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Inflation drove record dollar sales of $69.9 billion in the refrigerated category in 2022, up 15.2%, while unit sales fell by 2.4%, according to IRI data for multi-outlet retailers. The largest refrigerated product categories are, in descending order, natural cheese, dairy milk, breakfast meats, yogurt, eggs, and packaged meats.
Refrigerated tortillas/egg rolls/wonton wrappers, meat pies, ready-to-drink coffee/tea, cheesecakes, pickles/relish, and side dishes posted the highest unit sales gains in the dairy-dominated refrigerated case for the year ended Oct. 30, 2022, albeit often from a small base, according to IRI. Other refrigerated categories posting positive (but lower-level) unit growth include spreads/cream cheese, “all other milks” (includes kefir and milk substitutes but not plant-based milks), dips/sour cream, entrées, baked goods, and packaged meats
Here’s a look at some key refrigerated category product trends.
• Convenience Is King. With the economy driving a sharp uptick in home-prepared meals (up to 81.5% in December of 2022 from 78.9% in November of 2022) and scratch cooking on the rise, ingredients that make food preparation easier and more adventuresome are well-positioned for marketplace success.
According to FMI, The Food Industry Association, 41% of consumers now prepare their evening meal from scratch, up 5% versus a year ago; 48% combine cooking from scratch and prepared meal components; and 11% use only prepared foods.
This creates opportunities for products like Lotito Presto Cacio E Pepe Pasta Sauce Starter from Norseland Inc., which can be whipped up by whisking the starter with room temperature water and then serving it with hot pasta. Indian simmer sauces from dosa by DOSA come in Butter, Tikka, and Kerala Coconut varieties.
Vannelli Brands’ lineup of artisan pasta includes Smoked Mozzarella Bell Pepper Ravioli. Nuovo Pasta Productions offers vegan ravioli in varieties including Roasted Sweet Potato & Cauliflower and Wild Mushroom Ragu & Polenta.
Low-carb and keto-friendly Folios Cheese Wraps are gluten- and grain-free. TortillaLand fresh tortillas from Tyson Foods are ready to eat in 60 seconds. Ready-to-bake Pillsbury Mini Pizza Crusts allow for individual customization at almost any meal.
For an easy side dish, the Bob Evans brand offers microwaveable Mashed Cauliflower in varieties including Parmesan & Chives.
The trend toward increased brown-bagging creates another opportunity for refrigerated foods. According to IRI data, 38% of people working away from home are packing their lunches more often.
In addition, the number of those purchasing deli prepared foods for breakfast more than once a week grew from 11% to 17% over the past year, according to FMI. For lunch, that figure climbed to 21% compared with 13% the prior year.
• International Inspiration. One-quarter of consumers say they want more internationally inspired dairy and dairy alternative products, according to flavor company T. Hasegawa. Sach Foods offers Indian Paneer cheese in a Spicy Habanero variety. The Indian yogurt drink lassi is available from dosa by DOSA in exotic flavors like Turmeric Banana, Cardamom Mango, and Cayenne Tamarind.
Half of consumers are interested in trying new flavors in familiar dips and sauces, and 40% seek international flavors, T. Hasegawa reports. A lineup of Mediterranean-inspired dips from Haig’s Delicacies includes Tzatziki, Baba Ghannouge, and Spicy Feta, all based on traditional family recipes.
El Mexicano sour cream products come in tubs and jars in varieties including Crema Mexicana, Crema Oaxaqueña, and Crema Agria.
The Al Pastor Taco Kit from Del Real Foods ticks both the global inspiration and the convenience boxes. One 19.4-ounce kit includes salsa, 10 tortillas, and fully cooked adobo marinated pork. The company also offers heat-and-serve Bean & Cheese Pupusas.
• Upscale and Exotic. Despite the challenging economic climate, dairy category innovators continue to serve up appetizing specialty products. Pour Me A Slice from Beehive Cheese is a sweet, creamy cheddar infused with bourbon; Barely Buzzed is cheddar cheese rubbed with espresso and lavender.
New LaBottega Artigiano Blueberry Cheese from BelGioioso is bathed in a sweet blueberry compote. Belle Chevre’s Greek Kiss fresh chèvre disk is wrapped in a brined grape leaf. Gourmet flavored Bijoux Crème butter comes in creatively named varieties like Maple Pecan Nirvana and Sriracha Lime Sizzle.
In the packaged meat category, McCormick Grill Mates Thick Cut Marinated Bacon from Sigma U.S. comes in a Smoky Applewood flavor, and Blackened Seasoned Chicken Smoked Sausage is available under McCormick’s Zatarain’s label.
• Alternative Options. Nearly one-fifth (19%) of U.S. adults say they are trying to avoid dairy products, according to a 2022 HealthFocus survey, and makers of plant-based products continue to introduce new options.
Califia Farms offers a dairy-free substitute for heavy cream called Heavy Whip. Vegan cheese maker RIND has introduced Carrot Cheese Slices, and the company says they melt and taste just like dairy cheese slices. Late last year, Laughing Cow cheese maker Bel Brands USA launched Nurishh Incredible Dairy Animal Free Cream Cheese Spread Alternative created in partnership with animal-free protein maker Perfect Day.
For dairy product lovers seeking a taste of something a bit different, Cypress Grove Cheddar is made with 100% goat milk and Sierra Nevada Cheese Co. created Bella Capra Goat Butter. Bellwether Farms Sheep Milk Yogurt is an option for those with cow’s milk sensitivities.
• Portable Treats and Snacks. Single-serve dairy desserts are gaining momentum. Sweet Craft Dolceria Italian gourmet desserts in a jar include Sea Salt Caramel Panna Cotta. Tiramisu, cheesecake, cannoli, and flan are among the most popular desserts delivered by Grubhub in 2022.
Cello Copper Kettle cheese snack packs feature one-of-a-kind specialty cheeses. Grab & Go Snack Packs from Good Foods include a Plant Based Queso Dip and a Chunky Guacamole variety.