After years of exhaustive consumer testing and product development, coupled with an innate sense of market value, global leading frozen food manufacturers are nearing the end of their decade-long race to the bottom. Nearly all of the world’s most recognizable frozen consumer product brands – Swanson, Birds Eye, Hungry-Man and Van de Kamp, to name a few – have been working together in unprecedented cross-market coördination to de-elevate the quality and consistency of many of the nation’s most popular quick serve meals.
By all accounts, the shrewd business strategy appears to be working, as hordes of cloudy-eyed office workers pulled a record 26.4 million frozen meals from their grocery store aisles in June. In fact, as the food paste and wet proteins thinly sheathed under microwave-questionable plastics have continued towards a homogenous and completely indistinguishable future, dough-jawed consumers have only increased their consumption needs. In recent polling, an overwhelming majority of consumers who purchased the Van de Kamp 99 Fish Stacks bucket agreed that the food was “okay” and “did the job” of keeping their stomachs engorged between the hours of 11am and 3pm. Several of those polled returned their questionnaires with opaque grease stains, obscuring their written responses.
As the coördinated rollout to the final phase of product devolution begins, disheveled consumers can also expect the brand packaging to change dramatically. Until now, each pre-packaged frozen meal existed as a series of small pockets, individually containing a different component of the ‘fully-balanced’ meal. The corn never touched the mashed potatoes which never touched the Salisbury steak, and so on. It now appears that the charade is largely over, as the basic starches that have come to form the nutritional underpinning of such seemingly varied meals has unraveled, revealing calorically identical foodstuffs that merely look different. The chicken pressings and dense roots consumers have come to expect from their meatloaf slices also make up the steamed ‘carrots’ and puddings found under the same clear plastic window.
Moving forward, your frozen purchase will be little more than a single gaping rectangle, with each salty meal component sliding around gracefully under the wrapping on a sheen of thin gravy. The epiphany came several years ago, when ConAgra product developments heads, toughing it out with another late night at the lab, decided to pick up a few DiGiornio Pizzas to snack on while they worked. Enamored with the seamless way the pizza-ish makers combined the entrees and desserts onto a single sheet, the ConAgra crew began tinkering with different plate layouts, before doing away with the boundaries altogether. Since then, pizzas with burgers for crusts and pancakes on a stick with syrup-injected sausages inside have continued to push the limits of what is socially acceptable as food, much to the public’s delight.
The lone holdout continues to be lunchtime foodstuff mega-producer LeanCuisine, an industry giant largely responsible for the push towards unintelligible meals in the first place. Their savory Hot Pocket line revitalized a flailing food sector, leading consumers into the “bread plus anything” heyday we’re currently experiencing. In an effort to remain relevant against Marie Callendar potpies and Claim Jumper boneless wingloafs, Lean Cuisine corporate has begun rolling out PocketSlops, a slurry of indistinguishable flavors pressed inside a round of tangy dough. Priced at $0.89 for a package of four (well below the once-vaunted $1 threshold), this latest market coup is sure to get the attention of the rest of the world’s frozen food producers. Should such trends continue into the new fiscal year, consumers can happily expect the bottom of the frozen foods market to completely fall out. So what’s next? Not even science can predict. ✦