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Growth shows no signs of slowing as manufacturers roll out cleaner, more sophisticated offerings. 

From convenience and versatility to cleaner labels and innovative new formats and flavors, frozen snacks and handheld entrees check many of consumers’ boxes. It comes as no surprise, then, that the segment’s torrid growth continues even after lapping last year’s historic gains. During the 12 weeks ended Sept. 5, reports Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworld
wide.com), sales of frozen appetizers/snack rolls jumped another 12.3% to $688.67 million, while sales of handheld entrees climbed 10.5% to $765.78 million (versus the same period a year ago). But compared with the same stretch in 2019, sales in the two categories are up a massive 54.1% and 26.0%, respectively, according to IRI.

Baozza taps the ethnic fusion trend by combining bao buns with pizza fillings.

While manufacturers offer many reasons for the segment’s success during the past two years, perhaps the biggest is improved quality, says Alex Cree, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Baozza (baozza.com). “COVID accelerated eating at home, so consumers graduated from commodity items to more culinary food experiences: better ingredients, unique flavors, and new formats.” Interestingly, he adds, the snacks, apps and handhelds segment hasn’t seen the same demand for functional nutrition or “health food” as many other frozen food categories. “Rather, consumers want a balance between healthier eating and comfort food.” 

Yes, better-for-you plant-based, gluten-free and keto are all on the upswing, “But what’s often overlooked is simple good food with good ingredients.”

While they may not be looking for snacks and apps that are “healthy” in the traditional sense, consumers still want to know what’s in their food, notes Joe Bybel, senior vp and general manager of the retail business unit at Dinuba, Calif.-based Ruiz Foods, maker of the El Monterey (elmonterey.com) lineup. More educated about ingredients than ever before, they value transparency, he says. “That’s why it’s become standard practice at Ruiz Foods to call out certain key benefits, such as protein content and no artificial flavors or colors, on packaging.”


Increasingly sophisticated consumers are much more open to exploring new options in snacks, apps and handhelds, says Doug Hall, senior director of marketing at San Ramon, Calif.-based Raybern’s (rayberns.com). As a result, “Ethnic foods and unique flavor profiles are making their way to market faster than ever before.” Topping the list of shoppers’ favorite ethnic cuisines is Italian, spurring Raybern’s to add a Meatball Sub to its frozen sandwich lineup. A longtime favorite of employees, the sub features bakery soft bread made fresh daily in-house topped with savory meatballs, marinara and mozzarella. It’s hitting freezers at BJ’s Wholesale Club this month, in 6-count boxes.

Ruiz Foods adds meatless Bean & Cheese Taquitos to its El Monterey lineup.

Another new entry in the handheld Italian segment comes from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Feel Good Foods (feel-good-foods.com), which just launched gluten-free calzones at Whole Foods. Made with antibiotic-free meats, real cheese and veggies, the product is offered in both Meatball Parmesan and Buffalo-Style Chicken flavors.

There’s also plenty of innovation in the granddaddy of Italian-inspired snacks: pizza rolls. Category leader Totino’s (totinos.com), from Minneapolis-based General Mills, recently rolled out a more “poppable” bite-size version of its iconic pizza rolls that comes in a microwaveable pouch “so consumers can heat and eat them right out of the bag.” The 20-count packages come in both Combination and Pepperoni flavors, according to the company. The Pepperoni variety is also offered in four-bag multi-packs.

Meanwhile, a newcomer to the pizza rolls category, Austin, Texas-based Snow Days (snowdays.com), just added a Sausage variety to its line of organic grain-free pizza snacks (currently available online but coming to retail in Q1 2022). Made from cassava flour, grass-fed mozzarella and other organic ingredients, the pizza rolls contain no added sugars, preservatives or GMOs, according to the company. “We’ve taken a typically overprocessed childhood favorite and reimagined it for today’s [health] conscious consumer,” says a spokesperson.


Baozza is attempting to do the same thing but with a completely new format, says Cree. “When you look at the dominant frozen pizza snacks over the past 20 years, you see a lot of brands that have tried to compete purely on price and less on innovation,” resulting in a set of products that are, well…cheap, he says. “Baozza is an attempt to give consumers a better alternative to the incumbents while giving retailers an opportunity to re-mix the category with premium options.” 

What exactly is a Baozza? Cree describes them as a bao bun-pizza hybrid: soft, fluffy bao buns filled with top quality cheeses, meats, slow-cooked sauces and Italian herbs. Packaged in super-simple microwave-safe steamer bags, they’re offered in five premium pizza flavors: Margherita, Pepperoni, BBQ Chicken, Cheesy Spinach and Italian Sausage. “Baozza offers a fun and unique twist on traditional Chinese bao by fusing it with an American classic,” says Cree.

Saffron Road (saffronroad.com), Stamford, Conn., is also jumping on the ethnic fusion trend with its new premium artisan wraps, which combine Mediterranean-style flatbreads with the flavors of South Asia. Made with whole plant-based proteins such as chickpeas, black-eyed beans and antibiotic-free chicken, the line includes three varieties: Butter Chicken, vegetarian Bean & Cheese and vegan Samosa with Chickpeas. The fact that two of the three are meat-free highlights growing demand for plant-based options, even in a category where convenience often trumps nutrition.

Manufacturers see it in the snacks segment as well. Since 36% of consumers identify as flexitarian, says Bybel, Ruiz Foods will roll out El Monterey Black Bean & Cheese Taquitos next February. A natural alternative to classic chicken and cheese or beef and cheese taquitos, the new flavor “stays true to authentic Mexican cuisine while also providing a meatless option that consumers tell us they sometimes feel better eating.” He adds, “They’re delicious and don’t feel like a compromise at all.”

Ruiz Foods is also launching large value packs of its best-selling El Monterey Chicken & Cheese Taquitos. 


The frozen pretzel subcategory, up 4.7% to $20.78 million during the most recent 12 weeks, is also welcoming some new items. Category leader SuperPretzel (superpretzel.com), from Pennsauken, N.J.-based J&J Snack Foods, just added a fourth flavor, Pizza, to its new Filled Soft Pretzel Bites collection, reports brand manager Mike Powis. 

But for consumers with food allergies or sensitivities, pretzel category newcomer The Greater Knead (thegreaterknead.com), Bensalem, Pa., just rolled out a line of allergen- and gluten-free Soft Pretzel Nuggets. “We surveyed our customer community to find out what they were missing the most in the marketplace and soft pretzels were No. 1,” reports founder and CEO Michelle Carfagno. After 35 tries, she finally came up with a recipe that captures the taste and texture of traditional soft pretzels. Available flavors include Classic, Cinnamon Sugar and Everything (like the bagel). They’re available now at Wegman’s.

Gluten-free Soft Pretzel Nuggets from The Greater Knead allow consumers with food allergies and sensitivities to enjoy a favorite snack.

While bites and nuggets represent popular new pretzel formats, category newcomer Julian’s Recipe (juliansrecipe.com), Brooklyn, N.Y., goes a bit bigger with its new Filled Pretzel Sticks. Unlike anything else on the market, according to founder and CEO Alex Dzieduszycki, the product can be used not only as a snack but as a meal accompaniment. Available flavors include Butter & Sea Salt, Butter & Garlic, Garden Herbs, Salted Caramel and Cream Cheese Filling. 

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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