Frozen foods made headway among Canadian households during the pandemic, and while some expected the acceleration to slow down, the category has continued to grow. Indeed, frozen food units have grown +2.8 per cent over a four-year CAGR, says Paul Hogan, vice president and general manager of international for Conagra Brands, citing NIQ data January 2023-2019.
“While Canadians still prepare many meals at home, they are seeking the convenience frozen foods provide to meet the demands of busy schedules,” says Hogan. Additionally, the current state of inflation and cost of living have forced consumers to revisit practical, value-added solutions.”
Hogan’s comments are supported by a 2022 study from Canadian research firm Caddle, which looked at how consumers are adapting to rising grocery costs. Close to 50 per cent said they have shifted from fresh to frozen products to save money.
Jason Howell, vice president of branded sales, North America, and general manager, Bellisio Canada, adds that the growth of frozen dinners and entrées is a response to rising prices.
“Consumers are shopping for more deals and better everyday prices. They are willing to switch stores for a great deal or if their favourite items are out of stock. Consumers turn to frozen foods to try new varieties, explore ethnic cuisine and fill their daily snacking and lunching occasions as they return to the office environment.”
A FROZEN FOOD EVOLUTION
When it comes to consumer preferences, “Canadians seek convenience but still crave a delicious meal,” says Hogan. “Not surprisingly, the number one motivator amongst Canadians when purchasing frozen food, at 31 per cent, is ease of preparation and requirement of little or no planning [Ipsos Canada, September 2022 and April data]. Taste continues to be important, with 30 per cent of Canadians reporting it as the reason for purchasing frozen foods.”
Patrick Lufty, senior vice president of retail marketing for Maple Leaf Foods, notes that consumers are increasingly looking for “new and exciting meal options in the frozen section. They want restaurant-quality products they can make at home during the week or for entertaining on the weekend, and a variety of easy meal offerings that taste great and are from a brand they trust.
“We’ve also witnessed consumers looking for more than just ‘healthy’ eating, when it comes to health and wellness,” adds Lufty. “They are looking for delicious, stress-free, convenient, and guilt-free meal options that bring them together with their family.”
One of the biggest transformations in the frozen food aisle is the introduction of international flavours and foods. Conagra’s Hogan says new immigrants, Canadians looking for diverse flavours, and the rise of ethnic restaurants in the country are fueling the demand for restaurant-inspired ethnically influenced meals for at-home consumption.
Bellisio’s Howell concurs. “There has a been a desire for more unique, ethnic innovation, flavours and variety, in particular Asian, Mexican, snacking and breakfast items.”
Convenience in all formats – from a variety of food options and meal prep to cooking and sustainable, easy-to-use (i.e., resealable) packaging formats – is also in demand, adds Lufty.
He cites a recent September 2023 innovation: Schneiders Schnitzel, available in traditional pork and chicken varieties. “It hits on all the key notes. It’s convenient, from freezer to table in 12 minutes, packaged in re-sealable, easy-to-open bag and made with high-quality, hand-sliced, whole-muscle chicken breast and pork loin.”
Lufty says the company will continue to “innovate and look for growth pockets in areas that remain important to consumers, all while aligning with our purpose at Maple Leaf Foods – to become the most sustainable protein company on earth. The best places to seek growth are those where we can create shared value for our consumers, our customers and our shareholders. You can expect that we’ll continue to be focused on consumer trends around sustainability, quality, convenience, accessibility and creating togetherness over food, something our brands are known for.”
Hogan says Conagra’s future frozen launches will be inspired by the country’s multicultural landscape. Just recently, as part of a launch of 36 products in the fall, the company introduced two new brands in the frozen aisle to cater to the interest in global and restaurant-inspired flavours – P.F. Chang’s Home Menu multi- and single-serve meals, and Bertolli multi-serve pasta meals.
“Next year, we’ll continue to focus on finding the intersection between flavour trends – global, restaurant-inspired, bolder and spicier flavours; form trends – bite-sized, appetizers, and handhelds, like with our POGO brand; and eating behaviours – comfort food, BFY ingredients, and plant-based.”
Howell says the trend to more global brands with value will continue for 2024.
“Ethnic-inspired flavours, chef-inspired/endorsed lines and family size seem to be growing segments as consumers look for affordable ways to feed their families.”