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Not your grandfather’s TV dinner

The new generation of high-end frozen meals is a big hit in the freezer aisle

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Chef-created. Wholesome. Preservative free. Hormone free. Non-GMO. Vegan. Gluten free. No, we’re not talking about the trendy new organic bowl bar down the street; we’re talking about the new generation of frozen meals—and these are definitely not your grandfather’s old-school TV dinners.

The frozen food market is heating up these days as consumers flock to the freezer section to buy high-end frozen meals offering great taste, high-quality nutrition and, of course, convenience. Why the renewed interest in frozen? Food industry experts point to new technologies in frozen food preservation, reformulated products and new health-conscious offerings, coupled with the growing need for convenience in the lives of today’s busy millennials, who are hitting their stride financially while also finding themselves feeding growing families.

“In the last year, frozen dinner/entrees have seen their dollar sales increase by 3% over the previous year,” says Isabel Morales, manager of consumer insights at Nielsen, noting that these sales rose in Canada from $1.64 billion to $1.69 billion in the latest 52 weeks ending March 3, 2018. “As families are strapped for time, family-size frozen meals are exceeding the growth of single-serve portions (4% vs. 1%). Frozen dinners are a simple and convenient solution that can be kept on hand without the need for planning.”

U.S.-based food and consumer analyst Phil Lempert of Supermarketguru.com suggests the recent trend toward higher frozen food sales is also a direct result of innovative food preservation technologies such as flash freezing, which “allows for the creation of frozen food items without extra additives like sodium, sugar, preservatives and colourings.” Taste, of course, is also a factor. “Manufacturers are focusing on better sauces, better quality ingredients, and more inventive recipes. This is what has brought people back to frozen food,” he says.

Brad McMullen, owner of Toronto’s Summerhill Market, has seen a notable increase in frozen food sales at all of his locations. “What makes frozen meals gourmet tasting and high-end is really just about using wholesome, natural ingredients,” he says. “It’s also about what you don’t put in—additives like preservatives and artificial flavourings.”

The high-end frozen meals on the market today also offer options that meet dietary and lifestyle needs such as non-GMO, gluten free, dairy free and vegan. Sarah Dobec, marketing manager for Toronto natural food market The Big Carrot, says the store sells a high volume of pastas, pizzas and burritos on offer from frozen foods brand Amy’s Kitchen. “People want to eat fresh but don’t want to cook,” she says. “Healthy frozen meals are a gateway for people improving their diets.”

The growing demand for healthier, high-end frozen meals has also seen the rise of companies such as Luvo, the forward-thinking Vancouver-based frozen food manufacturer that has developed “chef-created, nutritionist-approved,” globally inspired frozen meals using higher-quality ingredients, full servings of fruits and vegetables, non-GMO items, antibiotic-free meats, small-batch cooking and ash freezing. Examples of Luvo meals include such fancy fare as Red Wine Braised Beef and Polenta, Quinoa and Veggie Enchilada Verde, and Tandoori-inspired Spiced Chicken.

Kraft Heinz has also thrown its hat into the high-end frozen meals ring, recently unveiling a new line called Crave. This product line uses no artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners, and has 20 to 30 grams of protein in every meal. Examples of Crave’s gourmet-style entrees include White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon, Creamy Chicken Enchiladas, and Sweet & Tangy Pulled Pork with Spicy Sweet Potatoes. “Crave offers a great taste and flavour experience in frozen that consumers don’t always expect,” says Av Maharaj, vice-president of corporate and legal affairs at Kraft Heinz.

Consumer demand for high-end frozen meals has been steadily growing, and the trend is only expected to increase. Grocers ought to ready themselves by making room in their freezer section for the high-end frozen fare that today’s taste-savvy, health-conscious and busy consumer wants.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s May 2018 issue.

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