It’s no surprise to anyone close to the food industry that the frozen category is in the midst of change, all of which is being driven by an increasingly more curious and smarter consumer looking to make better-for-them choices of the food they purchase for themselves and their families.
From a statistical point of view, it’s clear that many of the legacy conventional brands are in decline while Natural and Organic entrees are experiencing double-digit growth. This is creating an opportunity for both retailers and smaller Natural brands to provide their customers with more innovative meals made with clean ingredients free from the things the modern consumer may be looking to avoid. While these meal options are undoubtedly priced at a premium over conventional brands, the consumer understands the benefits of this upgraded choice and is voting with their wallet.
If a clean ingredient deck is the primary driver of the shift toward Natural and Organic meals in the frozen aisle, another contributing factor in consumers’ decisions to abandon their long-standing relationship with legacy brands is the desire to know more about the company who makes their food. Consumers are developing a natural curiosity about the companies that are trying to put food on the table and that curiosity is dimensional. Consumers want to know more about the ingredients used, including where they come from and how they were grown or raised, etc.
Consumers are curious about where the food is actually produced, how the employees are treated and the food safety record of the company. Consumers are increasingly interested in a company’s cause-related marketing efforts that extend beyond the aisles of the local market and they want to know whether they are buying from an independently owned and operated business or if they are purchasing from a division of a much larger “corporate” food company. The importance of each of these elements is evaluated differently by every consumer but there is no doubt that consumers are considering much more than simply price when choosing what to serve for dinner.
Regardless of a clean ingredient deck, great nutrition statement and the inspiring mission of an independently owned Natural food company the food needs to be delicious. Great food is basically “table stakes” in the frozen category today and this is where the smaller Natural brands stand out.
Whether the consumer is drifting back in time enjoying made-from-scratch comfort foods like Chicken Pot Pie or they are exploring a new ethnic cuisine, the frozen options have never been so plentiful. Many of the smaller companies don’t have the marketing budgets to launch national campaigns to introduce their brands to consumers so their gateway into a lasting relationship with the consumer begins with their first bite. A great experience with the food hopefully drives the consumer to learn more about the company, the food philosophy, the corporate mission, and satisfies the curiosity that drives their decision to purchase more meals from that brand.
The frozen landscape is shifting and the retailers that react to the shift toward more Natural and Organic frozen options will not only retain their loyal customer base but will also attract shoppers from retailers who have chosen not to react.
Chris Licata is president and CEO of Blake's Natural Foods.