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Frozen snack SKU counts have actually risen since 2019, but frozen meal counts have fallen 8.4%.

After four consecutive years of declines, counts are on the rise once again. But some categories are rebounding faster than others.

The SKUs are back! That’s the storyline coming out of the frozen food department where SKU counts rebounded in 2023 after falling for four consecutive years. According to data from Chicago-based market research firm Circana, the average grocer’s frozen SKU count was 1,467 in 2019, down 2.1% from the year before. SKUs fell 3.7% in 2020, and the downward trend continued for two years, with average SKU counts falling to 1,366 by the end of 2022. However, last year saw a modest reversal, with SKUs back up to 1,395 — still 4.9% below 2019 levels. Why is that a problem?

‘Running with fewer items means that the existing items have to work harder to make the same amount of money. [And] it means more pressure on out-of-stocks.’

“Running with fewer items means that the existing items have to work harder to make the same amount of money. It means more pressure on out-of-stocks, which are not only a direct hit to the
bottom line but also the source of the greatest frustration for shoppers who had planned to purchase these items,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of San Antonio-based 210 Analytics. “Shortages in high velocity items or big sellers also make it more challenging to continue to grow sales year-over-year,” she adds. “Frozen food is still very much a branded space with strong brand connections among consumers. That begs the question of what consumers do when their favorite brand is out of stock. While some may switch, others may forego the purchase.”


Frozen meal SKUs fell from 606 in 2019 to 555 in 2023, an 8.4% drop. The category’s share of the overall frozen assortment declined from 41.3% to 39.8% during the same period. “Meals are a big seller, which means getting the right items back into the assortment or adjusting for the latest cuisine trends is important to maintain share of stomach,” says Roerink. “This is especially true as deli prepared is pushing hard in the area of convenience-focused meals.”

Anne-Marie Roerink

She points out that frozen processed meats such as chicken nuggets and frozen snacks have added SKUs in recent years — a contrast to the overall downward trend. Grocers are carrying 3% more meat SKUs and 11.2% more snacks today than in 2019. The two categories combined represent 9.2% of the total frozen assortment.

“America’s snacking culture continues to thrive,” says Roerink. “Frozen food has an above-average engagement with Millennials who have a big reliance on snacks — so this (added SKUs) is a great move by retailers.”


Sally Lyons Wyatt

Sally Lyons Wyatt, global executive vp and chief advisor of consumer goods and foodservice insights at Circana, says that SKU reductions in frozen foods are similar to those seen in the majority of grocery channel edibles, with shelf-stable beverages as a notable exception.

“This is primarily due to consumers looking for more protein and energy options in their diets. Protein beverages are expensive, and people are willing to pay for these drinks as an affordable splurge to meet their dietary needs,” says Lyons Watt. “There is a lot of innovation in beverages and people turn to these drinks for exploration and excitement.”

Grocers need to reassess their frozen and refrigerated assortments to ensure that they are delivering on the variety that consumers seek in stores and online, continues Lyons Wyatt. “Consumers will shop the rest of the store for solutions that deliver on convenience, quality, and value,” she explains. “Value means different things to shoppers but ensuring solutions are available to address needs and preferences will be key.”

How consumers define value is also in flux. For example, many have pulled back somewhat on larger package sizes in the face of inflation. Bifurcated shopping behavior is also evidenced by share gains among both private label and premium brands across many categories.

Having the right mix is key, but Roerink cautions grocers not to lose sight of each set’s shoppability. “Some- times a cuisine or item may not warrant a lot of space based on its dollar sales. But when a set is too small, consumers will skip right over it. A good example was the early years of plant-based meat alternatives. While sales may have only warranted a few items, these were often large sets,” explains Roerink. “Now, a few years in, retailers are rightsizing the category to make sure there isn’t an opportunity cost in giving too much space when another higher velocity or bigger seller could have taken that space.”

George Anderson

George Anderson

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One Response

  1. I love how this blog highlights the convenience and variety frozen foods offer while emphasizing their nutritional value. Definitely inspiring me to explore more options in the frozen aisle!

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