Frozen Plant-Based Meals Gaining Loyalty

Shoppers seeking convenience are in the market for readymade plant-based meals — and the frozen food aisle is a prime target for innovation.

When it comes to plant-based alternatives, shopper loyalty is growing fastest in milk, frozen meat, and frozen meals, according to 2024 insights by Kroger data partner 84.51°.

Furthermore, consumers buying plant-based frozen meals increased their percent of sales in dollars from 12% to 22% between 2022 and 2023.

“Shoppers have been clamoring for more plant-based, pre-made meal options that are both nutrient-dense and easy to grab for breakfast, lunch, or on-the-go,” said Shannon Weis, Lead Consultant, Insights Account Manager at 84.51°. “As the plant-based foods industry continues to grow, marrying the health benefits with convenience will lead to greater innovation and adoption of this category.”

In a secondary 84.51° Real Time Insights survey – which focuses on the ‘why’ behind what consumers buy – 25% of plant-based consumers who are increasing these purchases cited they ‘like that there are more convenient plant-based options than in the past, including ready-to-heat meals or frozen foods.”

Weis said this may be one reason why the frozen meal category has seen more innovation in plant-based and meatless products in general, with “alternative options for BBQ, meatballs, hot dogs, entrees, and even pizza bites.”

Companies Making Moves Despite Category Challenges

Per GFI’s State of Plant-Based report, meals were the fourth largest plant-based food category by dollar sales in 2023. Much like the category at large, sales remain impacted by broader economic challenges.

For instance, plant-based meals by Tattooed Chef lined the frozen food aisle at many retailers (including Walmart) prior to the company filing for bankruptcy in 2023 due to the challenging financing environment and an inability to raise additional capital.

Despite ongoing headwinds, companies like McCain Foods are pushing further into the space. In April, the company acquired a majority stake in Strong Roots, a plant-based frozen food company headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, reported Meat+Poultry.

Here are a few other noteworthy readymade meals partnerships in 2023, per GFI:

  • Hong Kong-based DayDayCook and Harvest Gourmet, Nestlé’s strategic brand, joined forces to create a new range of plant-based meal options.
  • California-based vegan food brands Alpha Foods and Eat Just formed a partnership to expand Alpha’s breakfast offerings featuring Just Egg.
  • Planet Based Foods has chosen Violife as the exclusive plant-based cheese provider for its line of better-for-you convenience foods, including taquitos made with hemp-based meat.

Targets for Product Innovation

Along with leveraging the blended appeal of frozen convenience, producers like Shicken are tapping into ongoing consumer demand for unique flavors and global trends.

In March, the meal company secured £4 million in funding to scale up its portfolio, which includes plant-based chicken in a variety of ready-made South Asian meals, reported Green Queen.

“Customers are looking for flavors,” said Weis. “They want spicy, exotic, more globally driven meal items and flavor profiles in addition to being nutrient dense and delivering on health benefits.”

When it comes to generational considerations, plant-based meal producers should be mindful of consumers who are 65 years and older.

“As new plant-based food shoppers come into the category, we are seeing an influx of new, more mature shoppers who typically seek convenient foods across the store,” said Weis.

“They also over-index on low health dimensions, signaling that they may be adjusting their diet due to health concerns centered on aging.”

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