CHICAGO — After being introduced or reintroduced to the kitchen during the pandemic, more than half of consumers say they’ll continue creating more meals from home in the future, according to data from IRI.

New products introduced during the pandemic, like Tyson Foods Inc.’s Instant Pot Kits and Giant Co.’s refrigerated pizza dough, largely focused on in-home convenience. The trend is expected to continue even as vaccination rates increase and more consumers slowly return to pre-pandemic activities.

IRI predicted the post-COVID innovation landscape will see more products designed for small kitchen appliances and more meal kits with varying degrees of prepared food.

“There are big opportunities in meal solutions,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership at IRI. “Even though you may consider yourself a cook, a lot of times you’re just looking for something that offers an extra layer of convenience, even if it’s just for part of that meal component.”

Consumers have flocked to the frozen aisle over the past 18 months seeking vegetables, side dishes, entrees and more. IRI pointed to Nestle SA’s Life Cuisine low-carb frozen meals as an example. Launched in April 2020, the better-for-you and easy-to-prepare entrees ended the year with an estimated $50 million to $100 million in sales.

Convenience will be a key driver for frozen innovation in 2022 and beyond, according to IRI. Ms. Driggs cited zucchini spirals, cauliflower-based baked foods and frozen international cuisine as examples.

“The frozen department really got a lot of new buyers during the pandemic,” she said. “People are realizing it can be high-quality, especially young people who don’t have any of the negative feelings toward frozen that maybe their grandparents or parents do. I still see opportunities to make eating at home or even preparing food to take to work or school easier.”

Frozen treats, LTOs deliver indulgence

Frozen treats represent another growing pocket of demand. Recent innovations include Nestle’s Häagen-Dazs Heaven ice cream, which features one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream, and Unilever PLC’s Talenti Gelato Layers line, which features unique flavor combinations and a dairy-free variety.

Emerging brands such as Rebel Creamery and The Mochi Ice Cream Co. also are meeting demand for indulgent frozen treats. Their keto-friendly ice cream and bite-size frozen treats saw $97 million and $44 million in first-year sales in 2020, respectively.

IRI expects demand for permissible indulgence, especially in support of dietary restrictions or lifestyle diets, will continue accelerating in the months ahead. Lifestyle diets were among the fastest-growing product attributes in 2020, with dollar sales of ketogenic and Whole 30 products up 17% and sales of low glycemic, low-carb and paleo products up 16%. Other key attributes included artisanal, handmade and craft, which grew between 14% and 17%.

“People are really looking toward indulgent products, premium products and super premium products to elevate their experience,” Ms. Driggs said, pointing to Rebel Creamery’s breakout success. “It’s a keto-friendly frozen treat, but it’s got the indulgence, so it fills a gap in the marketplace.”

Opportunities also exist for brands to tap into demand for indulgent products with limited-time offerings that drive variety. IRI pointed to General Mills, Inc.’s steady stream of Pillsbury LTOs, which includes Pokémon- and football-themed cookie dough lines. Other recent examples include Unilever’s limited-edition pink and green Oreo cookies promoting Lady Gaga’s latest album, Paw Patrol-themed macaroni and cheese from the Kraft Heinz Co. and Crystal Pepsi from PepsiCo, Inc.

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