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INFLATION CREATES ‘BIFURCATION’ IN VEGGIE CATEGORY

Strong Roots’ new certified-vegan Rootations collection is low in saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Both the premium and budget segments, including private label, are doing well. But mid-priced options…not so much.

Dollar sales of frozen plain vegetables jumped 8.2% to $736.15 million across channels during the 12 weeks ended Dec. 4, reports Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). However, unit sales tumbled 5.7% while volume fell 4.8%, highlighting a modest shift toward larger bags that offer better value. But in the prepared veggies category, both dollars (-15.7%) and units (-31.6%) took a big dive. 

As a result of inflation, “Consumers are buying less of the more expensive sides and more of the inexpensive, plain single veggies,” says senior vp Kristen Thompson, who’s also president of the frozen and vegetables unit, at  Parsippany, N.J.-based B&G Foods, which produces the Green Giant brand. “There has also been some trading down to private label versus national brands in some segments.” For example, in the largest plain veggie subcategory, mixed vegetables, top seller private label actually saw both unit sales (+2.5%) and volume (+6.4%) rise along with dollars (+15.9%). Interestingly, however, smaller, more niche national brands in the bottom half of the mixed veggie top 10 also registered unit and volume gains, albeit off of smaller bases.

“Rising inflationary pressure has yielded a bifurcation…whereby consumers are choosing either something good [but higher priced] or something inexpensive, leaving the mid-range out of favor,” explains Samuel Dennigan, CEO of Dublin-based Strong Roots, whose U.S. headquarters are in New York City. In fact, he continues, a recent analysis of the 50 fastest-growing frozen potato SKUs revealed that 38% are premium and 34% budget versus just 28% in the mid-range. That suggests to him that “Consumers are willing to spend money on quality food.”

‘Consumers are buying less of the more expensive sides and more of the inexpensive, plain single veggies.’

Dr. Praeger’s will debut a pair of Veggie Fries this spring that offer an alternative to potato-based fries.

FRIES, FINGERS & TOTS, OH MY!
To that end, Strong Roots is preparing to launch a new line called Rootations “that champions the white potato.” Sustainably produced from the highest quality ingredients, the premium collection is certified vegan and contains zero trans fat, says Dennigan. Plus, it’s low in saturated fat, sugar and salt. “Research commissioned by Strong Roots in the U.S. last year reveals that salt and sugar are the two most common ingredients Americans are seeking to reduce,” he explains. “This introduction gives consumers more of what they crave: food that is good for them and the planet and doesn’t require them to sacrifice taste, health or convenience.”

Available varieties are Crispy Crinkle Fries, Crispy Skinny Fries, Proper Fries and Sweet Potato Fries as well as Crispy Potato Hash Browns and Zucchini Hash Browns.

Despite huge commodity price-driven increases in frozen potato retails, which drove a 29% dollar sales gain for the category, unit sales were down only 4.1% — less than the 5.7% decline for plain veggies. Manufacturers think the product’s resilience could be related to its convenience as well as its taste. After all who doesn’t love French fries? The results of consumer research by Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Dr. Praeger’s seem to confirm that belief.

“We learned that consumers would eat and serve more veggies if 1. they tasted good, 2. they were convenient, and 3. they knew how to prepare them,” reports brand marketing director Joe Wilbeck, citing the need for more value-added products. To fill that gap, the company is preparing to introduce Veggie Fries this spring. Available initially at select Target stores as well as at Fresh Thyme and Big Y supermarkets, the sides will come in two flavors, each made with multiple vegetables: California and Cauliflower Broccoli.

A similar product, Veggie Fingers, from Montreal-based VLM, was spotted at the Private Label Manufacturers Association show last November. Already available in Europe where parent company Ardo is headquartered, the product comes in several colorful flavors, including Corn, Orange and Red Broccoli, which features a unique red beetroot crust. “It’s like sunshine on your plate,” says Ardo product innovation lead Bavo De Boever.

“Snacks and apps are on trend as are vegan and vegetarian options,” and Veggie Fingers check both boxes, he adds. “Fingers can be a replacement for fries.”

But fries aren’t the only format for delivering veggies. In fact, Green Giant has enjoyed a lot of success with its kid-friendly Veggie Tots lineup, which is slated for expansion later this year, according to Thompson. (The brand’s first Zucchini Tots were added in August 2022.) Meanwhile, the company continues to promote its Green Giant Restaurant Style Sides, which debuted late last year. Intended to elevate at-home meals in less time than it would take to order takeout, the premium lineup includes four chef-created side dishes: Cauliflower & Fire Roasted Onions with Garlic Butter, Honey Glazed Carrots with Sage Butter, Garlic Parmesan Green Beans and Teriyaki Cauliflower & Broccoli.

‘There’s an opportunity for retailers to rethink the frozen veggie assortment, daypart relevance and overall product quality.’

AIR FRYER SALES SKYROCKET

The category has also welcomed several new items designed for alternative methods of preparation, including air fryers, whose sales have skyrocketed during the past few years. Among the newest is the Seasoned Air Fryer lineup from Hanover, Pa.-based Hanover Foods. Intended to challenge the notion that frozen veggies are bland and unexciting, the collection echoes popular restaurant dishes and food truck fare. Available varieties include Mexican-Style Street Corn, Southwestern Style Broccoli, Root Vegetable Blend, Flavors of India Spiced Cauliflower, Rosemary & Cracked Pepper Brussels Sprouts and Cinnamon Maple Carrots.

‘SEISMIC’ DEMAND REQUIRES MORE SPACE

What can retailers do on their end to help grow frozen veggie sales? They can start by giving the category more space, says Wilbeck. “The need for more veggie-based products is seismic, not niche,” he explains. But the size of the set doesn’t always reflect that shift. “There are aisles of space dedicated to sugary frozen novelties, but where is the space for healthier, veggie-based items?” 

Dennigan agrees, but he would also like to see retailers tweak the mix. “There’s an opportunity for retailers to rethink the assortment, daypart relevance and overall product quality,” he says, citing the need for more premium items, especially from companies with strong ESG credentials. “There is a market-defining group of consumers who…want to know that the choices they make at the supermarket have been curated to help them live up to their values,” he explains. For those shoppers, price is less of a barrier, which can help drive sustainable retailer profitability.

In addition to offering the right assortment, retailers need to promote frozen veggies properly, says Thompson, who favors promotions that include vegetables as part of meal solutions. She also believes there’s a “big opportunity” for retailers and manufacturers to work together to improve consumers’ perception of frozen veggies. “They should view [the frozen aisle] as a destination for great food versus a substitute for fresh or a compromise.”

 

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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