Dollar sales grew almost twice as fast as sales for all frozen foods. Ethnic, plant-based and anything made with cauliflower are leading the way.
Handheld entrees mirrored the performance of the frozen department as a whole during the 12 weeks ended June 12: dollar sales were up 7.3% to $775.65 million, but units tumbled 5.7% as consumers cut back on purchases in response to runaway inflation. But the snacks and appetizers category bucked the trend, registering a 14.1% dollar sales gain (to $748.17 million) in the face of a modest 2.6% unit loss, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iri worldwide.com). Industry observers say America’s snack-centric culture deserves much of the credit.
“Snacks and meals are becoming more interchangeable,” says Beth Conner, director of marketing at Ontario, Calif.-based Ajinomoto Foods, which produces the Ling Ling and José Olé brands. But, while snacks can easily double as meals, it’s not as easy for meals to replace snacks — one possible reason snacks are outperforming handheld entrees. In both categories, however, convenience is a must, providing the impetus for Ajinomoto’s latest addition: Ling Ling Mini Potstickers.
MICROWAVEABLE POTSTICKERS FILL A GAP
“The market lacked a potsticker that cooked quickly in the microwave and delivered great taste and texture,” says Conner. “Ling Ling’s new product cooks perfectly in the microwave in less than two minutes. And nothing else is needed (no water, no paper towel) so they can be easily prepared by anyone in the family.” Available flavors include Chicken & Vegetable and Teriyaki Chicken.
Another new Asian appetizer comes from Daesang America, Hackensack, N.J., which debuted its first frozen food item at the Summer Fancy Food Show earlier this summer. It will offer both Kimchi Mandu and Plant-Based Mandu (in Gochujang and K-BBQ flavors) under its O’Food label.
Conner notes that Asian frozen snacks (+22%) have outperformed other ethnic frozen snacks and the frozen snack category as a whole (+12%) during the past 52 weeks. However, Asian branded frozen snacks (+24%) are driving much of the growth versus mainstream snacks in Asian flavors or formats (+5%), highlighting the importance of authenticity.
On the Mexican side of the frozen appetizer category, Dinuba, Calif.-based Ruiz Foods is bringing back (by popular demand) its El Monterey Extra Crunchy Taco Beef Taquitos, which were discontinued during the pandemic due to supply constraints, reports Joe Bybel, senior vp and general manager, retail business unit. The company recently rolled out Black Bean & Cheese Taquitos as well, providing a non-meat option for the growing number of flexitarians among its devotees.
Another company jumping on the plant-based Mexican foods trend is Tattooed Chef, Paramount, Calif. The company is rolling out four protein-packed Mexi-Cali burrito varieties: Beefy Nacho; Bean, Cheese & Rice; Chicken & Roasted Street Corn; and Green Chili Chicken.
“We believe Mexican cuisine as a category is lagging…when it comes to plant-based innovation,” says chief growth officer Matt Williams, who claims many burritos are laden with meat and animal lard. “Most Mexican-inspired meal options today tell the same story: ‘traditional recipes, handed down for generations.’ But we think the category is ready for a chef’s modern take on traditional Mexican cuisine.”
Chicago-based Conagra is also expanding its meatless frozen snacks and apps offerings, adding Ultimate Plant-Based Chick’n Wings to its Gardein lineup. Available in BBQ and Buffalo flavors, they look, cook and taste like real wings, according to the company.
While Buffalo is the go-to flavor for wings (chicken or plant-based), it’s also becoming a popular choice for other snacks. For example, Minneapolis-based General Mills just added a Buffalo Chicken variety of its top-selling Totino’s Pizza Rolls, which were introduced in partnership with gaming-focused lifestyle platform FaZe Clan. “This has long been one of our most fan-requested flavors,” says Totino’s brand experience manager Taylor Roseberry.
Cauliflower bites are also having a moment. Veggies Made Great introduced Stuffed Cauliflower Bites earlier this year, and now Conagra is launching a pair of Loaded Cauliflower Bites (Bacon Cheddar and Southwest Style) under its Birds Eye brand.
“Both ‘loaded’ and ‘bite’ formats are rising in popularity, with menu penetration increasing 10% over the past four years,” reports associate brand manager Joseph Dilworth. “Meanwhile, bacon-based appetizers and nacho-style appetizers…are also appearing on more menus.” Combine that with on-trend cauliflower, and you’ve got a product with “tremendous appeal” among consumers seeking a tastier way to eat more veggies. The bites can be eaten alone or paired with consumers’ favorite dipping sauces.