Emerging trends in frozen food, report from Conagra Brands

Globally inspired flavours, the ever-increasing popularity of the air fryer, reducing food waste, and a growing demand for healthy convenience are just some of the emerging trends identified in the Future of Frozen Food 2024 from Conagra Brands, and a frozen food market analysis and forecast looking at the period from 2024 to 2029.

According to Conagra Brands, its Future of Frozen Food 2024 is a ‘first-of-its-kind’ report that leverages its science expertise, combined with robust sales data from NielsenIQ, in-home consumption behaviours from Circana’s National Eating Trends, and in-depth social media trend predictors from Black Swan Data to identify five trends in the U.S. frozen food market.

While this report is focused specifically on the US market, it can potentially be useful as an indicator for what could follow in Europe. In addition, another forecast from Mordor Intelligence shows some broad similarities.

2024’s emerging trends, according to Conagra

A collection of sales data and insights on food consumption and preparation helped identify five trends driving frozen food innovation and growth in 2024, Conagra says.

Emerging trends in frozen food, report from Conagra Brands
An excerpt from Conagra Brands’ Future of Food 2024 report

A Taste for Global Cuisine

Today’s consumers are being exposed to a broader set of global flavours and cuisines, the Conagra report shows. Asian-inspired foods, such as Indian cuisine and Korean BBQ, are rapidly influencing food preferences.

This trend has been largely driven by social media – Tik Tok, Instagram and YouTube cooking shows where it is possible to familiarise oneself with, and recreate, almost any cuisine. But consumers tend to also lack time and so, as Mordor Intelligence notes, there has been a surge in demand for ready meals.

“This can be attributed to changes in social and economic patterns, increased expenditure on food and beverage, awareness about healthy food, changes in meal patterns and existing food habits, growing ex-pat settlement populationd across the regions, and the desire to taste new products,” the Mordor Intelligence report says.

Moreover, the report said, the on-the-go food concept is closely associated with easy consumption and handling of products, which ready meals can offer. Thus, the demand for frozen food products is increasing due to the convenience of consumption aided by disposable packaging. Similarly, these frozen ready meals require minimum or no further preparation before consumption.

Big Appetites for Bites and Mini Portions

Conagra’s report noted a trend for frozen food that is small in size but big on flavour. This area, it says, has surged thanks to growing options which mirror an increased snacking culture. Food producers are promoting bites and minis for portion control, healthier options, and quick satisfaction. In the past year alone recipes for bites and minis were included in more than three million internet searches, according to Conagra’s findings.

Looking at this trend more broadly, in Europe the frozen snacks market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.55% during the forecast period – between 2024 and 2029, according to another report from Mordor Intelligence, though it does not specify what the market is worth.

Emerging trends in frozen food, report from Conagra Brands
An excerpt from Mordor Intelligence’s report focused on the frozen snacks market

However, the analyst’s report cites different reasons for the growth of the frozen snack market. For example, the popularity of frozen snacks as a meal-compliment or even meal replacement is increasing rapidly, it says.

The increasing trend of snacking, particularly among teenagers and adults, coupled with the rise in the snack frequency among these demographic segments, is expected to boost the frozen snacks market. The demand for frozen food is continuously growing in the region, with frozen snacks showing significant popularity.

However, the preference for fresh and natural food products, the need for maintaining a constant temperature for the sustainability of frozen foods, and high logistics costs involved, due to crop failure and shortages, act as restraining factors for the market studied, Mordor Intelligence adds.

The Air Fryer’s influence on food prep and choices

Conagra’s report notes air fryer ownership has jumped 27 points in the US since 2020. As a result, the number of frozen foods with air-frying instructions has jumped 90% in the past four years. Air-fryer preparation often saves time, can be a healthier food prep option and emits less heat for year-round cooking.

There is some parity in Europe. In a third Mordor Intelligence report of the air fryer market size, the analyst stated that the market for air fryers in Europe has generated revenue of €796.79 million in the current year and is poised to achieve a CAGR of more than 6% for the forecast period.

It shows an increase in demand for healthier meals even while dining out, where there is also an increased usage of air fryers in Europe. Air fryers are currently being utilised in residential and commercial setting in Europe to prepare deep-fried food more healthily. Currently, air fryers are being solely used to replace conventional deep fryers, it claims.

Emerging trends in frozen food, report from Conagra Brands

Focus on food waste reduction

According to the Conagra report, American consumers are increasingly concerned with food waste, which is another significant factor driving the increase in sales of frozen food. Conagra said that the average US family of four loses €1397.32 worth of food every year. Overall, people waste 80 billion tons of food every year and throw away €413.61 billion worth of food annually.

In Europe, the European Commission, in a bid to accelerate the EU’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3, has proposed to set legally binding food waste reduction targets to be achieved by Member States by 2030, as part of the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, adopted by the Commission on 5 July 2023. The results of the first EU-wide monitoring of food waste levels carried out in 2020 will serve as a baseline to assess progress towards the targets.

More specifically, Member States are required to take the necessary measures to reduce food waste by the end of 2030: by 10%, in processing and manufacturing, by 30% (per capita), jointly at retail and consumption (restaurants, food services and households).

In the UK, the Courtauld Commitment 2030 aims to reduce food waste, cut carbon and protect critical water resources. This is described by WRAP (a UK-based NGO focused on tackling the climate crisis), as a UK success story – a voluntary agreement that enables collaborative action across the entire country’s food chain to deliver farm-to-fork reductions in food waste, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and water stress that will help the UK food and drink sector achieve global environmental goals.

Europe Dominates the Market

Finally, Mordor Intelligence’s Frozen Food Market report, which takes a global look at the frozen food market, notes the dominance of Europe in the market. It says that convenience and long shelf life are key factors driving the increase in consumption of frozen food across the region.

Owing to this factor, the players operating in this market segment have been introducing new variants of frozen food influenced by different cuisines to cater to the shifting preferences of consumers. For instance, in June 2023, Frosta AG, a German-based company, launched a plant-based frozen food range, including Vegan Fish Fingers (Veggie Fish Stabchen).

The company claims to utilise protein replacement ingredients from a reliable source. Moreover, there is a rise in the number of health-conscious consumers in Canada. This, in turn, is boosting the demand for frozen yogurt, as it has various health benefits, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, and reduced risk of several diseases, including obesity.

Additionally, frozen meat offers multiple advantages, such as longer shelf life and food safety, which are expected to drive the growth of the frozen meat market over the forecast period.

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