Propelled by lockdowns, more time spent at home, the closure of foodservice and the desire to reduce food waste, sales of frozen foods in Italy reached historic heights in 2020 when, for the first time, the per capita consumption exceeded 15 kg.
Today, almost all Italians (98%) consume frozen foods and this applies to all age groups, geographical areas, and types of family, without exclusions. The figures come from a March 2022 study conducted by the IIAS – Italian Institute of Frozen Foods and the research company BVA-DOXA. The aim was to reveal Italians’ approach to the consumption of frozen food.
From 2020 to today, more than half of Italians (54%) have increased their consumption of frozen foods (18% considerably and 36% moderately). This was more evident in the South than in Northern Italy and among young people and in families with young children. The latter, together with the under 35s, are the most frequent users of sub-zero products: they consume them on average more than 2 times a week (about 2.44). “Over the last two years, our relationship of trust with frozen products has been strengthened, as we now recognize their high quality and safety. In fact, a «culture of frozen food» has spread, which has help integrate frozen food into our routine as a food that can help healthy choices, even for the nutrition of children. If variety is the first rule of a healthy diet, there is no doubt that frozen food has contributed to bringing some foods back into the daily life of many families. Due to their preparation time or cost, these were consumed less than nutritional science recommends,” Giorgio Donegani, president of IIAS explains in the report.
A More Varied Diet
According to the study, the increase in the consumption of frozen foods is also reflected in an increase in variety: 3/4 of the interviewees (74%) declare that they have put in their freezer products that they have never tried before: from vegetables to snacks, from pizzas to fish, and ready meals.
Frozen vegetables, fish, and pizzas are confirmed as the “must have” products, always present in our freezers, even after the pandemic. But with some differences: sub-zero vegetables are the most loved by singles and couples without children (44%), while frozen fish products have conquered more and more families with children (40%), generally situated in central Italy. Pizzas, snacks, and fried potatoes were noted as favourites by 26%, rising to 29% in the Northeast and 30% in families with young children. There is no shortage of ready meals in the freezer of Italians (13%), practical foods that continue to be chosen even after the first phase of the pandemic and which are more present in the freezers of singles without children (16%) and in central Italy (15 %).
In the freezer of families with older children, on the other hand, there is room for all frozen products in equal measure: 30% buy from fish to vegetables, from pizzas to snacks. Finally, four out of ten Italians (43%) declare that they also independently freeze food to stock up (such as bread, meat, sauces, or other home-made preparations). For all product categories, the main purchasing driver for Italian consumers is the practicality (70%): this is especially the case for women, in the North-East and in the age group between 35 and 54 years. This is followed by the possibility of varying the menu (37%), as declared in particular by families with young children, and of reducing waste (25%), to which couples without children show great attention. The nutritional content is also significant : 22% consider frozen foods to be similar to fresh products in this respect and convenience (22%), especially in the South and in families with children.
Finally, for 17% of the sample, frozen food is also an aid to saving: this is confirmed in particular by the under 35s and single people without children. At the beginning of the pandemic (in 2020), Italy was among the European countries where e-commerce in the grocery sector grew the most: around 60%. Online shopping for food products sold by supermarkets has doubled, surpassing the share of food delivery (increased by + 46%) and reaching the value of EUR921m. In regards to frozen products, online sales in 2020 reached record figures: + 145% in volume and + 152.4% in value. And the positive trend also continued in 2021, when there was an increase of +20.6 in sales in volume and + 17.4% in value, the study shows.
Millennials Are Embracing Frozen Foods
A December 2020 study focusing solely on millennials, also in collaboration with DOXA, revealed that vegetables are among the foods and recipes most loved by this demographic group. This applies to both regular vegetables – in particular spinach – which are the favorite for 1 in 2 millennials (48%) – whether they are leguminous such as peas and green beans (30%). Next comes fish, processed (46%) and natural (42%), followed french fries (35%) and pizza (25%).
Convenience remains the number one driver, as half of Italian millennials resort to frozen foods because they have little time available. The Doxa – IIAS survey also analyzed the behavior of under 40s with respect to the consumption of frozen food “away from home”. The first finding is that everyone knows (97%) that frozen products are used in bars, cafeterias, and restaurants. A figure that does not particularly affect consumers, given that 60% choose what to eat or not at the restaurant regardless of whether it is a frozen food. Millennials attribute the use of frozen food in the kitchen by restaurants, firstly, to having products available all year round (71%), then to reducing food waste (39%), and then to a food safety issue (25%).