A 22.5% gain by snacks and appetizers drove the advance. But household penetration remains low, leaving plenty of room for additional growth.
While inflation stifled growth of some frozen Asian foods earlier this year, continued innovation in response to rising demand for Asian flavors has the category on the rise once again. Sales surged 11% during the 12 weeks ending May 8, driven primarily by the snacks/apps subcategory, whose 22.5% gain is more than double that of the category as a whole, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com).
Category growth can be attributed, in part, to younger shoppers — Millennials and Gen Z — who are more likely than previous generations to seek out global flavors, says Jaylon Rosenblum, director of marketing for Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands, which owns the surging Pagoda (+44%) and Bibigo (+87%) brands. “But beyond that, these consumers also want to find products that deliver a restaurant-quality, global food experience that they can enjoy at home. They want to satisfy that craving for global flavor, but it needs to be approachable and convenient — and that’s where frozen food comes in,” he says.
‘Since the onset of the pandemic, consumers have been adding side dishes and appetizers to their baskets along with center-of-the-plate items in order to create a complete meal at home.’
“Dollar sales growth of frozen Asian have been outpacing total frozen over the past four years by 3.5%,” adds Joe Spivak, P.F. Chang’s Home Menu brand manager for Chicago-based Conagra. “And while household penetration is growing, at just 52%, there is a clear opportunity to reach more consumers.”
As a result, says Angela Rosenquist, chief growth officer at Tukwila, Wash.-based InnovAsian, the category is on pace for record dollar and unit growth in 2022. What about inflation? Won’t price increases at retail lead some consumers to cut back on purchases?
INFLATION HASN’T HURT SALES
Actually, it could be just the opposite, according to manufacturers. “While we have had to take pricing action across multiple lines, we continue to see a positive response from consumers,” says Spivak, citing a 17% jump in sales of the company’s P.F. Chang’s Home Menu appetizers during the 13 weeks ended April 24. “They want food that delivers value and taste, and we believe we do an exceptional job of both,” he remarks. And, even if retail prices are rising, frozen food prepared at home is still less expensive than eating out.
Inflation is an “equal opportunity offender,” confirms Jack Acree, executive vp at Stamford, Conn.-based Saffron Road. “It’s hitting all areas of the food business, but especially restaurants. So, while we have had to increase our prices, our entrées still provide a tremendous value” compared to foodservice. He adds, “We haven’t sacrificed our ingredients or portion sizes, which makes our entrees a viable restaurant alternative — something we hear over and over again from our consumers.”
‘Dollar sales growth of frozen Asian have been outpacing total frozen over the past four years by 3.5%. And while household penetration is growing, at just 52%, there is a clear opportunity to reach more consumers.’
In addition, significant price hikes on foods like meat and eggs make more modest increases on products such as frozen Asian foods seem more reasonable, says Al Greenwood, vp of sales for Bay Shore, N.Y.-based Water Lilies Food. Plus, many frozen Asian food brands, including Water Lilies, are still riding their pandemic high. “COVID actually ended up operating almost as a large scale sampling program,” Greenwood explains. “Consumers wanted frozen so they didn’t have to visit the store as often, and Asian appetizers played the role of restaurant replacement.” As a result, Water Lilies’ sales continue to grow, even at some of its biggest customers. “So it looks like they were impressed with what they bought,” he says.
INNOVATION FUELS GROWTH
Innovative new products are also helping push sales higher. InnovAsian is launching two noodle side dishes, Vegetable Lo Mein and Spicy Noodles, to complement family-size entrees such as General Tso’s Chicken and Orange Chicken. “Since the onset of the pandemic, consumers have been adding rice and appetizers to their baskets along with center-of-the-plate items in order to create a complete meal at home,” Rosenquist explains. Now they can add noodles as well.
On the single-serve side, P.F. Chang’s Home Menu recently rolled out four new bowls that include either rice or noodles. Flavors include Beef & Broccoli, Chicken Teriyaki, Chicken Fried Rice and Chicken Lo Mein. Beef & Broccoli is P.F. Chang’s top-selling multi-serve meal, says Spivak, while fried rice and Lo Mein noodles are the two best-selling Asian single-serve meals.
Saffron Road is also expanding its extensive Asian foods offerings with a new Kung Pao Chicken entree. “Chinese cuisine is a huge category with very few clean label offerings,” says Acree. “There is a lot of demand out there that we look to fill.”
Mainstream brands are rolling out more Asian dishes as well. For example, Conagra is adding Beef and Broccoli to its one-year-old Healthy Choice Zero line, which is designed to meet the needs of consumers seeking low sugar, low carb meals, says Healthy Choice brand manager Sarah Little. “The introduction of Beef and Broccoli brings a popular Asian flavor into this collection.”
In the appetizer category, Schwan’s is adding Pagoda Mini Buffalo Style Chicken Egg Rolls in an 8-count pack. Although Pagoda is the No. 1 frozen eggroll brand, “We know that consumers are always seeking new products,” says Rosenblum. Why Buffalo Style? “Research from Datassential indicates that Buffalo chicken isn’t only a well-known flavor profile but is also widely loved — especially by Millennial and Gen Z demographics,” he explains. Plus, the mini format taps into the whole bite-size trend.
VEGETARIAN VERSIONS HIT FREEZERS
As in other categories across the supermarket, plant-based continues to make inroads in frozen Asian foods as well. While many Asian dishes don’t include meat, growing demand for plant-based versions of those that do prompted Nestlé-owned Sweet Earth Foods, Moss Landing, Calif., to roll out a Korean BBQ-Style Chik’n Bowl.
“Korean BBQ has become the No. 1 Korean-inspired meal in America,” says marketing director Seema Sundar. “We saw an opportunity to create a plant-based version of this widely popular dish that people can enjoy it in the comfort of their home.” The entree combines sweet and spicy Korean BBQ-style Sweet Earth Chik’n with edamame, carrots, snap peas and black sesame over a cauliflower and brown rice blend. It features 15 grams of plant-based protein and 5 grams of fiber. n