"Give (frozen) peas a chance." When I was a kid, my mom had the coolest way to get us to eat our veggies: She'd pack frozen peas. Wherever we went — whether it was in the car, to school, or even to the movies — the three of us toted around little plastic containers filled with frozen peas. We were obsessed.
In hindsight the weirdness is evident (does anyone else do that?), but also ingenious on my mom's part. Frozen peas are nutritious, perfect for on-the-go snacking, and easy-peasy — all thanks to the magic of the freezer aisle.
However, when you looked beyond those magical peas, the freezer aisle of my youth didn't have much for the food-lover — basic vegetables (always cubed!) and colorless TV dinners. But oh how things have changed. The number-one rated customer product at Trader Joe's for the last two years comes from the freezer aisle. Frozen brands are jumping on the smartest healthy-eating ideas, like the cauliflower trend — creating cruciferous pizzas, french fries, and tater tots. And the biggest change? Frozen food sales are up for the first time in years.
Suddenly, when we weren't looking, the grocery store freezer aisle started giving shoppers (especially us young millennials) exactly what they actually want. Here are a few reasons the freezer aisle is having a comeback moment.
The Frozen Aisle, by the Numbers
Sales in the freezer aisle are a bright spot for the grocery industry, which is seeing steady declines in store traffic. Frozen food sales, however, are up for the first time in five years by 1.4 percent — a not-insignificant amount for the famously low-margin grocery industry.
According to experts at Nielsen, millennials (my people!) are the ones to thank for this bump in sales, spending nine percent more on frozen groceries than the average household per trip last year. (And that can't possibly be entirely due to my frozen pea consumption habits, which have continued well into my mid-20s.)
Kitchn Readers & the Freezer Aisle
We know you, our readers, are quite grocery-obsessed, and interestingly, Kitchn readers seem to love the freezer aisle even more than the average American grocery shopper. Forty-two percent of our readers consistently purchase frozen food during every supermarket trip (which is quite a bit more — 73 percent more — than the average shopper). And to break it down even further, our millennial ladies are three times more likely than the average consumer to purchase frozen food. That's 75 percent more frequently than the average Kitchn reader alone.
Why the Freezer Aisle Is Making a Comeback
This newfound affinity for the freezer aisle might seem a little unexpected, coming from a generation that gets a lot of flak for its seemingly pretentious taste in food choices (remember when avocado toast was to blame for the millennial housing crisis?), but here at Kitchn it makes perfect sense.
Here are a few reasons why frozen food is roaring back to popularity with a new, younger group of eaters.
1. Frozen food is convenient.
Millennials are likely to hop on board with quick and easy food choices, as long as those options are also tasty and nutritious. Keep in mind, this is the same generation that gravitates towards extremes like weekly meal prepping in bulk or swapping out traditional meals with on-the-go snacks like energy bars. The one thing those two contradictory habits have in common? Convenience. So it's not exactly a surprise that shopping for ready-made heat-and-eat freezer items is becoming preferential behavior too. It's an option that cuts down on both prep and cook time.
2. Frozen food is easy on the wallet.
Not only is frozen food a cinch to prepare, but it's also significantly cheaper than alternative dinner options like meal kits or takeout. Frozen options are also less expensive than their fresh grocery counterparts, according to data from the USDA. Since millennials have a reputation for harboring crushing amounts of debt, stashing away savings every grocery run is a welcome opportunity.
3. Frozen food is low-waste.
Millennials don't have to worry about tossing produce that's seen better days if they resort to freezer items. Now that more and more people are aware of the obscene amounts of food waste Americans produce each year (more than 400 pounds per person!), keeping a well-stocked freezer seems like a small way to do your part in avoiding waste.
4. Frozen food is healthier than ever.
Gone are the days where the only options in the freezer aisle were ice cream and preservative-packed TV dinners. Nowadays, you can stock up on healthful options like cauliflower rice, meatless burgers, and microwaveable quinoa in bulk.
Stores like Whole Foods are doing some of the heavy lifting to make sure that the freezer aisle is keeping up with the latest trends. According to Mitch Madoff, the global private label coordinator at Whole Foods, who heads up the team behind the store brands like 365 Everyday Value, the grocery giant is "always innovating to keep up with customer demand, especially in the frozen plant-based space." He points to their best-selling Everyday Value almond milk frozen dessert pints and beet and cauliflower pizza crusts as perfect examples.
Go crazy for cauli: Have You Noticed? Cauliflower Has Colonized Your Freezer.
5. Frozen food is (yes!) fresh.
Believe it or not, frozen produce is nearly nutritionally identical to fresh produce, according to a study conducted by researchers at UC Davis. This is due to the fact that good frozen fruits and veggies are flash frozen at the peak of freshness. This awareness might be why sales of frozen vegetables jumped 4.5 percent in the last year, according to Nielsen.
6. Frozen aisles don't have competition from Amazon.
Fact: It's expensive to ship frozen food. And while it's super easy to order most of your grocery goods online, frozen options don't exactly fall into that realm without a huge surcharge. This plays a factor in why grocery stores are still beating Amazon and other online retailers in terms of frozen food sales. In other words, if you want a haul of frozen food, you're probably still going to the grocery store.
That's good news for supermarkets, who are facing a revolution in shopping habits as Amazon and other retailers enter the space. For now, at least, frozen foods are a reason to go to the grocery store.
The Frozen Aisle, the Millennial Way
Ultimately frozen food appeals to millennials because it's a generation that's growing up, having kids, and getting real about cooking. Millennials were born in between the years of 1981 and 1996, meaning that the age group spans 22 to 37 years of age. Millennials are no longer on the cusp of adulthood — they're fully-fledged members of society for whom the struggle is sometimes real, and the freezer aisle helps them out.
For millennials with families, frozen meals or substitutes can be the best option for getting dinner on the table quickly and efficiently. They may love the farmers market on the weekend or meal kits for learning a new dish, but for convenience they're more open than ever to the freezer aisle — provided it gives them what they want.
We'll put it to you this way: Millennial love for freezer products is frozen solid, and we're here for it.