Small, but fast-growing food and beverage categories have long been a reliable predictor of expanding product development opportunities. Let’s take a look at some of the top areas where little niches are seeing big sales gains.
• Frozen Convenience. With 82% of meals still being prepared at home, according to IRI, time-crunched consumers are heading to the freezer aisle to boost their convenience options. Among the leaders in unit sales for the year ended Feb. 20, 2022, are frozen baby food (+25.2%) and frozen cookies (+28.8%), IRI reports. For the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20, 2022, the big winners in unit sales include frozen breaded vegetables (+40.1%), frozen do-it-yourself pizza kits/toppings (+19.4%), frozen muffins (+13.0%), frozen pasta/noodles (+7.9%), frozen precut onions (+6.0%), frozen pretzels (+4.5%), and frozen sweet goods (+3.2%).
Thaw-and-eat products such as Kellogg’s Belgian street food–inspired Eggo Grab & Go Liege-Style Waffles are also trending, while Rhodes has introduced a line of Thaw, Rise & Bake rolls and sweet goods for a made-from-scratch taste.
• Adventurous Eating. Consumers exploring new and different foods at home are driving growth in several cosmopolitan niche categories. Among the fastest-growing exotic fruits, for example, is a small tropical fruit called jocote, with dollar sales up 40% for the year ended Dec. 26, 2021, according to IRI. Dragon fruit dollar sales jumps are close behind (+37%), followed by passion fruit (+12%), and plantains (+9%).
Also enjoying brisk sales are international forms of favorite foods like Belgian Boys Brioche French Toast, Lucky Foods’ Korean Style Pancakes, and Mrs. T’s Mini Pierogies. Frozen manicotti unit sales jumped 17.6% for the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20, 2022, IRI data show.
Among Asian cuisine categories, SPINS reports unit sales of frozen Asian desserts grew 6.1% for the 12 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2021, and CP Authentic Asia frozen soups got a boost of 19.1%.
• Sweet Gains. Shoppers with a taste for convenient desserts and snacks, such as Petit Pot’s new Cold Brew Latte flavor single-serve mousse, are sweet on single-serve puddings, mousses, gelatins, and parfaits, which increased 11.3% in dollar sales for the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20, 2022, according to IRI. Frozen upscale sweet goods (+13.4%) and whipped/frozen dessert toppings (+6.7%) also saw dollar sales gains for that period.
Brand names can help push sales too: Cinnabon’s retail frozen sweet goods unit sales skyrocketed 1,634% for the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20, 2022. And with home entertaining on the upswing, refrigerated cheesecakes continue to deliver strong sales, up 23.3% in unit sales for the year ended Feb. 20, 2022, reports IRI.
• Healthy Niches. Healthy eating is still uppermost in many consumers’ minds during the COVID-19 era, so it’s no surprise that niche segments perceived as better-for-you are ripe with potential. IRI reports that 38% of U.S. consumers usually/always or sometimes look for plant-based snacks, with 18% seeking out snacks that are vegan/vegetarian. Foods developed for specific diets like keto or paleo are enjoying double-digit growth, IRI data suggest, even though less than 5% of consumers are trying/following a trendy diet plan, according to the International Food Information Council’s 2021 Food & Health Survey.
In the plant-based marketplace, the fastest-growing segments include processed frozen poultry substitutes, which started from an exceedingly small base for a unit sales hike of 55.7% for the 12 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2021, according to IRI. Frozen yogurt/tofu, meanwhile, outperformed the total frozen dessert category with unit sales up 4.8% for the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20, 2022.
Another small category, vegetable crust frozen pizza brands like Caulipower, heated up with a 10.7% rise in unit sales for the 12 weeks ended Jan. 23, 2022, IRI reports.
Consumers’ thirst for healthier beverages is creating oases of opportunity too. Juice/drink concentrates rose 26.8% in unit sales for the year ended Feb. 20, 2022, and liquid drink enhancers were up 8.4%, according to IRI. Low-acid coffee, vita-pack K-Cups for soda/seltzer machines, and kefir are other health-focused small segments to watch.