CHICAGO — Demographic shifts will help drive continued growth in frozen foods, said Darren C. Serrao, co-chief operating officer and executive vice president of Conagra Brands Inc. Millennials, a generation of time-starved foodies, view frozen foods as a convenient shortcut to achieving “culinary aspirations,” he said.
“… Millennials rely more on frozen than any other generation after having kids,” Serrao noted during the company’s investor day on April 10. “Every generation increases their use of frozen after having had kids. Millennials are doing so more than any other generation. And we believe it's the combination of some of these differentiating factors that frozen brings to bear.”
The previous generation, Gen X, “represented a drag on frozen,” Serrao said.
“First, the millennial population is 30 percent larger than the previous population,” he said. “That alone, the numbers will just create tailwinds. But in addition to that, millennial families with kids over 6 have 12 percent, if you do the math, more frozen eating occasions than the previous generation. And… over half of millennials still don't have kids.
“As a result, frozen consumption will step up annually now for the foreseeable future while this cohort moves through the next 15 years of family formation.”
Additionally, the value equation for frozen has been redefined, Serrao said. Consumers are willing to pay more for premium attributes, and frozen food creates less waste than fresh food, he said.
“Compared to other choices, such as eating away from home, frozen gives you the culinary experience that you can get away from home at a better price, better value, therefore,” he said. “It also holds its nutritional value better over time, particularly when compared to fresh.”
Following the acquisition of Pinnacle Foods, Conagra Brands has a $5 billion portfolio of frozen brands that include Birds Eye, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender’s, Hungry-Man, Banquet, Alexia, Evol, Gardein and more.
Sixty-two percent of the business is meals, including dinners and entrees, pot pies, breakfast and pizza. Twenty-two percent of Conagra’s frozen portfolio is vegetables and fruit. Twenty-six percent of the business is meat and alternatives, and 4 percent is desserts.
“We have a growing and scaled frozen business that competes in all four of those categories,” Serrao said. “And this significant scale and strength is unique, particularly when compared to our peers, many of which are either smaller or isolated to a single category.”
Within frozen meals, Conagra Brands sees opportunities in three large demand pockets: American comfort food, modern wellness, and international cuisines. New Marie Callender’s products include premium pub-style pot pies and a layered beef shepherd’s pie. Building on the success of the Power Bowls line, Healthy Choice is introducing Power Wrap plant-based handhelds that are grain-free and high in protein.
“What we've basically done here is take the bowl and put it in a wrap,” Serrao said. “They have all the same nutrients and the taste profile that you enjoy in the bowl, but now in a portable, handheld wrap.”
The company also is expanding the Evol brand with new high-protein, low-carb meals and handhelds and children’s items. The gluten-free brand Udi’s will add grain-free pizzas with sweet potato-based crust.
Conagra is updating the Birds Eye business with contemporary formats, including sheet pan roasted, shredded and spiralized vegetables. The company also is extending the brand into single-serve meals that are high in protein and lower in carbs.
The plant-based Gardein brand is adding beefless burgers, gochujang wings and vegan breakfast bowls.
Frozen desserts is another area of interest for Conagra Brands, which is launching Duncan Hines microwavable gooey cookies, Angie’s Boomchickapop frozen sweet treats and Healthy Choice Power Pops. An example of the latter is an acai smoothie bar made with pitaya, banana, chaga tea and honey, plus coconut shreds, goji berries and pumpkin seeds.
“They’re taking a sweet treat, and they give you all the indulgence you’re looking for, but we do it without any of the guilt,” Serrao said.