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VEGGIES NO LONGER ‘WALLFLOWERS OF THE FREEZER’

Conagra’s new Birds Eye Veggies & Grains combine premium vegetables, hearty grains and flavorful sauces.

Once seen as little more than a commodity, frozen veggies and sides have undergone a ‘glow-up,’ thanks to elevated flavors, restaurant quality and new formats.

Although units dropped 4.7%, dollar sales of plain frozen vegetables bumped up 3.8% to $594.94 million during the 12 weeks ended Aug. 7, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). The prepared vegetables category saw the same 3.8% dollar gain (to $43.51 million), while units dipped a more modest 2.5%.

As pandemic-era holdups in the supply chain continue to thaw out, makers of frozen veggies and sides say it’s an exciting time to roll out new flavors, updated packaging and advanced preparation technologies. 

“Manufacturers spent two years just making sure core products were on the shelves,” says Russell Smith, retail sales and marketing vp at Hanover, Pa.-based Hanover Foods. “So it’s good to have innovation return to our category.” He adds that with inflation on the rise and consumers busier than ever, frozen vegetables remain an affordable, convenient solution for many.

NEW FLAVORS EXCITE THE PALATE

This fall, Hanover is rolling out a line of Seasoned Air Fryer Frozen Vegetables, some with familiar, craveable flavor profiles and some a little on the exotic side. Echoing popular restaurant dishes and food-truck fare, the collection is designed to excite shoppers and challenge the stereotype that the category is just bland frozen vegetable packs. 

Available in three flavors, B&G Foods’ new Green Giant Zucchini Tots are already “wildly popular,” according to the company.

For example, says Smith, the company’s Seasoned Mexican Street Corn incorporates guajillo chili peppers, while the Indian Spice Cauliflower features turmeric, cumin and curry. Other varieties include Southwestern Broccoli, Lemon Balsamic Broccoli-Cauliflower, Cinnamon Maple Butter Carrots, Chesapeake Sweet Corn, Seasoned Root Vegetable Blend, and Rosemary & Cracked Pepper Petite Brussels Sprouts. 

Instead of being delivered in a separate packet, the spices in Hanover’s new line are “enrobed” onto the vegetables. “The seasonings adhere to the vegetables with just a little bit of olive oil, so the flavors are completely consistent in every piece,” explains Smith. 

The product’s format dovetails with the growing popularity of air fryers, which can produce healthier snacks and meals because they require less oil than traditional cooking methods. In fact, says Smith, countertop air fryers are among the most popular small appliances nationwide and that their prominence continues to grow. 

A BETTER-FOR-YOU BOOST

While vegetables are inherently healthy, some manufacturers are also highlighting their purity and simplicity. For example, Toronto-based PuraVida Foods touts “ingredients that you can actually pronounce” on packages of its new sides. And it emphasizes Himalayan pink salt — often viewed as a healthier alternative to regular salt — as one of the key spices in each of its recently launched fire-roasted and flame-grilled vegetables.

The collection includes Flame Grilled Adobo Street Corn & Peppers, Fire Roasted Vegetable Mélange, Fire Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Fire Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon, Flame Grilled Fajitas Rajas and Fire Roasted Primavera Mistura, the latter of which lists “heart healthy avocado oil” as a key ingredient.

UNFI/Woodstock launches Organic
Tri-Colored Peppers and Peppers & Onions, both non-GMO and free from artificial
colors, flavors and preservatives.

But these dishes aren’t just better for you. Fire roasting and flame grilling already elevate the flavor but PuraVida takes it up a notch with spices meant to excite the palate, including adobo chile seasoning in the Flame Grilled Adobo Street Corn & Peppers. “We found that consumers are tired of the same blanched vegetables typically found in the freezer aisle,” says company president Lauren Watkins. “Consumers are looking for new flavors, textures and exciting blends that they can enjoy on their own or as a part of their own culinary creation.”

Nutrition and convenience are emphasized by organic manufacturer UNFI/Woodstock, Providence, R.I., which introduced two new SKUs last month. Tri-colored Peppers and Peppers & Onions are not only organic but non-GMO, a distinction that’s harder to find in the market, according to Alissa Bessette, UNFI brand manager. And because they’re already sliced, consumers cooking more at home can easily add them to stir-fries, fajitas or side dishes.

The new peppers feature “simplified ingredients with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives along with third-party certifications for consumers seeking more mindful farming options,” says Bessette. 

Another new item for consumers who want convenience and health benefits all in one package comes from Parsippany, N.J.-based B&G Foods, which recently launched Zucchini Tots and Veggie Spiral Skillet under its Green Giant brand.

The bite-size Zucchini Tots are already “wildly popular,” says senior PR manager Kristin Burlew. They’re available in Parmesan Cheese, Sour Cream & Onion, and Pizza flavors, she reports, and consumers can add their own dips and sauces to create a custom snack.

But what made the company choose zucchini for its newest tots? Burlew says the zucchini variety has been the most popular of its Veggie Spirals options. “So we thought consumers would embrace it [for tots as well].” She adds, “Zucchini Tots are a great after-school snack, and an easy way for parents to give their kids veggies.” Plus, they’re perfect for use in air fryers.

MEAL STARTERS WITH A TWIST

Green Giant is also expanding its Veggie Spirals collection with Veggie Spiral Skillets, described as a side dish or meal starter that can be prepared on the stovetop or in the microwave. 

Made with spiralized zucchini noodles and carrots, Veggie Spiral Skillets are available in three flavors: Marinara (with yellow bell peppers and marinara sauce), Teriyaki (with broccoli and Asian-style sauce) and Garlic Basil (with red bell peppers and creamy garlic sauce).

Hanover is rolling out a line of Seasoned Air Fryer Frozen Vegetables this fall.

“Consumers do really enjoy a from-scratch experience but still need a meal solution,” says Burlew. “This is a solution for busy families who want something quick that’s also wallet-friendly and offers that restaurant experience in their own home.” 

Restaurant quality is also at the heart of Green Giant’s new Restaurant Style collection, which features chef-inspired sauces and seasonings. Available varieties include Cauliflower & Fire-Roasted Onions with Garlic Butter, Honey Glazed Carrots with Sage Butter, Garlic Parmesan Green Beans, and Teriyaki Cauliflower & Broccoli.

“Over the last two-plus years, consumers are cooking more at home but are looking for flavorful ways to prepare their veggies,” says Burlew. With this collection, “Green Giant sought to develop a line that captures the taste of premium, restaurant-inspired side dishes that go from freezer to table in minutes.”

The folks at Chicago-based Conagra are also focused on offering shoppers ways to recreate the restaurant experience at home, says brand communications manager Dan Skinner. The company recently launched a whole slew of products under its Birds Eye brand, including microwaveable Veggies & Grains (Creamy Pesto, Green Goddess, Buddha and Harvest); Quick Roasters that use “micro-roast” technology to mimic the taste and texture of oven roasted veggies in the microwave (Cauliflower, Cauliflower & Broccoli, Red Potatoes, and Halved Brussels Sprouts); Rice & Pasta Veggie Sides ( Cheddar Cheese Rice & Broccoli and Zesty Marinara Rigatoni & Vegetables); Loaded Cauliflower Bites (Bacon Cheddar and Southwest Style); Sweet Chili Cauliflower Wings; and Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Bake.

“We’re really showcasing how many different ways vegetables can be enjoyed and incorporated into dishes,” Skinner says. “[The new additions are] really on trend with restaurant offerings.”

He adds that consumers don’t often think of frozen vegetables as “indulgent” — though some of these new items certainly push the envelope —  but they are looking for new and different ways to add veggies to their diets. 

“So many people associate frozen vegetables with a bag of corn or a bag of peas, but [these new items] are about opening up consumers’ eyes to different ways you can enjoy vegetables.”

Tiffini Theisen

Tiffini Theisen

Tiffini is a contributor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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