Perhaps now more than ever, we Americans are obsessed with our food: its origin, its composition, and its impact on the environment as a whole. Today, for instance, the Wall Street Journal is hosting a Global Food Forum, which features many of the largest food companies in the world discussing everything from sustainability to "The Mystery of Meat." Earlier this year, SXSW hosted a panel about "Funding the FoodTech Revolution," in the face of a "broken" food system. And Amazon's recent purchase of Whole Foods Market put the entire food industry on notice.
Still commonly misunderstood and underestimated is frozen food, which is finding its way into many facets of consumers' lives, sometimes even without their knowing. According to Grand View Research, the "global frozen foods market exceeded $250B in 2015," with frozen ready meals as the leading product segment ($75B) and the growing population of female workforce a key element for growth.
This comes as no surprise to me personally because I was raised by a single, working mother and was responsible for making one meal per week for our family from a young age. Back then it was usually a frozen Tombstone pizza, the first of which wound up several shades darker than well done. However, it started my lifelong passion for food and cooking.
As more women comprise the workforce, it inevitably creates demand for convenient food solutions, like frozen. So when a friend asked me to get involved with Cadence Gourmet, a foodtech company aimed at reinventing frozen food, I leapt at the chance to blend my knowledge of growing tech companies with my love of food, in hopes of enabling the current generation of kids helping their working moms.
What's happening in the frozen category is prolific and yet still only the beginning. The Wall Street Journal's, Jane Black, rightly pointed out that, "frozen food is looking good" thanks to a host of companies updating the concept of a TV dinner.
However, frozen food now goes well beyond the freezer aisle at your local grocery store. Cadence Gourmet, for instance, is sold in the seafood department, while a company like Daily Harvest will send healthy, frozen food directly to your doorstep. Luvo, another frozen provider, feeds people 30,000 feet above ground, through its partnership with Delta Air Lines.
Looking closer, here are 4 factors driving growth in frozen and how your next meal could be impacted:
1. People Are Busy, Especially Moms
One of the largest drivers of frozen food offerings is that Americans are working more than ever. ABC News reported that, "Not only are Americans working longer hours than at any time since statistics have been kept, but now they are also working longer than anyone else in the industrialized world."
One of the most impact segments of the workforce is working women. Data from the Department of Labor shows that nearly half of the civilian workforce is female (47%), comprised of roughly 75 million women. And they aren't merely employees, as approximately 10 million small businesses are owned by women.
At the same time, there is also an enormous population of older people entering retirement (baby boomers) who crave convenience and flexibility. According to Manjunath Reddy, a food research analyst from Technavio, "The growing older population base who favor instant meals rather than a fully cooked meal are responsible for the rising demand for frozen ready-to-eat meals."
Long hours, a growing female workforce, and retirees are turning to the convenience and flexibility that frozen foods can provide.
2. Food Spoilage
It's estimated that up to 40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste, which equates to a loss of $161 billion. In response, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) set out to reduce food waste by 50%, by the year 2030. Given its long shelf life, utilizing frozen food is a logical solution, and many companies have oriented themselves to help businesses and consumers save money.
3. Food Quality & Freezing Technology
Once a monumental success, traditional TV dinners have declined from their peak of over $8 billion in annual sales. And despite a $30 million ad campaign by Nestle and ConAgra to revive the category, the entire concept of a frozen meal has needed reinvention. Now, most frozen food innovators begin with very high-quality ingredients and then use more modern freezing techniques to drastically improve taste. Flash-freezing is most common, and this results in frozen food offerings that can actually taste delicious. Or as Stephanie Strom, from the New York Times, pointed out there are a host of companies providing nouveau "TV Dinners in a Netflix World."
If you eat out regularly, it's very possible that you're eating frozen food without your knowing it. Restaurants, and other forms of foodservice companies, have increasingly turned to frozen solutions to improve consistency and reduce food spoilage. Many patrons know that most fish found at sushi restaurants has been frozen for a year or two. But it's not just fish. Thanks to the superior taste, quality, and consistency now available from frozen foods, some of the largest restaurant operators have replicated menu items with frozen equivalents, all without disrupting the customer experience.