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    Side Kicks

    Variety and innovation drive interest in frozen side dishes.

    By Lynn Petrak

    The concurrent trends toward better-for-you, organic/natural and flavorful frozen foods, combined with greater education on the freezing process and resulting quality of product, are evident in the side dish segment of the overall frozen food category.

    Side dishes have long appealed to shoppers who are either making a main dish from scratch and are looking for a quick, easy accompaniment, or who are using the oven or microwave to heat an entire meal. The segment remains popular today: According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, sales of frozen side dishes were more than $334 million in the past year, a 7.78 percent increase from the previous year.

    Within the category, IRI’s data show that the Stouffer’s brand, from Solon, Ohio-based Nestlé USA, has had a pretty good run of late, with sales of its Simple Dishes (such as white cheddar mac and cheese, and creamed spinach) rising more than 8 percent. Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods’ P.F. Chang’s line of frozen side dishes, co-branded with the restaurant chain of the same name, also had a breakout year in terms of sales, according to IRI.

    As the success of the P.F. Chang’s line shows, greater variety attracts shoppers browsing the freezer case for side dishes. Just look at the humble potato: Basic frozen french fries, hash browns and mashed potatoes remain freezer case staples, but sweet potatoes in various frozen forms — from sweet potato fries to sweet potato puffs to mashed sweet potatoes — continue to edge into the space.

    The same is true for other frozen side-dish stalwarts. Complementing its traditional pierogis, Mrs. T’s, from Shenandoah, Pa.-based Ateeco Inc., recently introduced a new Loaded Baked Potato pierogi. Aiming to reach ever-busy shoppers, some manufacturers are adding rice side dishes, from the Steamfresh line of rice blends from Birds Eye, a brand of Parsippany, N.J.-based Pinnacle Foods, to a sticky white from Tukwila, Wash.-based Innov-Asian Cuisine, to give just two examples.

    Steamin’ Sales

    Improved packaging and cooking technology also spurs greater interest in, and sales of, steamable side dishes sold in the frozen section. According to IRI, sales of Steam N Mash potatoes from Ore-Ida, a brand of the Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co., rose nearly 4 percent in the past 52 weeks ending in late December.

    Steam-in-bag vegetables have been another noteworthy development in recent years. Bells, Tenn.-based Pictsweet, for example, has a Steam’Ables line featuring such frozen items as asparagus spears, broccoli florets, Brussels sprouts, corn and green beans, along with vegetable blends like broccoli florets with edamame, carrots and celery, and harvest vegetables with roasted red potatoes and herb-garlic seasoning. The venerable Green Giant, a brand of Minneapolis-based General Mills, has added new takes on old favorites to its Steamers line, like an Antioxidant Blend and a medley of Classic Brown Rice with Vegetables and Butter Sauce. And Birds Eye has a growing array of Steamfresh frozen vegetables; IRI’s latest research shows that sales of Birds Eye Steamfresh side dishes have reached the $50 million mark in the past year, a nearly 6 percent climb from the prior time frame.

    In keeping with the rising clamor for organic and/or better-for-you frozen foods, many brands have introduced or found success with those types of frozen side dishes. Ore-Ida, for example, has done well with its Simply Delicious line of all-natural, skin-on fries and wedges made with olive oil and sea salt. Emerging organic brands, like Woodstock and General Mills’ Cascadian Farm, offer both frozen fruits and vegetables, as do some store brands, like the organic offerings from Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market’s 365 line.

    Side dishes have long appealed to shoppers who are either making a main dish from scratch and are looking for a quick, easy accompaniment, or who are using the oven or microwave to heat an entire meal.

    By Lynn Petrak
    • About Lynn Petrak

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