The once sleepy frozen vegetable category has become a hotbed of new product development, which could help jumpstart growth.
During the 12 weeks ended April 17, sales of plain frozen vegetables held nearly steady at $707.33 million, reports Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). However, units fell 4.7%, mirroring inflation-driven volume losses across the supermarket. One bright spot: the prepared veggies category, which registered both dollar (+9.2%) and unit (+6.1%) gains versus the same period a year ago.
As consumers continue to eat at home, they’re looking to elevate the experience with more exciting, flavorful options that mimic restaurant fare. But they still have to be easy. “While a desire for restaurant-inspired veggies is driving purchases, shoppers aren’t willing to sacrifice convenience,” says Kristen Thompson, Green Giant brand director for B&G Foods, Parsippany, N.J. “Frozen vegetables are an easy, healthy solution for getting a delicious meal on the table quickly.”
‘RESTAURANT-STYLE’ AT HOME
To help consumers put a gourmet spin on home-cooked meals, B&G Foods is introducing the Green Giant Restaurant Style line this summer, reports Thompson. Featuring unique veggie blends flavored with chef-inspired sauces and seasonings, “The line captures the taste of veggies served at your favorite steak house but with the convenience of being frozen. Consumers simply cook them in a skillet, and in 10 minutes they have a restaurant-inspired side that’s customizable,” she says. Varieties include Cauliflower & Fire-Roasted Onions with Garlic Butter, Honey Glazed Carrots with Sage Butter, Garlic Parmesan Green Beans, and Teriyaki Cauliflower & Broccoli.
Chicago-based Conagra is also taking a page from the foodservice sector with its new Birds Eye Veggies and Grains lineup. One of several new Birds Eye products hitting supermarket freezers this month, the QSR-inspired collection combines premium vegetables, hearty grains and sauces. Each of the four flavors — Creamy Pesto, Green Goddess, Buddha and Harvest — offers 10 essential nutrients and can be prepared in a microwaveable tray.
Birds Eye is also adding a Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower variety to its existing Bakes lineup and two new Rice & Pasta Veggie Sides: Rice & Broccoli with Cheddar Cheese and Rigatoni & Vegetables with Zesty Marinara.
In addition, the company is rolling out a new Quick Roasters collection. Ready to eat in seven minutes, it offers an easy way for consumers to enjoy the texture of oven-roasted vegetables without oven prep, says Nagle. Available varieties include Cauliflower & Broccoli, Red Potatoes, Halved Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower.
For the 62% of U.S. households with an air fryer, Pictsweet Farms introduces Vegetables for the Air Fryer.
After two years of cooking at home, consumers are searching for more convenient ways to cook, says Kevin Schwab, executive vp of sales and marketing and chief customer officer of The Pict-
sweet Co., Bells, Tenn. “They are becoming more confident in their cooking skills and learning how to use new appliances,” he explains. “Consequently, the air fryer is gaining popularity.” In fact, Schwab says an estimated 62% of U.S. households own an air fryer, and the trend continues to gain momentum. “Consumers are enjoying the new tastes and textures that [air fried] frozen vegetables can bring to the table,” he adds.
To meet that need, Pictsweet Farms has introduced Vegetables for the Air Fryer. “In just 10 minutes cooking time, they
deliver the taste and convenience consumers want,” Schwab notes. Vegetables for the Air Fryer come in five varieties: Red Potatoes, Onions & Sweet Peppers; Lightly Breaded Okra; Cut Asparagus Spears; Lightly Breaded Halved Brussels Sprouts; and Parmesan Cauliflower.
Although vegetables are inherently better-for-you, many consumers are seeking products better-for-the-planet as well, boosting demand for convenient organic options. To that end, Tattooed Chef, Paramount, Calif., is launching a new line of organic blends that offer “an abundance of flavor,” including Organic Italian Style Riced Cauliflower, Organic Riced Cauliflower, Organic Green Zucchini & Yellow Squash Spirals, Organic Butternut Squash Dices, Organic Zucchini & Yellow Squash and Organic Sweet Potato Dices.
“Consumers are responding well to our new blends,” says founder and chief creative officer Sarah Galletti. “For example, our Organic Italian Style Riced Cauliflower features an assortment of textures ranging from zucchini to semi-dried tomatoes seasoned with garlic and olive oil. This reduces the need for additional seasonings and gives consumers what we call ‘more plants with less prep.’”
Another player in the organic space, UNFI/Woodstock, Providence R.I., will introduce two new certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified frozen vegetable blends in August. Tri-Colored Peppers features a blend of sliced red, yellow and green bell peppers, while Peppers & Onions combines sliced yellow onions with red and green bell peppers. Both include quick stove-top and microwave cooking instructions. “These products meet consumer demand for fresh quality ingredients with no preservatives, are pre-sliced to save prep time, and offer an easy solution for a variety of lunch and dinner options,” says brand manager Alissa Bessette.
The “buy local” trend is also gaining steam, thanks largely to Seal the Seasons’ entry into the frozen veggie category. “Over the last five years, we’ve built a high-velocity premium local fruit business,” says CEO Patrick Mateer. “It makes sense that vegetable shoppers are after the same flavorful, locally sourced products from farmers they recognize.” This summer, the Durham, N.C.-based company is expanding its locally grown frozen vegetable program into the Pacific Northwest with veggies sourced from family farms in Oregon and Washington.
On the East Coast, the company recently piloted a line of pre-portioned, bag-in-bag multi-packs that give consumers the opportunity to support growers in their part of the country without sacrificing convenience.
NEW EATING OCCASIONS ABOUND
Manufacturers are also working on innovative new formats that create new eating occasions for frozen veggies. “Where frozen vegetables were once seen as a side dish, today they can be an appetizer, a snack or a meal on their own,” says Conagra’s Nagle. For example, Birds Eye’s new Bacon Cheddar and Southwest Style Loaded Cauliflower Bites — breaded riced cauliflower infused with gooey cheese and veggies — can be used as a handheld snack, appetizer or side. Birds Eye is also adding a Sweet Chili flavor of its Cauliflower Wings, a game-day favorite that debuted in 2021.
Meanwhile, UNFI/Woodstock recently launched a line of plant-powered frozen pastas imported from Italy that are ready in minutes, says Bessette. The assortment includes traditional family favorites Four Cheese Tortellini, Cauliflower & Cheese and Spinach & Cheese, along with vegan options Garlic & Roasted Veggie, Butternut Squash and Red Lentil & Eggplant. All are available in family-size 20-ounce packages.
Another frozen veggie brand looking to move into new categories, Dublin-based Strong Roots is introducing plant-based meals for one to the U.S. market this summer. Available at Whole Foods starting in July, they include Thai Green Veg Curry and Greek Orzo Pasta Bake. “We use the natural characteristics of the vegetables and other plant-based ingredients to naturally flavor the meals while ensuring the portion is tasty and of good value,” says founder and CEO Samuel Dennigan. The company will also tap into the all-day-breakfast trend with its Sweet Potato Hash Browns.