When performing his song The Boxer in concert, songwriter Paul Simon will occasionally add a later written verse that goes, ”Isn’t it strange, after changes upon changes we are more or less the same, after changes, we are more or less the same.” The frozen food industry has faced wave after wave of changes; changes in the economy, changes in consumer tastes, changes in food safety practices, and changes in governmental policy. And yet, as an industry founded on innovation and creative response to consumer needs, in Paul Simon’s words, after changes upon changes we are more or less the same. The frozen food industry continues to live by our founding principles of paying close attention to consumer needs, making safe use of technological innovations, and ever seeking to produce the highest quality of tasty, convenient, safe, and nutritious products.
Over the past few years, many of the changes the frozen food industry has confronted were driven by education and health awareness, but some of the more recent changes have been brought about by economic considerations.
MORE AMERICANS ARE CHOOSING TO DINE IN
Rising fuel and food costs have clearly forced some modifications to dining patterns with over one-third of the American public reporting they are eating out and taking out less often than they were a year ago. While that reaction is to be expected during belt-tightening times, 82 percent of the respondents to a recent survey by retail analysis firm Precima indicate they plan to continue eating at home more often even after “the economy improves.” Money worries may have initiated the trend, but discovering the many other benefits, including those of frozen foods, may sustain it. Another indicator that consumers are making some longer term adjustments to the economic scene comes from the research firm NPD Group. According to its data, freezer sales are up 7 percent the first half of 2008 while the rest of the appliance sector is experiencing a slump. Consumers are prepared to be dining in for a while and have equipped themselves for frozen foods to be a part of their economic survival strategy. But that awareness also calls for some industry innovations.
Dining out offered the obvious advantages of taking menu-making, cooking, and cleanup responsibilities out of the home front, but it also provided customization and ethnic options that may not be in the family chef’s repertoire. The decision to eat at home more often did not come stocked with additional hours in the day or menu-making resources. Families seek the same time, convenience, and variety advantages that dining out provided, only packaged in a more economically feasible cook at home variety. The frozen food industry has traditionally offered such convenience and continues to respond to the market need with meal kits and single serving easy to cook packets which make menu customization and preparation easier for time-stressed working moms and dads. Many frozen food companies have expanded their line of international cuisine options so at-home diners could have more variety and the spectrum of ethic dishes in the comfort of their own dining room.
HEALTH AND SAFETY CONCERNS
More and more shoppers are checking out the nutrition label, comparing products for both economic value and health value. Weight watching and assorted health considerations have made consumers much more conscious of what they eat and more conscientious about what they prepare for their families to consume. The frozen food industry has responded with low sodium, low fat, and vitamin fortified options across most categories so that domestic chefs can be both aesthetically pleased and nutritionally proud of their offerings.
As an industry founded on technologically protracting the utility of edible products, concern about food safety has always been an essential part of the frozen food vocabulary. As they have from the beginning, industry experts work hand in hand with government agencies to establish best practices, maintain high standards, and vigilantly control the quality of the frozen product presented to the consumer.
Clarence Birdseye, Jack Fisher, Albert and Meyer Bernstein and the other early pioneers of the frozen food industry recognized the economically and ecologically driven consumer’s need for a safe and effective means of preserving food. They responded by technologically producing what they observed from nature: that freezing is by far the best food preservative. The industry has perpetually sought to improve flash freezing techniques over the years. Frozen food companies perform ongoing market research to ensure that the food that gets frozen is in accord with the emerging tastes, dietary demands, preferences, and eating patterns of the American public. Throughout the last several decades, cultural shifts and changing family demographics have
been responsible for numerous innovations in the shape, size, materials, and style of frozen food containers. The frozen food industry diligently seeks to ensure that industry innovations keep pace with the gastronomic, cultural, and economic demands of the day.
The in-house refrigerator and freezer changed the frozen food industry by allowing for greater bulk packaging and expanded retail potential. The television changed the frozen food industry by demanding the convenience of full dinners frozen in ready to cook and serve containers. The microwave changed the frozen food industry by further decreasing preparation times and dramatically expanding packaging possibilities. But after all these changes upon changes, the frozen food industry remains the same; consistently changing to provide tasty food preserved in the safest, most convenient way possible.
Robert L. Garfield is interim president of the American Frozen Food Institute, the national trade association that promotes and represents the interests of all segments of the frozen food industry. Visit www.affi.com.