It seems that Americans are turning to frozen food during the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) reported that sales of frozen food jumped 94 percent in March of 2020 compared to a year before, and continued to rise by 30 percent in April.
Granted, considering the source it’s best to take the report’s numbers with a grain of salt. But this growth actually makes a lot of sense. Frozen food keeps for a long time. Americans are wary of grocery stores and worried about feeding their families, so it follows that they’d stock up on staples that can last for months and be ready when needed.
Curious to see if this was an opportunity for more curated frozen meals, this week I spoke to Christine Day, CEO of healthy frozen meal company Performance Kitchen, about how COVID has affected their sales.
“Every week the volume is picking up,” Day told me. While they had to halt their business with Delta Airlines, for whom they provided some meals for first-class passengers, she said that their online business is up over 200 percent.
Day said that when the pandemic first hit, consumers were stocking up with lots of bulk food. Then there was a phase of over-indulgence: there was “a lot of lasagnas,” she said. Now, Day thinks we’re at a phase when consumers are shifting away from bulk and comfort food to seek out healthier choices.
At the same time, consumers are still looking for convenience. Meal kits can offer that to some degree, but they require preparation and also have a relatively short lifespan in terms of how long it takes for the food to go bad. Frozen meals offer more flexibility. “When you buy a frozen meal you have a choice if your plans change,” said Day.
Performance Kitchen has two branches: Performance Kitchen and Performance Crafted (formerly called Eat Local). Both focus on providing nutritionally balanced frozen meals for specific dietary needs: keto, maternity, vegan, etc. Performance Kitchen makes wholesale meals for sale in 10,000 grocery stores nationally and online. Performance Kitchen Crafted, on the other hand, is a physical store where consumers can come and shop for branded frozen meals. It has six brick and mortar locations in Seattle.
Since COVID has forced those stores to shut their doors, Day said that Eat Local has pivoted to D2C sales and curbside pickup. Before the pandemic they only delivered to the West Coast, but they rolled out national shipping three weeks ago.
Performance Kitchen is not only positioned to tap into the rise in frozen food demand, but also new interest in a burgeoning trend: food as medicine. “People are really focused on immunity health, recognizing that issues like diabetes, hypertension, etc. increase our risk,” Day said. She credited this focus with one of the reasons they were seeing so many more sales during the COVID pandemic.
What’s remains to be seen is if the success of frozen meals, specifically those offering a food as medicine angle, will continue post-coronavirus.