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FROZEN FRUIT RIPE FOR GROWTH

Smoothie Cubes from category newcomer Outshine allow consumers to create a functional beverage without hauling out the blender.

It was the only top 20 frozen subcategory that saw unit sales rise during the most recent quarter. But a steady stream of innovative new products suggests more gains are coming.

New research on the frozen fruit category by the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) revealed that consumers appreciate key benefits, including prevention of food waste, ease of preparation and cost savings, all of which make it easier to add a healthy food to their diet.

It comes as no surprise, then, that sales are on the rise. During the 12 weeks ended Sept. 4, dollars shot up 12.2% (versus the same period a year ago) to $381.40 million, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). Units edged up just 0.1%, but frozen fruit was the only top 20 frozen subcategory (in dollars) that didn’t see unit sales fall during the most recent quarter. A look back at pre-pandemic sales paints an even better picture.

DOLLARS UP 41% SINCE ‘19

With annual sales of around $1.l6 billion, frozen fruit is one of the smaller sellers within the frozen food department, reports Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, Austin, Texas. But it’s definitely an up-and-comer. During the past 52 weeks, “Dollars increased by about 4% but when comparing today’s sales to those pre-pandemic, the numbers are up 41%.” 

While inflation is certainly part of that story, consumer demand for frozen fruit has grown substantially. “We can see that by comparing today’s unit and volume gains to those pre-pandemic,” Roerink continues. “Units (individual items) are up 22% versus 2019 and pounds are up 25%. So retailers are selling 25% more pounds of frozen fruit today than they were in 2019, bringing the total to 454 million pounds a year.”

Roerink says that frozen fruit is a good example of how innovation can help drive engagement and sales. “Frozen fruit [manufacturers are] constantly innovating with new mixes and varieties and have been on top of package innovation and on-point messaging.” She adds, “Nutritional trends change over the years, and I’ve seen frozen fruit merchandising shift right along with it, if not ahead of it.” 

‘Many consumers want to make more complex smoothies or get more out of their smoothies, but they find that buying functional ingredients is expensive — and getting the ratios right is hard.’

Cape Cod Select adds 40-ounce value-size bags of its Power Berry Blend and Tropical Blend.

AFFI’s research indicates that the most popular frozen fruit items are mixed fruit (53% share among households), individual fruits (44%), smoothie mixes (24%) and yogurt/fruit bites (22%). Also, core shoppers are using these products for different applications, such as smoothies, desserts and baked goods. But consumers are making purchase decisions based on more than just application.

Currently, 67% of shoppers are interested in frozen fruit that boasts superfood benefits, and retailers are responding by adding new mixes that include fruits such as acai and goji berry, says Andrew Moberly, senior director of strategic advisory for Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon. “No sugar added, and social media callouts on packaging also have surged over the past year, with each claim found on at least 20% of all new frozen fruit items launched.” In addition, “Many brands, including private brands, are also providing a comparison of fresh and frozen fruit on their websites, allowing consumers to see the benefits side-by-side.” 

SNACK ATTACK

Many of the newest frozen fruit entries come in the form of snackable treats with superfood qualities. For example, Troy, Ohio-based Blendtopia recently launched an organic, superfood smoothie pop line at Whole Foods nationwide. “We know consumers are looking for healthy, grab-and-go snacking options, and these pops are perfect for adults and kids,” says Tiffany Taylor, founder and CMO. The nutritionist-crafted pops come in three flavors made with organic fruits, veggies and superfoods: SuperBerry, SuperMango and SuperGreen. 

“They have a delicious smoothie consistency because we use fruit and vegetable purees rather that strictly fruit juice. Purees also keep the fiber intact,” reports Taylor. “Retailers are taking notice of the emerging ‘smoothie pop’ trend,” she adds. “They know consumers are looking for healthier snacking options and it’s something different that they can offer in their frozen fruit section.” 

New York-based Beyond Better Foods is also jumping on the frozen fruit snack trend, adding a trio of no-sugar-added frozen Fruit Bites to its Enlightened line. The snacks feature bite-sized fruits — blueberries, strawberries and raspberries — enrobed in a lower-sugar white cream and dark chocolate coating.

Campoverde expands its functional Fruit & Veggie Blenders lineup with a new Passion Bliss variety.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increasing interest in snackable treats, so we filled a gap in a category where a low-sugar fruit bite didn’t exist,” says Enlightened founder and CEO Michael Shoretz. “Thanks to Fruit Bites, consumers can enjoy whole pieces of fruit wrapped in rich dark chocolate reminiscent of the coating we use in cones and dipped ice cream bars.”

SUPERFOOD SMOOTHIES SELL

For consumers who prefer their frozen fruit in a smoothie, Cape Cod Select, Carver, Mass., recently introduced more economical 40-ounce bags of both its Power Berry Blend and Tropical Blend. The company is the only one that offers frozen cranberries in its blends, reports marketing manager Amelia Houde. “Consumers are looking for better-for-you products, and they’re going to find that superfruit frozen cranberries check that box,” she says.

While mixed fruit blends are popular among heavy smoothie users, many are looking for more functional offerings that offer specific health benefits. To meet that need, Durham, N.C.-based Seal the Seasons recently introduced 24-ounce Smoothie Kits in five functional flavors. “We hear from many consumers who want to make more complex smoothies or get more out of their smoothies, but they find that buying functional ingredients is expensive — and getting the ratios right is hard,” says founder and CEO Patrick Mateer. But because Seal the Seasons’ new smoothie kits combine traditional smoothie fruits with superfood “gems” made up of protein, greens and/or probiotics, all of the guesswork has been eliminated

Less expensive than similar products (about $2 per smoothie), according to Mateer, the kits are available in four “accessible” flavor profiles that appeal to existing category shoppers as well as those new to the category: Acai Antioxidant, Plant Protein Mix, Super Greens Cleanse, and Dragonfruit Probiotic Blend.

Another new functional smoothie blend comes from Vega Baja, P.R.-based Campoverde, which just added an immunity-boosting, high-fiber Passion Bliss variety to its Fruit & Veggie Blenders lineup. Made with passionfruit, pineapples, mangoes, apples and on-trend basil, the antioxidant-rich, no-sugar-added product comes in resealable 32-ounce bags that include four pre-portioned 16-ounce pouches, so there’s no need for measuring.

Enlightened Frozen Bites feature bite-size pieces of frozen fruit coated in low-sugar chocolate.

NO BLENDER? NO PROBLEM

Oakland, Calif.-based Outshine is also jumping into the functional smoothie segment, but its new Smoothie Cubes allow consumers to create a nutritious treat without hauling out their blender. “We found a new way to deliver the quality and ease of an out-of-home smoothie without the hassle and mess that comes with conventional homemade smoothies,” says Jamie Harbeck, senior manager of new business ventures at Nestlé USA. Consumers just add 4 ounces of smoothie cubes to a cup with the liquid of their choice, wait 15 minutes and then shake.

Available flavors include The Go-Getter, The Glow To and The Gut Supporter, all of which contain 15 or fewer grams of total sugar, no added sugar, no artificial flavors or colors and no GMOs.

San Clemente, Calif.-based Sambazon is also planning to enter the blenderless smoothie space. In early 2023, it will debut three varieties of travel blender- and shaker-cup-friendly acai cubes in 20-ounce bags: Mango Pear, Mixed Berry and Acai. Typically, says the company, acai comes in large pouches that are frozen solid, so blending it with other fruits requires a high-powered appliance. But offering it in cube form eliminates that need.

Sambazon also announced a multi-year agreement with Gilbert, Ariz.-based Footprint, which will use its proprietary plant-based fiber technology to create sustainable ready-to-eat açaí bowls.  

Another player in the frozen acai space, Mokena, Ill.-based Amafruits, is also making its product more smoothie-friendly by introducing heart-shaped pieces that are easier to blend. 

‘A BRIGHT FUTURE’

While the frozen fruit segment has been less impacted by inflation than other frozen food categories, more than half of consumers have reported encountering the occasional out-of-stock item, according to AFFI. Still, 16% of consumers indicate that they plan to buy more frozen fruit in the future, and this number increases even more for core consumers who use these products daily or multiple times a week. 

“Frozen fruits have a bright future thanks to their many benefits, such as helping to reduce food waste, cost savings and multiple applications,” says AFFI president and CEO Alison Bodor. “While consumers indicate they’ll buy more frozen fruit in the future and household penetration is high, strong future growth will come from increasing purchase variety and frequency among consumers.”

Beyond making sure consumers have plenty of options to choose from, what can retailers do on their end to increase frozen fruit sales? One big opportunity is to increase engagement via the digital shelf, says Daymon’s Moberly. “Younger consumers are a critical demographic in frozen fruit, but their need for inspiration and guidance on how to use it is sometimes missed. Simplicity and convenience are big motivating factors for younger consumer,” he adds.    

  

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