Driven in part by a growing expectation of quality born out of premium frozen foods in the natural channel, the category is undergoing a revival, though affordability will always be a key part of the freezer aisle, Licata told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I do think that it’s important that whatever being sold in frozen there’s a need for products at different price points for sure. But there’s a trend towards more and more better-for-you options that represents the greatest opportunity for the frozen category to succeed,” Licata said. “I’m optimistic that the frozen department is capable of a bright future. Premium brands and the ones more focused on the better-for-you set are winning, and legacy brands are starting to experience some pressure as a result.”
The Concord, NH-based fourth-generation frozen prepared meals manufacturer produces dual lines of natural and 70 to 100% certified organic meals. Many of its formulas are based on family recipes for comfort food dishes such as chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie and macaroni and cheese, which date back to the family’s farming roots in the 1920s.
All natural an ‘upgrade’ from conventional
Blake’s foundation was built on its natural meals line, and it remains its best seller based on sheer volume—as it’s sold in both conventional and natural channels. But as it got its start in the natural foods channel and aims to maintain a strong presence there, organic has become a key part of its strategy.
“The natural channel is a very important part of our business,” Licata said. “That sort of created a halo for our brand and company. We have products we sell specifically into natural foods stores and co-ops, but we also offer the natural meals for conventional channels, including grocery, mass, and at some point club stores.
“Our channel management strategy is to offer the highest quality organic meals for consumers who are willing to pay the premium and understand the benefits of organics. But we also offer meals that are of the highest quality and all natural at a more accessible price point.”
While Licata recognizes the confusion surrounding the concept of “natural”, Blake’s uses the term to denote meals free of antibiotics, artificial ingredients and animal byproducts—in other words, key attributes for consumers committing to eating better, whether that’s through the protein they consume or other ingredients, he said.
“It allows us to give consumers an option for high-quality food that may be an upgrade from conventional products they’re buying now that are produced without care that a smaller company can put into it.”
Accessibility not just about the price point
Blake’s natural line comes at a premium of typically around 10% compared to conventional food brands—an increase that Licata says still makes for a fairly easy trade-up, given the accessibility of the dishes.