BOCA RATON, FLA. — Conagra Brands, Inc. is “just getting warmed up” in the $79 billion frozen foods category, said Sean M. Connolly, president and chief executive officer.
The Chicago-based maker of Birds Eye, Marie Callender’s, Healthy Choice and Banquet is the largest player in frozen food in the United States, with $6.5 billion in sales, Mr. Connolly said, citing IRI data for the year ended Dec. 25, 2022. Eight years earlier, when Mr. Connolly joined the company, he said “there was virtually no innovation” in the segment and the “food quality was terrible,” noting retailers were focused on “ultra-low price points.”
Since then, he said, Conagra Brands has built a “relentless stream of innovation in the frozen space,” and he credits those efforts for transforming the category into “a vibrant area driving total retail store sales” today.
“Now to win in frozen, you have to have scale and you have to have scope, and we’ve got both,” Mr. Connolly said during a Feb. 21 presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Boca Raton. “These are the five frozen categories where we compete: meals, vegetables and sides, breakfast, desserts and plant-based protein. All of these areas are big, and all of these areas are growing.”
The company has updated its four “juggernaut” frozen brands by adding premium attributes and ingredients that appeal to modern shoppers. Mr. Connolly expects several consumer shifts to support continued momentum in the frozen foods category.
“Looking ahead, several frozen tailwinds exist starting with family formation; yes, millennials and Gen Zs are settling down,” he said. “They’re beginning to have kids. When that happens, their frozen consumption per category goes up. When they have more kids and more kids, it goes up and up again. That’s a tailwind.
“Additionally, we believe that the shift to at-home eating and the shift to remote working will remain elevated versus pre-pandemic, and that’s good for business.
“And then finally, it’s impossible to argue with the notion that frozen offers superior relative value compared to perishable or away from home, which is also good for business.”
Forthcoming frozen innovation from Conagra Brands includes Banquet Mega Crustless Pizza, Marie Callender’s indulgent side dishes, including a green bean casserole and cheesy potato casserole, Marie Callender’s no-sugar-added apple pie, and Healthy Choice Power Bowls featuring trending seafood options. New Birds Eye offerings including spinach and artichoke dip, Buffalo cauliflower dip, fire-roasted brussels sprouts, and Birds Eye Fusions, which combines “elevated vegetables and sauces,” Mr. Connolly said.
“Our Gardein Ultimate line will continue to expand,” he added. “We know a lot about bowls. So why not bring the great Gardein Ultimate lineup into bowls?…
Other new frozen food launches expand the Purple Carrot, Kid Cuisine, La Choy and PF Chang’s Home Menu brand portfolios.
Mr. Connolly described frozen as “the perfect temperature state for today’s consumers.”
“You can basically take whatever food you can imagine in the frozen section and flash freeze it from the peak of freshness; it’s convenient, ready when consumers are,” he said. “There’s limited food waste and spoilage. And basically, you can get restaurant quality at home when its done right at a great value.
“So our attitude when it came to frozen was, ‘if you can dream it, we can freeze it.’