SAN DIEGO - Manufacturers are catering to time-strapped families with frozen foods that can be prepared with little effort.
"Busy families want something that they can throw in the microwave and get on the table in 15 minutes," said Ross Nixon, president of Dahl's Food Markets, Des Moines, Iowa.
New research reinforces that statement. Consumers are responding favorably to convenience improvements in frozen foods, according to a study to be released today at the American Frozen Food Institute's Western Frozen Food Convention here.
When asked to name the most important frozen food innovations in the last decade, 27% of consumer respondents said ease of preparation, while 26% said variety. Of the remainder, 22% said taste; 18%, product performance and quality; and 7%, nutrition.
The online study, which polled more than 1,700 U.S. adults, was commissioned by AFFI, McLean, Va., and conducted by the market research firm Harris Interactive, Rochester, N.Y. It's part of AFFI's new "Fresh Look" opinion research and communications campaign designed to promote the benefits of frozen foods.
"Convenience is integral to the category's identity because this characteristic meets consumers where they are - in need of simplicity," said Leslie Sarasin, AFFI's president and chief executive officer.
The research also confirms that manufacturers and retailers can build on this attribute with other points of differentiation, such as the ability of frozen foods to lock in nutrients, Sarasin said.
Frozens are also more aesthetically pleasing in terms of packaging, the research showed. Half of the respondents said they tried a frozen food for the first time because the product looked appealing. The remainder said they made a purchase due to a discount like coupon or sale (31%), recommendation from another person (12%), advertisement (5%) or read a newspaper story about it (1%).
While frozens have always been a convenience item, ease of preparation is more important than ever.
"With the explosion of two-income households, convenience is the No. 1 factor in frozen food," said Frank Lombardi, frozen food manager for Dave's Marketplace, Warwick, R.I.
That need is reflected in new products, which simplify meal preparation and clean-up.
The Banquet Crock-Pot Classics line from ConAgra is an example, said Brian Barrett, frozen-food manager, Leeker's, Wichita, Kan. Designed especially for crock pots, the meals contain all the ingredients necessary to slow cook a meal.
"You just pop it in a crock pot, let it cook and come home to a meal," Barrett said.
Leeker's carries about eight different Banquet Crock-Pot SKUs. Each sells for about $6.
Birds Eye Foods' new Steamfresh frozen vegetables that can be cooked directly in the product package via microwave are a big hit at Dave's Marketplace, Lombardi said.
Such packaging advancements are key, as 68% of respondents to the AFFI survey said they seek out frozens that are new or enhanced.
Asked to comment on packaging changes, retailers agreed that the graphics and colors have made frozens more appealing.
"There's a gourmet look to a lot of products now," Lombardi said. "Boxes really stand out on the shelves."
Easy Does It
Asked which was the most important frozen food innovations over the past 10 years, consumers were most likely to choose ease of preparation.