After hitting a peak during the pandemic, frozen food purchasing is anything but solid these days — but the one exception is processed meats, according to data from Circana.
“As a department, it’s tough to talk about frozen because it does not have one big story,” said Jonna Parker, executive VP and practice leader at Circana. “There is only one space where units are up as of the May data and that would be processed meat.
“And I think the fact that processed meats are showing not just dollar growth but unit growth speaks to the overall trend of consumers where value and convenience go hand in hand.”
The marketplace report from Circana, 210 Analytics, and the American Frozen Food Institute found that processed meats were indeed the leaders in frozen food purchases in May, as the category posted a 3% increase in units sold vs. May 2022. Desserts/toppings (+2.8%) and potatoes/onions (+0.3%) were the only other categories showing improvement from a year ago.
Lately, shoppers are choosing fresh over frozen, as the latest year-over-year data shows declines in every frozen category in terms of unit sales. Still, there are a few frozen categories which saw less of a decline overall.
Breakfast food, for instance, declined 1.8% with multi-outlet and 3% in grocery when looking at units sold year-over-year. Processed poultry also fared better year-over-year (-1.4% in multi-outlet and -3.1% in grocery).
Potatoes and onions also have been big movers for frozen in 2023, and the year-over-year unit sale numbers reflect that — down just 1.9% in multi-outlet — however the surge is not felt as much at the grocery level, where those categories are down 6.9%.
Dinner entrees and seafood have taken the biggest hit in unit sales in frozen over the last year. Entrees dipped 8.4% with multi-outlet and 11.6% with grocery, while seafood was down 9.9% and 10.8%,
respectively, in those categories.
Frozen fruit and vegetables combined dropped 4.8% in unit sales in May 2023 vs. May 2022. Plain potatoes (+46.2%), onions (+17.8%), hash browns (+4.3%), and carrots (0.5%) were the only categories showing gains in May 2023 year-over-year. Meanwhile, prepared vegetables were down 48.1%.
“I think especially as we go into the fall season the frozen department and the center store department have to work together and retailers need to give shoppers the incentive to buy from both,” said Parker.
“So especially for supermarkets that offer a robust variety in frozen as well as center store, [grocers] have to find ways and tactics that just don’t let you win at one category by doing a price promotion. They really need to capture a much bigger basket and dollar because people are going to one store to solve all of their needs.”