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New Acosta Report Explores Rise In Frozen Foods During COVID-19

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Consumer priorities changed significantly when COVID-19 hit the U.S. last year. As the country adjusted to social distancing restrictions, consumers’ heavy reliance on home cooking led to major shifts in grocery shopping trends. The Pandemic-Fueled Growth of Frozen Foods, a new report from Jacksonville, Florida-based Acosta details the recent increase in frozen food sales due to evolving consumer demand.

Acosta’s research found produce, pizza, snacks and entrees were the frozen categories purchased more frequently since COVID-19, due to consumers cooking at home more, eating healthier and adhering to a budget.

“As COVID-19 set in, consumers began eating at home more out of necessity. To adapt, they searched for new ways to cook creatively – and for many, frozen foods were the answer,” said Colin Stewart, EVP of business intelligence at Acosta. “Total frozen sales grew 20.6 percent from 2019 to 2020, outpacing the growth of total store and total edibles. Frozen foods have come a long way, and recent innovation has driven the appeal from mere convenience at the expense of taste and quality to something for every palate and dietary concern. The category’s expanded offerings give consumers a quick and cost-friendly way to enjoy diverse dishes in the safety of their own homes.”

Acosta’s research provides insight into the rise of frozen food sales and associated changes in consumer demand due to COVID-19, along with predictions for post-pandemic sales, including:

Frozen shopping and dining habits

Produce, pizza, snacks and entrees are the frozen food categories purchased more frequently during COVID-19 than pre-COVID.

  • Thirty-one percent of consumers purchased more fruit during COVID-19;
  • Twenty-nine percent of consumers purchased vegetables more during COVID-19;
  • Twenty-eight percent of consumers purchased more pizza and more snacks during COVID-19; and
  • Twenty-seven percent of consumers purchased more entrees during COVID-19.

When consumers were asked how often they eat frozen foods for each meal occasion, dinner was the most popular time.

  • Fifty-nine percent of consumers eat frozen food for dinner often or nearly all of the time;
  • Forty-one percent of consumers eat frozen food for lunch often or nearly all of the time; and
  • Thirty-eight percent of consumers eat frozen food for breakfast often or nearly all of the time. 

Tightened freezer space

Increased buying of frozen foods made freezer space tight for many shoppers, leading to a 45 percent increase in freezer sales in 2020.

  • Twenty percent of consumers said they often ran out of freezer space during COVID-19; and
  • Twenty-seven percent said they occasionally ran out of freezer space during COVID-19.

Post-pandemic predictions for frozen food

Post-COVID, the three most important in-store shopping factors for frozen foods among consumers will be low prices, product availability and lots of variety.

  • Fifty percent of total U.S. shoppers said low prices will be a top priority;
  • Forty-five percent of total U.S. shoppers said product availability will be a top priority; and
  • Forty-two percent of total U.S. shoppers said lots of variety will be a top priority.

Frozen food shopping priorities varied by generational group.

  • Forty-eight percent of Boomers said promotions will be important to them post-pandemic, versus 37 percent of total U.S. shoppers; and
  • Thirty-two percent of Gen Y and Gen Zers said convenient options will be important to them post-pandemic, versus 25 percent of total U.S. shoppers.

Acosta’s Pandemic-Fueled Growth of Frozen Foods report was gathered via online surveys using the company’s proprietary shopper community, conducted between Feb. 17 and 23. Additional facts were sourced from industry research, including research from Nielsen and allrecipes.com.

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