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Dishing Out Frozen Sides: The hottest trends on grocery shelves are getting chilly.

The frozen food aisle is far from frigid as the hottest health and flavor trends make their way into freezers across the country. Today's shoppers are looking for more than a yesteryear TV dinner and are instead leaning on frozen foods to speed up the prep time needed for a tasty, home-cooked meal.

Illustrating this point is the expanded role frozen vegetables have taken on as consumers change their perception of how to use them. Instead of microwaving a bag of frozen, sliced carrots and serving them as a simple side dish, home cooks are getting creative by tossing these types of items with flavorful dressings or incorporating them into soups, stews and other dishes. Also, as health-conscious consumers transition from eating three large meals per day to having five or six small portions or snacks, side dishes are no longer exclusively used as a main meal accompaniment.

Beyond consumers' desire for easy, healthy options, the demand for products that pack a punch in the flavor department are also on the rise. Stocking bland frozen vegetables will no longer cut it; products that promise bold and spicy flavors or ethnic spices are making their mark on the industry.

Getting Noticed

"Shoppers are seeking out options that are easy to prepare, feature standout ingredients and can serve as a snack in between meals if need be," says Mike Ryan, vice president of sales and marketing for Deep Foods, based in Union, N.J. "Faced with such ingredient innovations, this modern consumer is likely to drive sales in the coming months with a taste for adventurous flavors incorporated into familiar foods."

To capitalize on these trends, grocers need to do more than just stock the trendiest frozen side-dish options; they must also showcase them appropriately. Jordan Greenberg, vice president and general manager of Green Giant, which was acquired by Parsippany, N.Y.-based B&G Foods in 2015, suggests creating endcaps or freezer doors filled with the newest and most on-trend products. Also, positioning items that have eye-catching graphics on packaging and healthy callouts front and center can keep premium frozen products moving briskly into shopping carts.

"Packaging that reflects the product is increasingly important, as well as in-aisle opportunities, to engage and educate consumers," says Larry Praeger, CEO of Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Dr. Praeger's.

Frozen Destinations

While local food preferences are often showcased prominently in frozen food sections, Ryan of Deep Foods says there are still plenty of ways to make the most of regionally in the frozen aisle. Consumers also like to have the option to indulge in flavors that remind them of places a little bit further from home.

"Local foods are at the forefront of the food industry, but closely trailing this popular trend is the idea of regional foods," he says. "Retailers can continue to realize that their shoppers crave education. By taking advantage of brands and products that highlight the adventure inherent in worldly and regional foods, they can maximize this need."

Ryan therefore advises retailers to consider stocking a greater assortment of ethnically diverse items to help lead shoppers through their "culinary adventure." He also suggests merchandising specifically for unique holidays, tailgates or other special occasions, and offering simple ways for consumers to pair their foods with beer and wine, which he believes will modernize old-world flavors and help familiarize consumers with adventurous eats.

"Retailers should also know that consumers tend to eat adventurously at restaurants and then look to replicate their dining experiences at home," Ryan says. "For grocery store leaders, there is an opportunity to introduce new and buzzworthy flavors, product trends and functional foods."

Plant-Based Sides on the Rise

The comeback of frozen vegetables is directly related to consumers' busy lifestyles and determination to stay healthy despite their time restrictions, Praeger says. "We see the frozen vegetables and plant-based foods market continuing to rise, largely because the demand for convenient, easy-to-make, healthy dishes continues to grow, as well as the demand for newer flavors and ingredients," he says.

Since acquiring Green Giant, B&G Foods has been a pioneer in the category of frozen side dishes, creating products such as riced veggies, mashed cauliflower and veggies tots that hit the growing trends of carb alternatives. Vegetables disguising themselves as "rice" or "noodles" have started showing up in the fresh section in recent years, but this is one of their first forays into the frozen aisles.

"We saw cauliflower as an emerging trend when we purchased the Green Giant brand in November 2015 and seized the opportunity to develop a product that we knew would be well-received and offer convenience to consumers as the first company to introduce riced cauliflower in the frozen aisle," Greenburg says. "The products were met with incredible demand and have been flying off the shelves."

64%

Amount of consumers who look for something that satisfies a craving when seeking out restaurant and foodservice side dishes.

Source: Technomic's 2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report

Starters, Small Plates and Sides Play a Key Role as Eating Habits Shift

As eating habits shift to include more snacking and sharing, starters, small plates and sides are well-positioned to gain share of stomach, according to Technomic's 2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report.

Food retailers should consider what consumers look for when seeking out restaurant and foodservice side dishes:
Satisfies a craving              64%
Premium ingredients              56%
Natural ingredients              49%
Something familiar               46%
Made from scratch                44%
Large portion size               42%
Something new and unique         42%
Healthfulness                    40%
Family sizes                     40%

Source: Technomic's 2017 Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer
Trend Report, powered by Ignite
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Title Annotation:Center Store: Fridge & Frozen
Author:Marcarelli, Rebekah
Publication:Winsight Grocery Business
Date:Dec 1, 2017
Words:936
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