Value packs are trending as inflation squeezes food budgets. Better-for-you, ethnic and plant-based options are also gaining ground.
Despite a 2.9% decrease in units, dollar sales of frozen snacks and appetizers shot up 14.4% to $835.8 million during the 12 weeks ended Dec. 4, beating the frozen department as a whole in both measures, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). When take away the pretzel and breaded veggie subcategories and focus only on snacks, the news is even better: dollars up 15.5%, units down just 1.9%. In fact, frozen appetizers/snack rolls volume actually edged up 0.2% during the quarter, suggesting a small shift toward larger package sizes.
“Consumers love bigger sizes because they’re still not going to the store as often because of COVID and gas prices. So when they do go, they want to stock up,” says Meade Bradshaw, national sales manager at Moonachie-N.J.-based Bylada Foods. Value-seekers also appreciate the lower cost per unit, especially now that inflation is squeezing food budgets so tightly. But retails continue to rise, and $10 or $12 is a lot for a single package. So Bradshaw suggests retailers consider taking slightly less margin on big packs in favor of greater penny profit.
PRIVATE LABEL CONTINUES TO GROW
Another sign of the times is the continued growth of private label, which saw dollars jump 18.9% on the strength of a 6.2% unit sales gain. While inflation is obviously a key driver of recent store brand growth, Bradshaw says retailers’ dedication to better quality the past few years also plays a role. While he’d like to see chains add even more own brand snacks to their assortments, other manufacturers suggest putting on the brakes.
“I think we’re heading into an era of too much private label,” says Junea Rocha, co-founder and CMO of Portland, Ore.-based Brazi Bites. “Consumers still want to buy from authentic brands rooted in strong values with a great story that they can connect with,” she explains. So it’s important for retailers to find the right balance between national brands and own brands.
The newest addition to Brazi Bites’ lineup is clean label, gluten-free pizza bites featuring a crust made with the company’s award-winning cheese bread. Offered in three flavors (Pepperoni, Four Cheese and Supreme), the better-for-you version of a classic snack “reflects Whole Foods’ 2023 trend prediction that consumers are looking for foods that remind them of their past,” says Rocha.
Brazi Bites isn’t the only company bringing cleaned up versions of popular ethnic snacks to the freezer aisle. For example, Washington, D.C.-based Laoban Dumplings launched its all-natural frozen dumplings at Whole Foods Markets nationwide last month. Made from scratch using premium, thoughtfully sourced ingredients, the dumplings come in three flavors free of preservatives, hormones and additives: Ginger Chicken, pork Soup and Livin’ on the Vedge.
Another new entry in the Asian snack segment comes from Baltimore-based Phillips Foods, which recently debuted Shrimp Potstickers free from artificial flavorings, colorings, sweeteners and preservatives.
JUMPING ON THE ETHNIC-INSPIRED BANDWAGON
St. Simons Island, Ga.-based Farm Rich is also jumping on the ethnic-inspired apps trend, rolling out Toasted Ravioli filled with four cheeses and coated in an Italian-style breading. The product comes with a 4-ounce side of marinara sauce for dipping, and like many new entries, includes instructions for air fryer preparation. Farm Rich is also debuting Pizza Crunchers featuring 100% real mozzarella cheese and a layer of marinara wrapped in a crispy breading. With 12 grams of protein per serving, “it’s a hearty after school snack,” says the company.
While Italian and Asian cuisines are well-represented in the frozen snacks category, the folks at Caribbean Foods Delights, Tappan, N.Y., hope retailers will carve out space for Jamaican as well. The company recently created a smaller, cocktail-size version of its flagship Jamaican Style Beef Patties. Intended not just for shoppers of Caribbean descent but for any consumer seeking authentic ethnic fare, the product is great for entertaining, says director of sales Tim Weidenhamer. The bold flavor checks another box for many shoppers, he adds, citing a hand-mixed blend of spices imported “from the island.”
Caribbean Food Delights has also developed its first plant-based patties: Curry Jackfruit & Chickpeas and Jerk BBQ Jackfruit & Kidney Beans. “There’s nothing like them in the category currently,” says Weidenhamer of the two Jamaican-style handhelds. But demand for new meat-free snacks and apps is definitely starting to heat up, he adds.
To that end, Aldi is expanding its plant-based frozen snack lineup, adding Vegetable Pot Stickers and Vegan “Mozzarella” Sticks to its Earth Grown store brand. And on the national brand side, FarmRich is adding Plant Based Mozzarella Style Sticks with a side of marinara “that even the lactose-intolerant can enjoy.”
MEATLESS TWIST ON A CLASSIC APPETIZER BOWS
Another new entry comes from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Savorly, which launched Plant-Based Puff Pastry Dogs in Whole Foods and Sprouts late last year. A meatless twist on a classic appetizer, the product is intended to appeal to all types of eaters. “They are vegan, but our vegan, vegetarian and omnivore consumers have told us they can’t tell they aren’t real hot dogs,” says vp of sales Tracey Racen. “Our goal is to make entertaining easy,” she continues. “And by making appetizers and snacks that appeal to different lifestyle eaters, it’s easier [for hosts] to satisfy to everyone…no matter what kind of allergies or food preferences they may have.”
Racen notes that Plant-Based Puff Pastry Dogs can be prepared in an air fryer, which also makes entertaining easier because it reduces cooking time. “So it’s perfect for busy consumers who want to serve a premium product at a moment’s notice.” Savorly is also implementing QR codes to help customers with pairing and meal tips.
While plant-based is a monster trend, many consumers are simply looking for ways to incorporate more veggies into their diets — without giving up meat. For those seeking better-for-you but not vegetarian snacks, Salisbury, Md.-based Perdue just introduced Chicken Plus Snackers. Made with Perdue chicken blended with real plants and vegetables, the bite-sized “poppables” contain a quarter cup of veggies and 9 grams of protein per serving (“though kids only taste the chicken”), according to the company. Available flavors include Pizza, BBQ and Firecracker.
PROMOTE OFTEN, DITCH STORE-WITHIN-A-STORE
To keep consumers coming to the frozen snacks set, Bradshaw recommends retailers continue to promote value-size packages in particular. But he says promo frequency is more important than deep cuts. “Big packs already offer a value, so there’s no need to give them away,” he explains. But when you do promote frozen snacks, make sure they’re properly signed.
“One of the most frustrating things for a brand is to provide a TPR and not get a shelf tag [due to staffing shortages],” says Racen, who’s a big proponent of digital tags.
Bradshaw also suggests chains keep an eye on their assortments. Yes, niche items create excitement, but 70% of sales typically come from just four product types. “So don’t lose track of the core,” he says.
When it comes to merchandising, Racen says she’s over the store-within-a-store concept. “Merchandising ‘lifestyle’ and better-for-you products with conventional in the same set allows the customer to compare products side by side and make informed decisions without having to go to different aisles or doors.”
Brazi Bites’ Rocha couldn’t agree more. “Better-for-you brands are driving huge growth in the category but [due to segregated sets] continue to not get as much visibility in conventional and mass as they should.”