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The fresh department may be twice its size, but frozen has the momentum. Don’t let it slip away.

While retailers continue to grapple with supply chain issues, labor shortages and looming inflation, the news for the frozen department just keeps getting better. On the heels of last year’s whopping 21% gain, frozen sales continued to outpace total food and beverage sales during the 52 weeks ended Oct. 3, according to IRI. A new report from The Deloitte Consumer Industry Center that compares frozen to fresh traces the department’s rising fortunes to three Ps: perishability, price and preference.


During the pandemic, longer stretches between less frequent visits to the supermarket made perishability a much bigger concern than in the past. But even though consumers are less stressed about shopping in stores now than they were in 2020, new shopping habits appear to be sticking, reports Deloitte — perhaps because so many households invested in secondary freezers. Growing concern over the environment and climate change is also likely raising awareness around food waste.

Price is also driving some consumers from fresh to frozen, which is viewed as less expensive and with less volatile pricing. With prices for food consumed at home up 4.5% in September (versus Sept. 2020) and inflation expected to continue through at least early 2022, things are only going to get worse, which could further hasten the shift from fresh to frozen.

The final P, preference, highlights better quality, more variety and increasing availability of premium options in the frozen department. In fact, say the report’s authors, frozen food is now as likely to emphasize its health and nutritional attributes as taste or convenience. In short, they note, “Today’s frozen food isn’t your grandparents’s frozen food.” (Well, duh.)

Clearly, consumers are catching on as well, with as many as 50% agreeing that frozen food is just as good as or better than fresh. Even more encouraging is the fact that younger consumers heading into their prime spending years are even more likely than those over 55 to view frozen in a positive light.

One caveat, though, is the finding that 90% of consumers say eating fresh food makes them happy while only 40% say the same about eating frozen. That sentiment is strongest among “contemporary consumers,” who are younger, more affluent and more urban. “Eating fresh is an identity and lifestyle that doesn’t appear to translate to or have the same cachet in frozen,” says the report, highlighting an action area for frozen food manufacturers. 

What can retailers do on their end to take advantage of consumers’ growing penchant for frozen foods? The Deloitte report suggests “reimagining” the frozen section. “Consumers may respond with even more enthusiasm if commensurate efforts were put into building energy around frozen,” say the authors. They suggest more sensory appeals, new freezer options that eliminate barriers and more interesting use of technology, as well as continued investment in private label.


The bottom line is that frozen food has reached a tipping point, so this is no time for retailers or manufacturers to take their foot off the gas. Yes, everyone is facing extraordinary challenges just keeping products on the shelves right now. But our industry is faced with a historic opportunity here. So strike while the iron’s hot!

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the editor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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