Could frozen be the new fresh? Exploring new trends in the frozen food market

Could frozen be the new fresh? Exploring new trends in the frozen food market

By
Louise Burfitt
November 17, 2020

There’s little doubt that frozen food hasn’t always had the best of reputations. Microwaveable ready meals, soggy pizzas, giant bags of garden peas – it’s hardly inspiring, is it? Until recently, the supermarket freezer section was almost entirely filled with unhealthy ready-to-cook dishes and bumper bags of veggies.

But the times, they are a’changing. A handful of companies are putting their own spin on frozen food, tackling the freezer aisle’s poor reputation and aiming to keep the good bits (convenience, long shelf life) while offering high-quality and nutritious products. The frozen food market size was valued at $291.8 billion in 2019, and is estimated to reach $404.8 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 4.2% from 2020 to 2027.

Trend drivers: COVID-19 and convenience

In times of uncertainty, products with long shelf lives tend to experience an uptick in popularity. So it makes perfect sense that frozen food has been booming in 2020. The pandemic has seen consumers looking for ways to venture out to the supermarket less and sampling the frozen foods section is an obvious way to do that: products keep for a long time and reduce food waste, so shoppers don’t need to buy food as often. In the UK, sales of frozen food increased by £285 million in the three months leading up to July 2020, which coincided with the country’s first full COVID-19 shutdown. Although the pandemic has had a significant impact on cold chain supply, the growing consumer preference for frozen has helped the sector weather the shock.

The millennial love for convenience is also supercharging the trend. With busy lives and erratic working patterns becoming more common, younger consumers want meals with little preparation and limited washing up (especially given the frequency of flat sharing among millennials and Gen Z-ers). With a cheaper and healthier product profile than most takeout meals, frozen meals and convenience products that marry nutritional benefits and ease are likely to be most popular.

Frozen foods are also a valuable way to reduce food waste as the consumer can use just what they need, with any product leftover safe to stay frozen for use at a later date. And we know that reducing food waste is on consumers’ minds as well as being good for the planet and improving margins for brands.

Exploring the trend: ready meals, veggie products and pre-prepared ingredients

Nutritious ready-to-cook meals are a big emerging trend in the sector. Planty, a UK-based frozen meal startup, raised €180K in its first seed round to expand its vegan frozen meal home delivery service. Allplants offer a similar delivery service, couriering veggie-packed dishes including curries, risottos and lasagnes, while Happi Foodi and Grainful stock their meals in brick-and-mortar locations.  Big player Nestlé is also capitalising on the trend with a just-launched ‘Life Cuisine’ range of enchilada and taco bowls and snack bites, all aimed at catering to four consumer preferences – high-protein, low-carb, plant-based and gluten-free.

Plant-based ready-to-cook products are also booming. Strong Roots, headquartered in Ireland, makes veggie burgers, balls and bites with a new range, Little Roots, for kids recently launched. Quick service restaurant Itsu launched its frozen baos and gyozas in 2017, but have seen a huge uptick this year - with restaurants closed, pivoting to providing similar products that loyal customers can eat from the safety of their home could be a great way to diversify.

Getting your branding right can pay dividends. NUGGS, produced by parent company SIMULATE, are plant-based frozen nuggets made from soy protein with clear and focused marketing targeted at younger consumers (they call themselves ‘The Tesla of Chicken’). The youthful branding has paid off, with an incredible amount of hype and the funding to match: in 2020, NUGGS raised $4.1 million to expand its product into retail stores. Dream Pops, a US company who make healthier ice lollies with coconut sugar, have also honed in on millennials with their marketing and product design, with Instagram-friendly popsicles in pastel shades and pop-ups at targeted locations, including Google and Coachella. Both brands show that extreme clarity on who your target market is and concentrated, considered branding can overhaul the outdated image of frozen food and reel in younger consumers.

Convenience-fuelled ingredients are also finding space in the freezer aisle. In the UK, several supermarket chains now stock pre-packaged ingredients like frozen diced onions, chopped garlic, herb packets and even pouches of frozen rice and grains. Luxury grocery store Waitrose surveyed customers in 2019 and found that more than a third of respondents had made use of their frozen ingredients range. These appeal to consumers who are short on time, but still want flavourful, homemade meals cooked at home.

Case studies: Mosaic Foods & Daily Harvest

US startup Mosaic Foods, cofounded by Blue Apron’s former director of operations, are focusing on making plant-based frozen food that people will actually want to eat. The Brooklyn-based company sells frozen ready meals – current options include a peanut satay bowl and yellow dal – direct to consumers through their website, aiming on rebranding frozen meals as something chef-prepared, nutritious and maybe even cool. They are also appealing to millennials with a socially conscious ethos: packaging is fully recyclable and uses dry ice, rather than ice packs which need to be returned.

Daily Harvest, also based in the states, is a great example of a frozen food brand that spans multiple facets of the trend. Founder Rachel Drori began by selling pre-portioned pouches of mixed fruits and veg for use in smoothies (another millennial favourite). Founded in 2014, the company now reaches more than 100,000 customers a week and has branched out from providing only pre-packaged ingredients with a product range that includes chia parfaits and oat bowls - items not usually found in the freezer aisle and attracting consumers with their convenience and novelty. Ingredients are frozen within 24 hours of picking to ensure freshness and nutrition. In its most recent funding round, Daily Harvest raised over $50 million.

Considering the hurdles: space and food safety

Frozen food companies that sell and deliver directly to consumers need to consider issues of storage and delivery. Leaving frozen food on the doorstep while consumers are out at work doesn’t quite work, given the resulting food safety issues. With more work-from-home flexibility, this may become less of an issue for some consumers, but considering packaging insulation and how delivery will work is vital. Allplants are addressing this with meals that they claim will stay frozen until 10pm on the doorstep thanks to fully recyclable insulatory packaging.

There’s also the issue of space. Most millennials, the target market, don’t have a chest freezer in their garage - or a garage, for that matter! So brands that deliver frozen meals in bulk may need to branch out to other demographics or sell in smaller quantities.

For up-and-coming brands, the key to success might be in maintaining a product’s taste, texture and nutrition through distribution and shelf life. Historically, frozen foods have been boiled or blanched, mainly to kill off nasties, with little attention paid to flavour. Many startups are using flash-freezing to preserve maximum nutrients - to the delight of health-conscious consumers they’re targeting - and Mosaic say the secret to their great taste is actually cooking their food, with veggies roasted, sautéed and grilled before freezing, with plenty of flavour-giving oil, salt and herbs and spices. Something to bear in mind, frozen food trailblazers!

The 30-second pitch: frozen food

❄️ What

  • Frozen food has historically had a rather limp and sad reputation - think soggy defrosted pizzas, fish fingers and unhealthy ready meals. But a handful of companies are disrupting the freezer shelves by marrying the traditional convenience of frozen food with improved nutrition and tasty options.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Convenience, a longer shelf life and reduced food waste are all key drivers of the frozen food trend. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased interest in the freezer aisle, as shoppers look to stock up on food that will last for longer and reduce grocery shopping trips.


🥘 How

  • Frozen ready meals, often plant-based
  • Frozen plant-based meal components, including burgers, bites and balls
  • Frozen pre-packaged ingredients, including herbs, onions and garlic


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Healthy plant-based frozen meals and food products appeal to health-conscious, vegan consumers, particularly millennials.
  • Pre-packaged ingredients marry flavour with the consumer desire for ease.
  • Flash-freezing ingredients preserves their nutrient content and products have a long shelf life, so food waste is hugely reduced.


👎 The bad

  • Millennials and Gen Z-ers are the key target demographic for most frozen food startups, but home delivery services need to consider space constraints in light of the trend for small space living and flat sharing among these generations.
  • Food safety when delivering frozen food is also something to consider as food will defrost, bringing food safety issues, if left unattended on the doorstep.


💡 The bottom line

  • While frozen food has always been convenient, the big incumbent players have not catered to modern consumer desires for nutritious, flavourful meals. There’s plenty of space in the market for startups to disrupt the status quo by focusing on the health, taste and ease their products bring.
Written by
Louise Burfitt

Louise is an editor and writer based in Oxfordshire. When her nose isn’t buried in a dictionary, you’re most likely to find her taking long weekend walks or nurturing herbs and vegetables in her container garden.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community

There’s little doubt that frozen food hasn’t always had the best of reputations. Microwaveable ready meals, soggy pizzas, giant bags of garden peas – it’s hardly inspiring, is it? Until recently, the supermarket freezer section was almost entirely filled with unhealthy ready-to-cook dishes and bumper bags of veggies.

But the times, they are a’changing. A handful of companies are putting their own spin on frozen food, tackling the freezer aisle’s poor reputation and aiming to keep the good bits (convenience, long shelf life) while offering high-quality and nutritious products. The frozen food market size was valued at $291.8 billion in 2019, and is estimated to reach $404.8 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 4.2% from 2020 to 2027.

Trend drivers: COVID-19 and convenience

In times of uncertainty, products with long shelf lives tend to experience an uptick in popularity. So it makes perfect sense that frozen food has been booming in 2020. The pandemic has seen consumers looking for ways to venture out to the supermarket less and sampling the frozen foods section is an obvious way to do that: products keep for a long time and reduce food waste, so shoppers don’t need to buy food as often. In the UK, sales of frozen food increased by £285 million in the three months leading up to July 2020, which coincided with the country’s first full COVID-19 shutdown. Although the pandemic has had a significant impact on cold chain supply, the growing consumer preference for frozen has helped the sector weather the shock.

The millennial love for convenience is also supercharging the trend. With busy lives and erratic working patterns becoming more common, younger consumers want meals with little preparation and limited washing up (especially given the frequency of flat sharing among millennials and Gen Z-ers). With a cheaper and healthier product profile than most takeout meals, frozen meals and convenience products that marry nutritional benefits and ease are likely to be most popular.

Frozen foods are also a valuable way to reduce food waste as the consumer can use just what they need, with any product leftover safe to stay frozen for use at a later date. And we know that reducing food waste is on consumers’ minds as well as being good for the planet and improving margins for brands.

Exploring the trend: ready meals, veggie products and pre-prepared ingredients

Nutritious ready-to-cook meals are a big emerging trend in the sector. Planty, a UK-based frozen meal startup, raised €180K in its first seed round to expand its vegan frozen meal home delivery service. Allplants offer a similar delivery service, couriering veggie-packed dishes including curries, risottos and lasagnes, while Happi Foodi and Grainful stock their meals in brick-and-mortar locations.  Big player Nestlé is also capitalising on the trend with a just-launched ‘Life Cuisine’ range of enchilada and taco bowls and snack bites, all aimed at catering to four consumer preferences – high-protein, low-carb, plant-based and gluten-free.

Plant-based ready-to-cook products are also booming. Strong Roots, headquartered in Ireland, makes veggie burgers, balls and bites with a new range, Little Roots, for kids recently launched. Quick service restaurant Itsu launched its frozen baos and gyozas in 2017, but have seen a huge uptick this year - with restaurants closed, pivoting to providing similar products that loyal customers can eat from the safety of their home could be a great way to diversify.

Getting your branding right can pay dividends. NUGGS, produced by parent company SIMULATE, are plant-based frozen nuggets made from soy protein with clear and focused marketing targeted at younger consumers (they call themselves ‘The Tesla of Chicken’). The youthful branding has paid off, with an incredible amount of hype and the funding to match: in 2020, NUGGS raised $4.1 million to expand its product into retail stores. Dream Pops, a US company who make healthier ice lollies with coconut sugar, have also honed in on millennials with their marketing and product design, with Instagram-friendly popsicles in pastel shades and pop-ups at targeted locations, including Google and Coachella. Both brands show that extreme clarity on who your target market is and concentrated, considered branding can overhaul the outdated image of frozen food and reel in younger consumers.

Convenience-fuelled ingredients are also finding space in the freezer aisle. In the UK, several supermarket chains now stock pre-packaged ingredients like frozen diced onions, chopped garlic, herb packets and even pouches of frozen rice and grains. Luxury grocery store Waitrose surveyed customers in 2019 and found that more than a third of respondents had made use of their frozen ingredients range. These appeal to consumers who are short on time, but still want flavourful, homemade meals cooked at home.

Case studies: Mosaic Foods & Daily Harvest

US startup Mosaic Foods, cofounded by Blue Apron’s former director of operations, are focusing on making plant-based frozen food that people will actually want to eat. The Brooklyn-based company sells frozen ready meals – current options include a peanut satay bowl and yellow dal – direct to consumers through their website, aiming on rebranding frozen meals as something chef-prepared, nutritious and maybe even cool. They are also appealing to millennials with a socially conscious ethos: packaging is fully recyclable and uses dry ice, rather than ice packs which need to be returned.

Daily Harvest, also based in the states, is a great example of a frozen food brand that spans multiple facets of the trend. Founder Rachel Drori began by selling pre-portioned pouches of mixed fruits and veg for use in smoothies (another millennial favourite). Founded in 2014, the company now reaches more than 100,000 customers a week and has branched out from providing only pre-packaged ingredients with a product range that includes chia parfaits and oat bowls - items not usually found in the freezer aisle and attracting consumers with their convenience and novelty. Ingredients are frozen within 24 hours of picking to ensure freshness and nutrition. In its most recent funding round, Daily Harvest raised over $50 million.

Considering the hurdles: space and food safety

Frozen food companies that sell and deliver directly to consumers need to consider issues of storage and delivery. Leaving frozen food on the doorstep while consumers are out at work doesn’t quite work, given the resulting food safety issues. With more work-from-home flexibility, this may become less of an issue for some consumers, but considering packaging insulation and how delivery will work is vital. Allplants are addressing this with meals that they claim will stay frozen until 10pm on the doorstep thanks to fully recyclable insulatory packaging.

There’s also the issue of space. Most millennials, the target market, don’t have a chest freezer in their garage - or a garage, for that matter! So brands that deliver frozen meals in bulk may need to branch out to other demographics or sell in smaller quantities.

For up-and-coming brands, the key to success might be in maintaining a product’s taste, texture and nutrition through distribution and shelf life. Historically, frozen foods have been boiled or blanched, mainly to kill off nasties, with little attention paid to flavour. Many startups are using flash-freezing to preserve maximum nutrients - to the delight of health-conscious consumers they’re targeting - and Mosaic say the secret to their great taste is actually cooking their food, with veggies roasted, sautéed and grilled before freezing, with plenty of flavour-giving oil, salt and herbs and spices. Something to bear in mind, frozen food trailblazers!

The 30-second pitch: frozen food

❄️ What

  • Frozen food has historically had a rather limp and sad reputation - think soggy defrosted pizzas, fish fingers and unhealthy ready meals. But a handful of companies are disrupting the freezer shelves by marrying the traditional convenience of frozen food with improved nutrition and tasty options.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Convenience, a longer shelf life and reduced food waste are all key drivers of the frozen food trend. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased interest in the freezer aisle, as shoppers look to stock up on food that will last for longer and reduce grocery shopping trips.


🥘 How

  • Frozen ready meals, often plant-based
  • Frozen plant-based meal components, including burgers, bites and balls
  • Frozen pre-packaged ingredients, including herbs, onions and garlic


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Healthy plant-based frozen meals and food products appeal to health-conscious, vegan consumers, particularly millennials.
  • Pre-packaged ingredients marry flavour with the consumer desire for ease.
  • Flash-freezing ingredients preserves their nutrient content and products have a long shelf life, so food waste is hugely reduced.


👎 The bad

  • Millennials and Gen Z-ers are the key target demographic for most frozen food startups, but home delivery services need to consider space constraints in light of the trend for small space living and flat sharing among these generations.
  • Food safety when delivering frozen food is also something to consider as food will defrost, bringing food safety issues, if left unattended on the doorstep.


💡 The bottom line

  • While frozen food has always been convenient, the big incumbent players have not catered to modern consumer desires for nutritious, flavourful meals. There’s plenty of space in the market for startups to disrupt the status quo by focusing on the health, taste and ease their products bring.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community
UPGRADE NOW
Cancel anytime

There’s little doubt that frozen food hasn’t always had the best of reputations. Microwaveable ready meals, soggy pizzas, giant bags of garden peas – it’s hardly inspiring, is it? Until recently, the supermarket freezer section was almost entirely filled with unhealthy ready-to-cook dishes and bumper bags of veggies.

But the times, they are a’changing. A handful of companies are putting their own spin on frozen food, tackling the freezer aisle’s poor reputation and aiming to keep the good bits (convenience, long shelf life) while offering high-quality and nutritious products. The frozen food market size was valued at $291.8 billion in 2019, and is estimated to reach $404.8 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 4.2% from 2020 to 2027.

Trend drivers: COVID-19 and convenience

In times of uncertainty, products with long shelf lives tend to experience an uptick in popularity. So it makes perfect sense that frozen food has been booming in 2020. The pandemic has seen consumers looking for ways to venture out to the supermarket less and sampling the frozen foods section is an obvious way to do that: products keep for a long time and reduce food waste, so shoppers don’t need to buy food as often. In the UK, sales of frozen food increased by £285 million in the three months leading up to July 2020, which coincided with the country’s first full COVID-19 shutdown. Although the pandemic has had a significant impact on cold chain supply, the growing consumer preference for frozen has helped the sector weather the shock.

The millennial love for convenience is also supercharging the trend. With busy lives and erratic working patterns becoming more common, younger consumers want meals with little preparation and limited washing up (especially given the frequency of flat sharing among millennials and Gen Z-ers). With a cheaper and healthier product profile than most takeout meals, frozen meals and convenience products that marry nutritional benefits and ease are likely to be most popular.

Frozen foods are also a valuable way to reduce food waste as the consumer can use just what they need, with any product leftover safe to stay frozen for use at a later date. And we know that reducing food waste is on consumers’ minds as well as being good for the planet and improving margins for brands.

Exploring the trend: ready meals, veggie products and pre-prepared ingredients

Nutritious ready-to-cook meals are a big emerging trend in the sector. Planty, a UK-based frozen meal startup, raised €180K in its first seed round to expand its vegan frozen meal home delivery service. Allplants offer a similar delivery service, couriering veggie-packed dishes including curries, risottos and lasagnes, while Happi Foodi and Grainful stock their meals in brick-and-mortar locations.  Big player Nestlé is also capitalising on the trend with a just-launched ‘Life Cuisine’ range of enchilada and taco bowls and snack bites, all aimed at catering to four consumer preferences – high-protein, low-carb, plant-based and gluten-free.

Plant-based ready-to-cook products are also booming. Strong Roots, headquartered in Ireland, makes veggie burgers, balls and bites with a new range, Little Roots, for kids recently launched. Quick service restaurant Itsu launched its frozen baos and gyozas in 2017, but have seen a huge uptick this year - with restaurants closed, pivoting to providing similar products that loyal customers can eat from the safety of their home could be a great way to diversify.

Getting your branding right can pay dividends. NUGGS, produced by parent company SIMULATE, are plant-based frozen nuggets made from soy protein with clear and focused marketing targeted at younger consumers (they call themselves ‘The Tesla of Chicken’). The youthful branding has paid off, with an incredible amount of hype and the funding to match: in 2020, NUGGS raised $4.1 million to expand its product into retail stores. Dream Pops, a US company who make healthier ice lollies with coconut sugar, have also honed in on millennials with their marketing and product design, with Instagram-friendly popsicles in pastel shades and pop-ups at targeted locations, including Google and Coachella. Both brands show that extreme clarity on who your target market is and concentrated, considered branding can overhaul the outdated image of frozen food and reel in younger consumers.

Convenience-fuelled ingredients are also finding space in the freezer aisle. In the UK, several supermarket chains now stock pre-packaged ingredients like frozen diced onions, chopped garlic, herb packets and even pouches of frozen rice and grains. Luxury grocery store Waitrose surveyed customers in 2019 and found that more than a third of respondents had made use of their frozen ingredients range. These appeal to consumers who are short on time, but still want flavourful, homemade meals cooked at home.

Case studies: Mosaic Foods & Daily Harvest

US startup Mosaic Foods, cofounded by Blue Apron’s former director of operations, are focusing on making plant-based frozen food that people will actually want to eat. The Brooklyn-based company sells frozen ready meals – current options include a peanut satay bowl and yellow dal – direct to consumers through their website, aiming on rebranding frozen meals as something chef-prepared, nutritious and maybe even cool. They are also appealing to millennials with a socially conscious ethos: packaging is fully recyclable and uses dry ice, rather than ice packs which need to be returned.

Daily Harvest, also based in the states, is a great example of a frozen food brand that spans multiple facets of the trend. Founder Rachel Drori began by selling pre-portioned pouches of mixed fruits and veg for use in smoothies (another millennial favourite). Founded in 2014, the company now reaches more than 100,000 customers a week and has branched out from providing only pre-packaged ingredients with a product range that includes chia parfaits and oat bowls - items not usually found in the freezer aisle and attracting consumers with their convenience and novelty. Ingredients are frozen within 24 hours of picking to ensure freshness and nutrition. In its most recent funding round, Daily Harvest raised over $50 million.

Considering the hurdles: space and food safety

Frozen food companies that sell and deliver directly to consumers need to consider issues of storage and delivery. Leaving frozen food on the doorstep while consumers are out at work doesn’t quite work, given the resulting food safety issues. With more work-from-home flexibility, this may become less of an issue for some consumers, but considering packaging insulation and how delivery will work is vital. Allplants are addressing this with meals that they claim will stay frozen until 10pm on the doorstep thanks to fully recyclable insulatory packaging.

There’s also the issue of space. Most millennials, the target market, don’t have a chest freezer in their garage - or a garage, for that matter! So brands that deliver frozen meals in bulk may need to branch out to other demographics or sell in smaller quantities.

For up-and-coming brands, the key to success might be in maintaining a product’s taste, texture and nutrition through distribution and shelf life. Historically, frozen foods have been boiled or blanched, mainly to kill off nasties, with little attention paid to flavour. Many startups are using flash-freezing to preserve maximum nutrients - to the delight of health-conscious consumers they’re targeting - and Mosaic say the secret to their great taste is actually cooking their food, with veggies roasted, sautéed and grilled before freezing, with plenty of flavour-giving oil, salt and herbs and spices. Something to bear in mind, frozen food trailblazers!

The 30-second pitch: frozen food

❄️ What

  • Frozen food has historically had a rather limp and sad reputation - think soggy defrosted pizzas, fish fingers and unhealthy ready meals. But a handful of companies are disrupting the freezer shelves by marrying the traditional convenience of frozen food with improved nutrition and tasty options.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Convenience, a longer shelf life and reduced food waste are all key drivers of the frozen food trend. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased interest in the freezer aisle, as shoppers look to stock up on food that will last for longer and reduce grocery shopping trips.


🥘 How

  • Frozen ready meals, often plant-based
  • Frozen plant-based meal components, including burgers, bites and balls
  • Frozen pre-packaged ingredients, including herbs, onions and garlic


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Healthy plant-based frozen meals and food products appeal to health-conscious, vegan consumers, particularly millennials.
  • Pre-packaged ingredients marry flavour with the consumer desire for ease.
  • Flash-freezing ingredients preserves their nutrient content and products have a long shelf life, so food waste is hugely reduced.


👎 The bad

  • Millennials and Gen Z-ers are the key target demographic for most frozen food startups, but home delivery services need to consider space constraints in light of the trend for small space living and flat sharing among these generations.
  • Food safety when delivering frozen food is also something to consider as food will defrost, bringing food safety issues, if left unattended on the doorstep.


💡 The bottom line

  • While frozen food has always been convenient, the big incumbent players have not catered to modern consumer desires for nutritious, flavourful meals. There’s plenty of space in the market for startups to disrupt the status quo by focusing on the health, taste and ease their products bring.

There’s little doubt that frozen food hasn’t always had the best of reputations. Microwaveable ready meals, soggy pizzas, giant bags of garden peas – it’s hardly inspiring, is it? Until recently, the supermarket freezer section was almost entirely filled with unhealthy ready-to-cook dishes and bumper bags of veggies.

But the times, they are a’changing. A handful of companies are putting their own spin on frozen food, tackling the freezer aisle’s poor reputation and aiming to keep the good bits (convenience, long shelf life) while offering high-quality and nutritious products. The frozen food market size was valued at $291.8 billion in 2019, and is estimated to reach $404.8 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 4.2% from 2020 to 2027.

Trend drivers: COVID-19 and convenience

In times of uncertainty, products with long shelf lives tend to experience an uptick in popularity. So it makes perfect sense that frozen food has been booming in 2020. The pandemic has seen consumers looking for ways to venture out to the supermarket less and sampling the frozen foods section is an obvious way to do that: products keep for a long time and reduce food waste, so shoppers don’t need to buy food as often. In the UK, sales of frozen food increased by £285 million in the three months leading up to July 2020, which coincided with the country’s first full COVID-19 shutdown. Although the pandemic has had a significant impact on cold chain supply, the growing consumer preference for frozen has helped the sector weather the shock.

The millennial love for convenience is also supercharging the trend. With busy lives and erratic working patterns becoming more common, younger consumers want meals with little preparation and limited washing up (especially given the frequency of flat sharing among millennials and Gen Z-ers). With a cheaper and healthier product profile than most takeout meals, frozen meals and convenience products that marry nutritional benefits and ease are likely to be most popular.

Frozen foods are also a valuable way to reduce food waste as the consumer can use just what they need, with any product leftover safe to stay frozen for use at a later date. And we know that reducing food waste is on consumers’ minds as well as being good for the planet and improving margins for brands.

Exploring the trend: ready meals, veggie products and pre-prepared ingredients

Nutritious ready-to-cook meals are a big emerging trend in the sector. Planty, a UK-based frozen meal startup, raised €180K in its first seed round to expand its vegan frozen meal home delivery service. Allplants offer a similar delivery service, couriering veggie-packed dishes including curries, risottos and lasagnes, while Happi Foodi and Grainful stock their meals in brick-and-mortar locations.  Big player Nestlé is also capitalising on the trend with a just-launched ‘Life Cuisine’ range of enchilada and taco bowls and snack bites, all aimed at catering to four consumer preferences – high-protein, low-carb, plant-based and gluten-free.

Plant-based ready-to-cook products are also booming. Strong Roots, headquartered in Ireland, makes veggie burgers, balls and bites with a new range, Little Roots, for kids recently launched. Quick service restaurant Itsu launched its frozen baos and gyozas in 2017, but have seen a huge uptick this year - with restaurants closed, pivoting to providing similar products that loyal customers can eat from the safety of their home could be a great way to diversify.

Getting your branding right can pay dividends. NUGGS, produced by parent company SIMULATE, are plant-based frozen nuggets made from soy protein with clear and focused marketing targeted at younger consumers (they call themselves ‘The Tesla of Chicken’). The youthful branding has paid off, with an incredible amount of hype and the funding to match: in 2020, NUGGS raised $4.1 million to expand its product into retail stores. Dream Pops, a US company who make healthier ice lollies with coconut sugar, have also honed in on millennials with their marketing and product design, with Instagram-friendly popsicles in pastel shades and pop-ups at targeted locations, including Google and Coachella. Both brands show that extreme clarity on who your target market is and concentrated, considered branding can overhaul the outdated image of frozen food and reel in younger consumers.

Convenience-fuelled ingredients are also finding space in the freezer aisle. In the UK, several supermarket chains now stock pre-packaged ingredients like frozen diced onions, chopped garlic, herb packets and even pouches of frozen rice and grains. Luxury grocery store Waitrose surveyed customers in 2019 and found that more than a third of respondents had made use of their frozen ingredients range. These appeal to consumers who are short on time, but still want flavourful, homemade meals cooked at home.

Case studies: Mosaic Foods & Daily Harvest

US startup Mosaic Foods, cofounded by Blue Apron’s former director of operations, are focusing on making plant-based frozen food that people will actually want to eat. The Brooklyn-based company sells frozen ready meals – current options include a peanut satay bowl and yellow dal – direct to consumers through their website, aiming on rebranding frozen meals as something chef-prepared, nutritious and maybe even cool. They are also appealing to millennials with a socially conscious ethos: packaging is fully recyclable and uses dry ice, rather than ice packs which need to be returned.

Daily Harvest, also based in the states, is a great example of a frozen food brand that spans multiple facets of the trend. Founder Rachel Drori began by selling pre-portioned pouches of mixed fruits and veg for use in smoothies (another millennial favourite). Founded in 2014, the company now reaches more than 100,000 customers a week and has branched out from providing only pre-packaged ingredients with a product range that includes chia parfaits and oat bowls - items not usually found in the freezer aisle and attracting consumers with their convenience and novelty. Ingredients are frozen within 24 hours of picking to ensure freshness and nutrition. In its most recent funding round, Daily Harvest raised over $50 million.

Considering the hurdles: space and food safety

Frozen food companies that sell and deliver directly to consumers need to consider issues of storage and delivery. Leaving frozen food on the doorstep while consumers are out at work doesn’t quite work, given the resulting food safety issues. With more work-from-home flexibility, this may become less of an issue for some consumers, but considering packaging insulation and how delivery will work is vital. Allplants are addressing this with meals that they claim will stay frozen until 10pm on the doorstep thanks to fully recyclable insulatory packaging.

There’s also the issue of space. Most millennials, the target market, don’t have a chest freezer in their garage - or a garage, for that matter! So brands that deliver frozen meals in bulk may need to branch out to other demographics or sell in smaller quantities.

For up-and-coming brands, the key to success might be in maintaining a product’s taste, texture and nutrition through distribution and shelf life. Historically, frozen foods have been boiled or blanched, mainly to kill off nasties, with little attention paid to flavour. Many startups are using flash-freezing to preserve maximum nutrients - to the delight of health-conscious consumers they’re targeting - and Mosaic say the secret to their great taste is actually cooking their food, with veggies roasted, sautéed and grilled before freezing, with plenty of flavour-giving oil, salt and herbs and spices. Something to bear in mind, frozen food trailblazers!

The 30-second pitch: frozen food

❄️ What

  • Frozen food has historically had a rather limp and sad reputation - think soggy defrosted pizzas, fish fingers and unhealthy ready meals. But a handful of companies are disrupting the freezer shelves by marrying the traditional convenience of frozen food with improved nutrition and tasty options.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Convenience, a longer shelf life and reduced food waste are all key drivers of the frozen food trend. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased interest in the freezer aisle, as shoppers look to stock up on food that will last for longer and reduce grocery shopping trips.


🥘 How

  • Frozen ready meals, often plant-based
  • Frozen plant-based meal components, including burgers, bites and balls
  • Frozen pre-packaged ingredients, including herbs, onions and garlic


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Healthy plant-based frozen meals and food products appeal to health-conscious, vegan consumers, particularly millennials.
  • Pre-packaged ingredients marry flavour with the consumer desire for ease.
  • Flash-freezing ingredients preserves their nutrient content and products have a long shelf life, so food waste is hugely reduced.


👎 The bad

  • Millennials and Gen Z-ers are the key target demographic for most frozen food startups, but home delivery services need to consider space constraints in light of the trend for small space living and flat sharing among these generations.
  • Food safety when delivering frozen food is also something to consider as food will defrost, bringing food safety issues, if left unattended on the doorstep.


💡 The bottom line

  • While frozen food has always been convenient, the big incumbent players have not catered to modern consumer desires for nutritious, flavourful meals. There’s plenty of space in the market for startups to disrupt the status quo by focusing on the health, taste and ease their products bring.