Frozen Foods Continue to Lead Category Sales Four Months into Pandemic

From constant mask-wearing to social distancing, the coronavirus has changed many aspects of our everyday lives, mostly in ways that at this point six months after the outbreak, many consumers are regarding as the eye roll-worthy “new normal.” 

For grocers, however, the coronavirus has completely changed the industry. With slow movers flying off the shelves for the first time and the rebirth of the digital grocery space, there are more differences in grocery operations than similarities compared to this time last year. 

One of the most notable differences for grocers is the foods that they’re selling. According to the American Frozen Food Institute, seven in 10 frozen food shoppers have increased the amount of frozen food they buy since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

The jump in purchases is well above normal, AFFI and research partner 210 Analytics found in their “Frozen Food Sales Amid COVID-19” study. Following a 94% jump in mid-March, overall frozen food sales are holding at 30% to 35% increases in April compared with a year earlier. 

Frozen foods’ success doesn’t just stop at an increase in sales; shopper behavior has changed as well. With 70% of shoppers buying more frozen food than normal, 68% of AFFI survey respondents said their purchases included different items than they usually buy and 72% purchased from brands they usually avoid because of unavailability, a common problem as 73% of shoppers cite that they experienced out-of-stocks when shopping for frozen foods during the pandemic.

The most frequently purchased items were frozen vegetables, meat/poultry and pizza. First-time trials were highest for frozen meat/poultry, side dishes, fruit and entrees, while single- and multi-serve entrees saw double-digit percentages in first-time buyers. About a third of consumers stocked up more than usual on frozen vegetables, meat/poultry and pizza compared with their pre-pandemic purchases.

People have been buying so much frozen food that they needed more places to stash the items. In early April, freezer sales rocketed up 195% from the same period last year, Nielsen data shows. 

While panic-buying and pantry-loading seems to have settled down, it seems that reverting back to your favorite microwaveable dinner is only getting started. 

According to the same AFFI study, half of consumers who have bought frozen foods since the outbreak of COVID-19 expect to buy more in the next several months. Eighteen percent reported they plan to purchase “a lot more” frozen products, and 32% aim to buy “somewhat more.”

 “This study suggests frozen will remain a category heavyweight for months and years ahead, as the category attracts new and returning customers who are relying on a variety of frozen foods to provide much-needed convenience and satisfaction,” said Alison Bodor, president of AFFI. “These results show growth in the category that goes beyond the popularity with Millennials that was illustrated in our ‘2019 Power of Frozen’ study.”