The divide between frozen foods eaten as main meals and those consumed as snacks grows ever wider, writes Jonathan Thomas.
Although obtaining a precise estimate of the European market for frozen snacks and appetizers is complicated by the lack of a consistent definition, demand is believed to be increasing across much of the region. Much of this can be attributed to changing eating patterns, especially in northerly countries such as the UK, France, Germany and the Benelux and Scandinavian nations. One effect of this has seen consumers moving away from three traditional meals per day towards a more flexible routine – typically, this has encompassed all-day snacking and/or gravitating towards smaller meals eaten on a more frequent basis.
These habits are most evident among younger consumers, i.e. those aged 18-35. These consumer groups are more inclined to eat food on the go – a trend which has contributed towards the growth in popularity of street foods, which will be discussed in more detail later. However, frozen foods such as snacks and appetizers are also ideally positioned to take advantage of the greater frequency with which people (of all ages) are now holding social occasions in the home, such as parties, barbecues or buffets. The ongoing development of the ethnic foods market remains a major influencer of trends within this category, with consumers attracted to new tastes and flavors. Nutritional and health concerns are also important – this is reflected in the prevalence of health claims such as being free from artificial additives and ingredients.
The European market for frozen snacks and appetizers remains small compared with its US equivalent, which is the world’s largest by some margin. Retail sales of frozen snacks, appetizers and hand-held entrees in the US via mainstream grocery stores are worth over USD1bn per annum, although the market has been broadly static in recent years – much of this can be attributed to the growing consumer demand for fresh/chilled snacks, rather than frozen, even though penetration of frozen snacks among US households remains over a third.
Some of the more common frozen foods typically sold or served as snacks and appetizers include meat-based products (e.g. chicken nuggets, chicken wings and chicken strips/goujons), potato-based varieties (e.g. wedges and potato skins) and ethnic/regional specialties (e.g. samosas, spring rolls, tempura prawns, onion bhajis, mozzarella sticks, mini pizzas and garlic bread). In some instances, grocery retailers have brought out ranges specifically targeting in-home social occasions, which encompass a variety of different products. This trend is most evident during times of the year such as Christmas and New Year. Across Western Europe, retail sales of frozen snacks and appetizers are largely skewed towards supermarkets and hypermarkets, since convenience stores tend to score less favorably in areas such as price and the variety of foods on offer.
In-home Social Occasions
One of the main growth drivers for frozen snacks and appetizers of late has been the continued popularity of socializing in the home with friends and family, rather than going out. This trend became especially apparent in the aftermath of the global recession at the end of the last decade, with more consumers seeking to save money although unwilling to stop socializing. Although the economic situation has improved since then across much of Europe, many consumers are not socializing out of the home as often as they were prior to the downturn. In many instances, the reluctance to go out can be attributed to the dramatic growth of in-home entertainment, as evidenced by the emergence of TV services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
As an example, a sizeable 75% of British adults had friends over in 2017, instead of meeting up at a pub or restaurant. However, it should be noted that this figure had decreased from 77% in 2013 and 79% in 2015, which indicates that socializing out of the home is becoming more commonplace again. Somewhat surprisingly, younger consumers appear the most reluctant to socialize out of the home. Data from Deliveroo indicates that 72% of UK consumers aged 18-24 would prefer to stay in, rather than visit a pub or nightclub. It remains to be seen whether this consumer shift is maintained over the next few years, given the uncertain economic circumstances facing much of Western Europe due to political instability and the possibility of another recession.
Frozen snacks and appetizers are ideally placed to take advantage of this growth in the number of consumers seeking interesting yet convenient food for entertaining in the home. Not only does it help keep costs down, but the fact that it requires a minimum or preparation allows the host or hostess to spend less time in the kitchen, while it is also convenient should unexpected guests arrive. It has also been suggested that frozen snacks and appetizers permit accessibility to luxury foods which consumers might not ordinarily encounter, such as crab and lobster.
You can read the entire article in the March-April 2019 print issue of Frozen Food Europe.