Frozen Getting Freezer


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 put in a freez­er like the ones at Euron­ics 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. How­ev­er, for those who val­ue orga­ni­za­tion, the best bot­tom freez­er refrig­er­a­tor makes all the dif­fer­ence, vis­it some help­ful sites like Archute to pick the per­fect one for you. 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. ♦