Consumers are continuing to spend more time at home versus pre-pandemic and this is influencing what they are buying and how and what consumers are eating. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, frozen foods saw unprecedented growth, becoming one of the most sought-after sectors in grocery retail. Two years from the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen very little slowing down. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global frozen food market is expected to grow at a CAGR rate of 6% through 2028. The rediscovery of the frozen food aisle has resulted in increased innovation across the industry. Manufacturers are expanding product lines and offering greater variety of attractive frozen snack foods, appetizers, and restaurant quality prepared meals that serve up convenience, nutrition and fun,” explains Lynwood Mallard, chief marketing officer, J&J Snack Foods

Another thing that has not slowed down is snacking. Many consumers snack throughout the day and some consumers even replace meals with snacks. Sally Lyons Watts, executive vice president and practice leader, IRI, shared trends and insights about what consumers are looking for in snacking at the recent SNAXPO21: 

  • 52% of consumers like to eat snacks that add excitement to their daily diet; up three points in 2 years
  • 51% of consumers look for authentic or unique snack experiences, up 7 points in two years 


Market data 

With more in home occasions and continued interest in snacking, it is no surprise that the frozen appetizer and snack category experienced another year of double-digit growth, up 10.6% to $3.5 billion based on the latest 52 weeks ending April 17, 2022, per IRI, Chicago. The frozen appetizer and snack category is comprised of three segments: frozen appetizers and snack rolls, frozen pretzels, and frozen breaded vegetables.

The frozen appetizers and snack rolls make up the majority of the category and drove strong category growth, increasing 10.6% to $3.4 billion. The majority of the players in the category experienced growth. Private label grew 16.1% to $384 million and Ruiz Food Products El Monterey brand increased 22.9% to $359 million. Several other players in the category experienced strong performance, here are some of the highlights:

  • Rich Food Products’ Farm Rich brand was up 9.3% resulting in $228 million
  • Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms plant-based appetizers grew 16.4% to $36.2 million
  • Several authentic ethnic appetizer and snack brands also realized significant growth:
  1. Jose Ole grew 31.8% to $141.6 million
  2. Tai Pei frozen appetizers increased 20% to $98.3 million
  3. Pagoda brand frozen appetizers from Schwan’s grew 49.7% to $89.4 million
  4. Conagra PF Chang’s brand grew 24.7% to $49.2 million

The frozen pretzel category had another solid year and grew 7.4% to $102.7 million, per IRI. Growth was driven by the market leader, J&J Snack Foods, who has over an 85% market share. The company’s signature line of products, SuperPretzels, was up 6.1% to $74.8 million and the J&J Snack Food pretzels saw significant growth of 41.9% resulting in in $12.9 million.

The frozen breaded vegetable category continues to do well, the category is up 15.0% to $63.4 million. Birds Eye brand represents over 55% of the category and helped propel the growth by achieving 41.3% growth climbing to $35.1 million. Private label also contributed to the growth, up 9.2% to $5.7 million.


Looking back

One trend that has remained consistent is consumers need for convenience. “Younger consumers, including millennials and Gen-Zs, tend to value easy prep, efficiency, and fast gratification when it comes to home cooking. They are looking for quick and easy meal and snack options. Products like soft pretzels are perfect for a quick snack, appetizer, or dessert. From loaded soft pretzel bites to chocolate sundaes with pretzel bits, the opportunities for creative, convenient eating are endless,” notes Mallard.

Mallard shares the trends he is seeing in the soft pretzel category:

  • Soft pretzels have widespread appeal, 65% of consumers either love/like soft pretzels, but are most loved by Gen Z consumers
  • Soft pretzels have shown strong grown on restaurant menus over the past 4 years, growing +14%
  • Pretzel bites have been a launchpad of success as an appetizer, bar snack, or dessert and have experienced a 47% increase in menu penetration
  • Dips that are commonly served with soft pretzels that are trending include: Beer Cheese, Buffalo Chicken, and Pimento Cheese Dip

The Nestlé brand DiGiorno recently released its new Stuffed Pizza Bites line. These snack-sized pizza rolls are designed for afternoon snacking or a pre-dinner appetizer. The new DiGiorno Stuffed Pizza Bites are available in four varieties, and can be prepared in the oven, air fryer, or microwave:

  • Pepperoni
  • Supreme
  • Three Meat 

DiGiorno Stuffed Pizza Bites are now available at select retailers nationwide.

Ciera M. Womack, marketing director, branded appetizers, at Rich Products is seeing the trend of all-day snacking continuing. “In retail we see continued desire for convenient, tasty product solutions to use for all day snacking, entertaining, and even meal components. Tried and true products, such as mozzarella sticks still dominate, but consumers are also looking for unique, bold flavor experiences. Frozen shoppers are open to new flavors and we are seeing increases in overall bold flavors, heat levels and ethnic inspiration.”

To address the interest in new, unique eating experiences, the company recently launched a new platform of frozen snacks and appetizers through their strategic partnership with Anheuser Busch to create a new line of products under the Budweiser line shares Womack. The new line consists of the following products:

  • Budweiser Beer Battered Cheesy Potato Bites
  • Budweiser Beer Battered Cheese Sticks
  • Budweiser Beer Battered Pickles
  • Budweiser BBQ Pork Sliders (made with Budweiser BBQ sauce)
  • Budweiser Meatballs (with Budweiser BBQ tossing sauce)

Mallard notes that international flavors continue to drive meal and snacking trends in the frozen aisle. “Eager to recreate restaurant quality meals at home, young and diverse households crave ethnic cuisine and enjoy experimenting with exotic flavors. Home chefs are often intimidated at replicating the restaurant experience, so they look to the frozen aisle in grocery stores for solutions that eliminate the risk and allow them to bring global cuisine into the family dining room.”

As restaurants are slowly recovering, they are continuing to experience unique challenges post pandemic. Jeff Ajanee, portfolio manager, Kellogg Company has found that “operators are looking for speed-scratch options—something that saves time and doesn’t require extra manpower in the kitchen while still delivering on a unique, delicious dining experience. Our plant-based proteins from MorningStar Farms offer operators a versatile canvas to create a wide array of dishes for their vegetarian and flexitarian customers.”

MorningStar Farms has been an established brand in plant-based protein for more than 40 years. In recent data shared by the company, they noted 60% of the U.S. is trying to eat less meat; while health and nutrition are top of mind with consumers, they are unwilling to sacrifice the meat taste they crave. Most recently the company has launched MorningStar Farms Incogmeato Homestyle Chik’n Tenders. 

“The inspiration behind MorningStar Farms Incogmeato came from listening to our customers and finding innovative ways to meet their needs. What sets Incogmeato Chik’n Tenders apart from our competition is that we’ve unlocked the texture that flexitarians are looking for and created a product that is indistinguishable from its animal protein counterpart—bringing consumers a chik’n tender that looks, cooks, tastes and tears just like the real thing,” says Ajanee.

“Our team replicated the tear-apart feel of real chicken using High Moisture Extrusion technology to create fibers that mimic the feel of tear apart chicken tenders and replicate the texture of real chicken. This proprietary process allows us to achieve our Chik’n Tenders unique texture by blending non-GMO texturized soy and gluten,” explains Ajanee. The new product is now available to foodservice operators and is currently being tested in the c-store space.

This new product allows for a lot of creativity and can be used in many different recipe applications. Ajanee notes seeing a lot of bold and globally inspired flavor profiles, such as Asian and Latin shine though. Here he shares a couple of on-trend recipes examples which use the new product:

  • Chik’n Lettuce Wraps (ties into the global flavors with the Asian influence)
  • Buffalo Chik’n Salad (bold flavors with bleu cheese and spicy buffalo sauce) 

The company is working with a new chef partner this year who will help bring foodservice operator solutions and fresh ideas to satisfy consumer cravings. 

During the past two years, the majority of companies have worked to address the business challenges due to the pandemic, ensure source of supply for their customers, while still continuing to drive innovation.

Looking ahead

Womack notes Rich Products will be expanding its Anheuser Busch portfolio and launching new items under the Farm Rich brands in the back half of 2022.

The Kellogg team is constantly working to find new ways to meet consumers demand by introducing more plant-based options for the growing flexitarians community. 

“As always, we’re committed to bringing forth plant-based options that appeal to a range to tastes and fit a variety of meal occasions. Our focus remains innovation and accessibility,” notes Ajanee.

Source: IRI Market Advantage, Integrated Fresh, Total U.S. - Multi Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers), 52 Weeks Ending 04-17-22