseburger option. “Totino’s loves bringing awesome flavors our consumers crave—like Cheeseburger, which we just launched. Our Cheeseburger flavor mixes all the recognizable tastes of a cheeseburger—beef, cheese, pickles, onions—into a bite-size roll.”

Totino’s Pizza Rolls is one of those iconic brands that has stood the test of time. “For parents, there is often nostalgia associated with our poppable bursts of pizza,” says Siemienas. “Teens and kids love them because they’re delicious.” He also notes that Totino’s Pizza Rolls bring the versatility of microwave or oven preparation.

“Today, people are increasingly open to trying new flavors and styles in the appetizer section on menus and in snacks,” says Hailey Rogers, Ardent Mills, Denver. “This trend influences what you see in grocery stores’ frozen food sections.”

Rich Products Corp. has brought an interesting level of innovation to frozen snacks and appetizers over the past few years. A recent introduction to the segment is its Bean Dip Bites, breaded frozen snacks made with mozzarella cheese, pinto beans, tomatoes, jalapeños and green onions, sold with a creamy salsa dipping sauce. The product is part of the Special Edition line, which in 2017 debuted with its Fiesta Chicken Roll Ups (chipotle chicken taquitos with a Baja-style dipping sauce), Avocado Slices (ancho chile spiced breading and a jalapeño ranch sauce) and Pimento Cheese Bites (breaded Cheddar cheese and pimentos with a red pepper jelly sauce).

“Appetizers are the preferred path for consumer experimentation with new flavors and ingredients,” says Judson McLester, executive chef, ingredient sales manager, McIlhenny Co., TABASCO Brand Products, Avery Island, LA. “Recent trends are showing an increased interest in more plant-based items, reduced portion sizes, bold flavors and healthy ingredients.”

Eastern Standard Provisions Co., Boston, has introduced a collection of soft, hand-tied pretzels: Top Knot, Wheelhouse and Turnbuckle. The frozen soft pretzels are with all-natural vegan ingredients, including barley syrup and turbinado sugar.

Amy’s Kitchen released a Vegan Cheese Pizza snacks product in October 2018, made with organic vegan “cheese” and organic tomatoes, bringing a soy-free and dairy-free option to the segment.

“Flexitarian demand for socially responsible alternatives is driving innovation in food,” says McLester. “We’ll see even more emphasis on the usage of whole grains, vegetable derivatives, and the utilization of ingredients and foods that provide a specific health benefit. Spices are also an influencing factor.”

In the foodservice market, Sonic Drive-In expanded its snack menu in 2018 with a Sweet Pretzel Twist, a cinnamon-sugar take on its salted Soft Pretzel Twist. It’s served with a side of sweet cream cheese frosting.


Looking forward

“Another trend we see is in indulgent snacks, such as mini bagels, cheese sticks, empanada-style foods and savory pastries, all of which have benefited from subtle upgrades in the areas of better ingredients and overall nutritional profiles,” says Rogers. This includes incorporating high-quality ancient grains in batters and breadings for appetizers. “Ancient and whole grains are an excellent addition, because they add crunch, color and texture to the breading and coating for frozen snacks. The addition of ancient grains also adds visual appeal by offering a rustic, more textured appearance.”

Ancient grains can help gluten-free frozen snacks and appetizers find growth. “Low- or no-gluten formulations are still in high demand, in part because of trending diets and perceived healthfulness among certain consumer segments,” says Rogers. “However, it’s common for people on these diets to not consume enough whole grains or fiber. This makes it all the more important to incorporate grains suited for people who are avoiding gluten, including amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. These grains are available in a variety of forms—including multigrain flour blends, crisps and IQF—that work well for frozen food formulations. Ancient grains have strong appeal among modern consumers who are interested in eating clean, simple foods that are full of interesting colors, textures and flavors, as well as stories.”

While Latin American inspirations have a strong home in frozen snacks and appetizers, casting a wider net in terms of ethnic flavors could yield interesting results. “We also see the continued influence of global cuisine in frozen snacks,” says Rogers. “A great example is in stuffed dough snacks such as cheese-stuffed pizza dough snacks and meat pies, which are being enhanced with a variety of grains that offer unique flavor profiles. One example might be using barley flour or flakes in a mini Scottish meat pie.”

Foodservice can serve as strong inspiration for frozen interpretations. “The appetizer section of menus, because it features smaller portions, is an area in which both chefs and diners are open to experimenting with new flavors, alternate forms and unique influences,” says Rogers. This could include authentic mini tacos inspired by food truck cuisine.

“While the category of frozen snacking is growing, it’s important to remember that bold flavor plays a key role in consumer satisfaction and repeat purchase intent,” says McLester. “Delving further, authentic spicy products and ethnic spice variations are table stakes.” He suggests that these flavors should yield an experience that provides regional authenticity and a complex, aged heat that builds on the existing taste of the product, not just raw heat.

“In the frozen food category, consumers want guaranteed results in terms of quality,” says Rogers. “For example, with breaded and battered items, the expectation is that crisp exteriors actually come out crisp and crunchy, and interiors have soft or chewy contrasting textures. Because of this expectation, delivering consistent texture, crunch and crispness is essential for frozen food companies if they want to meet the expectations that restaurants offer.”

When it comes to frozen appetizers that use dough, there are some technical considerations to keep in mind to ensure the best results, says Laurie Scanlin, Ph.D., R&D culinary manager, RQT, Ardent Mills. “The flour you work with should have a high protein content and be of good quality. With proper yeast and protein levels, frozen dough should perform well up to four months, but snack manufacturers still will need to determine the optimal shelf life of each individual product.”

The enduring appeal of this category’s leaders is their inherently snackable size. “Another feature that is important in the appetizer or snack category is appropriate portions,” says Rogers. “For instance, savory pastries like empanadas and Jamaican meat patties have huge appeal for people who like pizza rolls or other stuffed snacks. However, it’s smart to cater to the desire for snack-sized options.”