Maybe it’s because -- for 22 years -- I wrote exclusively about refrigerated and frozen foods. Or, maybe it’s simply because northern Indiana experienced a “Polar Vortex.” In any case, January has me thinking about The Frozen Food Roundtable.

This multi-year, multi-million dollar consumer campaign involves retailers, the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) and many of its manufacturer members, including Nestlé Prepared Foods, ConAgra Foods, Heinz and Kellogg.

Says AFFI, “The goal of the campaign is to change the way consumers think and feel about frozen foods; bring them back into the frozen food aisle; and encourage them to take foods made in our kitchens and serve them in theirs.”

Why is this important? Right or wrong, many consumers associate freshness with health. Meanwhile, freezercase sales are flat. IRI sales tracking data* show category sales reached $51.9 billion in 2013, with only slight sales gains in dollars (0.94%) and units (0.15%). Behind the scenes, retailers also study department footprints and sales/profit contributions -- and they consider where to pinch more space for hot sellers.

AFFI launched The Frozen Food Roundtable initiative last year; one key strategy is to debunk the belief that fresh is nutritionally superior to frozen. This year -- in conjunction with March National Frozen Food Month -- AFFI is planning to roll out a national promotional campaign with details from a two-year University of Georgia nutritional study involving fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables.

I’m sure these new campaign efforts will draw national media attention -- just as they did last spring. Last year, in fact, National Public Radio’s feature program, The Salt, interviewed AFFI officials and Kristin Reimers, a registered dietitian and ConAgra’s manager of nutrition. Here’s the rub, however. Although the NPR interviewer seemed willing to accept The Frozen Food Roundtable’s coming research, the story simply shifts and ends with a slap at the sodium, fat and calorie levels in frozen entreés.

AFFI’s 2014 annual AFFI-CON event (this month) carries the tagline, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I’m an unabashed industry supporter and hope the same sentiment applies to the new products of tomorrow. I hope frozen food company leaders encourage and support our heads of R&D, culinary and nutrition toward greater innovation. AFFI’s public promotion will bring more foot traffic and more scrutiny. In the end, I want more consumers to warm up to the freezercase.


*IRI data for total U.S. multi-outlet (supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains); data for rolling 52-week periods ending Dec. 1, 2013.