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4 0 Store Brands / December 2015 / www.storebrands.info ew things are more comforting and pleasant than sitting down to the table with loved ones and sharing a hot, delicious home-cooked meal. For most time-pressed consumers, however, such a meal is easier imagined than accomplished. Frozen skillet meals are one solution. But although they are quick and easy to prepare, they are also generally pricey. And as with other processed foods, frozen skillet meals are coming under increasing scrutiny from consumers who are concerned about their weight and health. Avoiding preservatives, sodium, trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup has become more important to many consumers in recent years. Americans' perception of frozen processed food continues to change in this direction, London- based Euromonitor International articulates in its December 2014 report, "Frozen Processed Food in the U.S." Products that are perceived to be fresh and healthy are the ones leading category growth in frozen processed foods. The good news, according to the report, is that new technologies such as those used to freeze fish straight out of the water are changing consumer perceptions. "The American public is starting to associate words like 'natural,' 'fresh' and 'healthy' with frozen processed foods. This was unimaginable 10 years ago, and these new developments will allow the frozen food industry to fully capitalize on the well-documented trend towards healthy living in the U.S.," the report states. The Euromonitor report also notes that growth in the frozen food segment "will likely be motivated by innovation in packaging and technological production, shifting the frozen landscape toward higher-quality products with a sleek design and which utilize high technology freezing techniques to optimize freshness." Trends with traction Millennials, in particular, want to know what is in the food they are eating, says Jeff Gehres, senior director of sales and product development for Request Foods Inc., a Holland, Mich.-based co-packer of frozen prepared entrées, side dishes and specialty items. What's vital in developing retail frozen skillet meals now, he says, is a focus on clean labels, eliminating partially hydrogenated oil, bringing down sodium levels and using natural ingredients. "That's what's important to our customers." Gehres says Request Foods' research and development department is currently designing new products and tweaking current products in a better-for-you direction. Trends on the horizon When it comes to flavor trends, Gehres sees continued growth in the Asian and Mexican categories, translating into frozen skillet meals' growth and expansion. He also expects products featuring Indian, Korean and Thai cuisine to gain in popularity. Single-serve frozen skillet meals are another coming trend, Gehres says. "The opportunity for retailers to expand into single- serve skillet meals will give consumers more options in the future to try new ethnic cuisines," he says. Euromonitor agrees, saying it expects smaller serving sizes in sleeker-looking packages to come to market. These products will feature lower sodium, fat and calorie values than in the past, and should command higher prices, the report adds. — D. Cvetan Healthy outlook convenient and great-tasting frozen skillet meals are no longer enough; consumers are looking for clean labels, too. frozen skilleT Meals Products that are perceived to be fresh and healthy are the ones leading category growth in frozen processed foods.