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Report: More restaurants turn to frozen foods post-pandemic

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As restaurants continue to navigate pressing operating challenges, including those related to cost, the supply chain and labor shortages, more are turning to the freezer section for essential items. That's according to a new report, which surveyed 360 foodservice operators across 10 segments.

More than 40% of foodservice operators said they’re purchasing more frozen food than they did in 2019, according to a new report from the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI).

The Power of Frozen in Foodservice report, commissioned by AFFI and conducted by Technomic Inc., surveyed 360 foodservice operators across 10 segments—including quickservice, casual and full-service restaurants—with the goal of understanding operator attitudes and uses of frozen foods. Per the report, the vast majority of restaurants (90%) reported they use frozen foods in their menus.

The most popular frozen items purchased by foodservice operators include frozen vegetables (83% of restaurants), potato products (78%) and fruit (76%). The fastest-growing frozen products that operators purchased were appetizers (75% of restaurants said they purchased more appetizers compared to 2019), seafood (55%) and vegetables (53%).

Notably, the report found restaurant operators are turning to frozen foods to provide solutions to operational challenges caused by ongoing supply chain and labor market disruptions. Compared to 2019, 40% of operators reported they’ve increased the amount of frozen foods they buy, and 50% said they buy as much frozen food as they did in 2019. Health care, convenience store and fast-casual categories reported the greatest increase in frozen food use since 2019.

“Operators face unique and pressing challenges in today’s new foodservice environment and frozen foods are a beneficial resource to address these needs,” Alison Bodor, AFFI president and CEO, said in a press release.

The survey further uncovered the leading pain points of restaurant operators, who reported rising costs, operational efficiencies, supply chain and product availability, and labor as top issues affecting their businesses. Rising costs of food and beverages was reported as the top issue affecting foodservice operators, with 86% saying it is significantly or somewhat impactful, followed by rising labor costs (82%), tightening profits (81%) and difficulty recruiting employees (78%).

“Costs and labor continue to be the largest challenges for foodservice operators, and our research found that frozen foods are recognized as valuable solutions,” Joe Pawlak, managing principal with Technomic, said in the release.

Per operators, the main ways frozen foods are helping address these challenges include managing waste (59% of operators reported a positive effect), maintaining food safety (56%) and tightening profits (55%). Compared to fresh foods, frozen foods may provide year-round availability, labor savings and more value for the money, among other potential benefits.

The report also explored consumer attitudes toward the use of frozen foods in restaurant menus. Consumers are most agreeable to frozen foods in convenience store foodservice (80%), fast food (79%) and supermarket foodservice (70%), though the report found high acceptance in fast-casual and casual dining restaurants, as well. Almost three-quarters of operators (70%) agree completely or somewhat that their customers don’t know if a product was made from a frozen item.

Rachel Adams joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products INSIDER, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. Adams left Informa Markets in 2019.

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