Frozen Finger Food: Will History Repeat Itself?

Sales of frozen finger foods may benefit from more people eating within the home, reports Jonathan Thomas.

When the global economic recession struck in the late 2000s, one of its more lasting effects was a rise in the number of people entertaining and socializing at home, as consumer spending levels dropped. This benefited various types of frozen foods such as finger foods and appetizers, which are viewed as convenient and suitable for such occasions. It now remains to be seen whether the rising number of meals eaten at home which has been largely enforced by the Covid-19 pandemic is a trend which will continue once lockdowns are eased and foodservice outlets re-open.

In-Home Eating & Entertainment

The amount of meals eaten within the home has increased across Europe and the world in recent months, mainly because the spread of coronavirus has closed much of the foodservice industry. In the UK, for example, Kantar estimates that the number of in-home meals eaten in households during the lockdown period has increased by over 500 million per week. Separate data from the British Frozen Food Federation indicates that frozen foods may have been one of the main beneficiaries of this trend. Total sales of frozen foods in the UK rose by over 28% in both value and volume terms in the four weeks ending 22nd March 2020 compared with the same period 12 months earlier. Kantar estimates the uplift in meal occasions featuring frozen potato products, for example, at around 16 million meal occasions while most foodservice outlets have remained shut. Frozen products such as finger foods could also potentially benefit from the rapid growth in ‘streaming’ which has occurred across much of the western world of late. Growth in demand for video on demand services was already being reported prior to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic – however, with people forced to stay indoors, consumers have been turning to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime in greater numbers. With more people opting for this type of in-home entertainment, demand for frozen foods which can be eaten as an accompaniment may increase as a result.

The Foodservice Industry

Many leading manufacturers of frozen finger foods and appetizers count foodservice operators amongst their customers, in sectors such as restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels. The global foodservice industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with most outlets having been partially or totally closed across the world. This has led to significant drop in demand for many types of frozen foods from foodservice operators, with finger foods and appetizers believed to be no exception to the rule. However, the situation is not entirely negative. With premises closed for in-store dining, many foodservice operators have been turning towards takeaway and food delivery services to maintain some level of profitability. As a result, the global food delivery market has significantly increased its turnover since the effects of the pandemic began to be felt. In some instances, operators have made efforts to limit contact to comply with safety directives – for example, no-contact deliveries have been adopted by companies such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and UberEats.

It has been suggested by some trade sources that, over the longer term, consumers may gravitate towards takeaway and food delivery options in greater numbers, for reasons such as lingering fears over coronavirus and reduced spending power in the event of an economic downturn. It is also anticipated that more companies such as Deliveroo may place a greater focus on eating occasions other than dinner/evening meals – in the UK, for example, lunchtime now accounts for over a quarter (27%) of food takeaway occasions. At the time of writing, more restaurants and foodservice operators throughout the world are beginning the process of re-opening. On a positive note, there appears to be evidence of pent-up demand amongst consumers – a survey of 4,000 people carried out by Allegra Strategies in May 2020 found that 42% of UK consumers missed visiting cafes and coffee shops during the lockdown period. This figure compares with 29% for those missing restaurant visits and 19% for those who missed going to the pub. These represent the second, fourth and fifth ranked choices respectively from a list of 17 social activities and occasions which have been largely prohibited during the lockdown period. A separate survey carried out by Piper Sandler at around the same time found that 47% of people are prepared to go to restaurants as soon as they open, although this was down from 60% in April 2020. When the situation finally does ease, manufacturers of frozen finger foods are likely to find foodservice venues such as pubs and restaurants profitable avenues for their products, assuming there is no large-scale reduction in consumer visits following the easing of lockdown. Prior to the arrival of coronavirus, consumers had been expressing a demand for a greater range of flavors and formats as far as foods are concerned. The ongoing challenge for manufacturers and foodservice operators will be to provide foods which offer novel tastes, as well as catering towards the desire for health and flexibility as far as eating patterns are concerned. It has also been suggested that local foods and ingredients will assume greater importance once the worst effects of the coronavirus have passed.

To read the entire article please access your complimentary copy of the May-June print issue of Frozen Food Europe by clicking here.

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