The headline for last year’s Top 25 Refrigerated Foods Processors Report read, “Refrigerated Foods to Reign Supreme in 2020”. In no other year than 2020 could a headline that bold be an understatement. The pandemic skyrocketed refrigerated food sales to more than $973 billion and year-over-year growth of about 11%, according to statistics by Nielsen and the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA). That momentum is still high as we start 2021, and while sales aren’t expected to be as off-the-charts as 2020, they will still be exceptional as that peak gradually drifts closer to the norm.

Overall drivers of growth can be traced back to pandemic shopping, and more product variety of refrigerated foods created by the increased use of high-pressure processing (HPP) for items like fresh salsas, dips, spreads, juices and more. Also, with foodservice essentially out of commission for most of 2020, cold foods processors focused more on product innovation and speed to market for new items, while making room on store shelves by eliminating underperforming SKUs.

Another boost to the bottom line for cold foods processors was the breakthrough of meatless, plant-based and dairy-free options, as those categories graduated in 2020 from specialty items steadily growing in popularity, to true sales competition for the real thing on store shelves. As a result, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods has added an Alternative Proteins section to our magazine in 2021.

Below is Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ Top 25 Refrigerated Foods Processors Report, a list of the Top 5 companies in each category: Meat & Poultry; Dairy; Dips & Spreads; Fruits & Vegetables; and Entrées, Sides & Prepared Foods. This report represents Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ best efforts to reflect recent sales data based on annual reports, news releases, statistics from our sister publications Dairy Foods and National Provisioner, and other business media sources. Because most companies do not separate refrigerated sales from frozen (or even cold foods from shelf-stable) sales figures are all company-wide. If you work for a company on this list and know the approximate sales data of the refrigerated products your business produces, please contact me and I will update this page.

Finally, remember in-person events? One of the final gatherings for the refrigerated foods community was last February, when the Refrigerated Foods Association held their 40th annual conference in Orlando. Here’s a look back at the event, with hope that we all return to in-person conferences at some point in 2021.  

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Meat & Poultry

As noted above, plant-based meat substitutes broke through in 2020, and shoppers in the refrigerated meat aisle may notice the growing presence of meatless alternatives alongside their authentic counterparts. This is a battle for shelf space worth watching in 2021 as the meat industry aims to separate itself from alternative proteins, and the potential confusion it may cause the casual shopper.

Among the many refrigerated items impacted by pandemic purchases, one that stands out is whole chicken eggs—a household staple in a year when many people were truly housebound—which sold $6.3 billion, an increase of 17.9% through November, according to Nielsen/NFRA statistics.

Significant Events in 2020

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Dairy

Dairy-free products, like their meatless counterparts in the refrigerated foods category, gained significantly more market share in 2020 than the year prior. Oat milk, for example, sold $229 million, an increase of 246%, according to Neilsen/NFRA statistics. Non-dairy yogurt sold $311 million, an increase of 21.9%.

As for actual dairy, retail sales of cow’s milk were nearly $12.5 billion, an increase of 6.7%; cheese sold a total of $12.3 billion, with cheddar making up $4.1billion of that, followed by mozzarella at $2.5 billion; and cream cheese sales were $2 billion, up 19.9%. Meanwhile, shredded cheese totaled $1.8 billion, the most popular format and packaging of cheese in 2020, and Greek yogurt products sold $3.5 billion, up 5.2%.

dairy section

One category expanding and innovating in flavors, packaging, and co-branding, was coffee creamer, with brands like Nestle, Danone North America’s International Delight, and a host of startup or legacy brands releasing dairy-free, plant-based alternatives using oat milk, hemp milk, almond milk, and soy milk. All total, the coffee creamer category sold $3.3 billion in 2020, an increase of 16.4%.

Sales of dairy-based drinks were $4.6 million, down -1.8%, which can likely be attributed to reduced demand for single-serve beverages overall in 2020, due to many people living and working from home, traveling less, and consequently, no need for an on-the-go beverage. While not dairy, it’s interesting to note that 2020 sales of refrigerated energy drinks dropped -40.9%, likely for the same reason. 

Significant Events in 2020

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Dips & Spreads

As mentioned earlier, 2020 was the year high-pressure processing (HPP) continued to grow as startup and legacy brands created new product lines and varieties of salsas, guacamoles, and a wide-range of innovative traditional, plant-based, dairy-free, and keto dips and spreads.

Significant Events in 2020

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Fruits & Vegetables

Refrigerated produce saw some brand consolidation and an increased emphasis on environmental practices, energy efficiency, automation and new technology in 2020. In fact, two brands in the fruits and vegetables category landed on Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ Cold Foods Processors to Watch in 2021 list due to their forward-thinking innovations in the market.

Significant Events in 2020

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Entrées, Sides & Prepared Foods

With many people sheltering in place early last year, then working from home throughout 2020, an initial enthusiasm for cooking at home quickly gave way to kitchen fatigue, which led to more interest in convenient, prepared refrigerated (and frozen) meals. According to Nielsen/NFRA statistics, refrigerated entrées sold $183 billion last year, a YOY increase of 22.5%.

Refrigerated cookie dough—just like its better-selling frozen counterpart, had astronomical sales during the early days of the pandemic as comfort food was (and still is) in high demand. By the end of 2020, refrigerated cookie dough had sold $642 million, an increase of 23.8%, with chocolate chip cookie dough comprising $427 million of that total.

In other prepared foods categories, handheld refrigerated entrees like burritos, corn dogs, empanadas, quesadillas, tacos, tamales, and more, sold $244 million, up 10.1%. Refrigerated lunch combos sold $1.4 billion, down -0.7, likely due to kids being home from school during the pandemic, and not needing to pack a portable lunch. Refrigerated pasta sold $497 million, an increase of 23.7%, and potato side dishes sold $713 million, up 25%.

Significant Events in 2020

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Reports

Rank Company Name HQs Top Executive 2019-2020 Sales FY End Refrigerated Dairy Products Total Plants*
1 Nestlé, Zone Americas Arlington, VA (U.S.A.); North York, Ontario (Canada); Mexico City (Mexico) Laurent Freixe, CEO, Zone Americas $37.2B** 12/31/20 Milk-based beverages and milk products, coffee creamers 79 (U.S.); 17 (Mexico); 18 (Canada)
2 Kraft Heinz Co. Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA Miguel Patricio, CEO $24.9B** 12/31/20 Cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese 80
3 General Mills Minneapolis, MN Jeff Harmening $17.6B 5/31/20 Yogurt 24
4 Saputo Inc. Montreal, Québec, Canada Lino Saputo, Jr., Chairman & CEO $11.7B 3/31/20 Cheese, milk, cream, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese 47
5 Conagra Brands Chicago, IL Sean Connolly, President & CEO $11B 5/31/20 Whipped cream/topping, butter 50

*Not all plants produce refrigerated dairy products. **2019 FY. 2020 FY not available at press time.

Rank Company Name HQs Top Executive 2019-2020 Sales FY End Refrigerated Dips & Spreads Products Total Plants*
1 Hormel Foods Austin, MN Jim Snee, Chairman, President & CEO $9.6B 10/25/20 Dips, spreads 35
2 Reser's Fine Foods Beaverton, OR Mark Reser, President & CEO $1.63B** N/A Dips, spreads 14
3 T. Marzetti Co.(1) Westerville, OH Dave Ciesinski, President & CEO $1.3B 6/30/2020 Salad dressing, dips 14
4 Sabra Dipping Co. White Plains, NY Tomer Harpaz, CEO $252M** 12/26/2020 Dips, spreads 1
5 Sandridge Food Corporation Medinah, OH Mark Sandridge, CEO $223.6M 11/30/2020 Dips, spreads 2

*Not all plants produce refrigerated dips and spreads. **2019 FY. 2020 FY not available at press time. (1)Unit of Lancaster Colony Corp. (2)Unit of PepsiCo/Strauss Group

Rank Company Name HQs Top Executive 2019-2020 Sales FY End Refrigerated Fruits & Veg Products Total Plants
1 Dole Food Co. Westlake Village, CA Johan Linden, President & CEO $4.5B** 12/31/2020 Fresh-cut produce, packaged salads 5
2 Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. Coral Gables, FL Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, Chairman & CEO $4.48B** 12/28/2020 Fresh-cut produce, packaged salads 24
3 Chiquita Brands LLC(1) Fort Lauderdale, FL Carlos Lopez Flores, President $3.6B** 12/31/2020 Fresh-cut produce, fruit snacks 5
4 Bonduelle Fresh Americas(2) Irwindale, CA Mary Thompson, CEO $3.5B 6/30/2020 Fruits, vegetables, packaged salads 4
5 Taylor Farms Salinas, CA Bruce Taylor, CEO $3B** 12/31/2020 Fresh-cut produce, packaged salads 16

*Not all plants produce refrigerated fruits and vegetables. **2019 FY. 2020 FY not available at press time. (1)Unit of Cutrale-Safra Group. (2)Unit of Bonduelle.

Rank Company Name HQs Top Executive 2019-2020 Sales FY End Refrigerated Meat & Poultry Products Total Plants
1 Tyson Foods Inc. Springdale, AR Dean Banks, President & CEO $43.1B 10/3/2020 Poultry, beef, pork, processed meats 110
2 JBS USA(1) Greeley, CO Andre Nogueria, CEO $34.9B 12/31/2020** Beef, pork, processed meats 50
3 Cargill Protein North America(2) Wichita, KS Jon Nash, President $20B 5/31/20** Pork, poultry, processed meats 36
4 Smithfield Foods, Inc.(3) Smithfield, VA Dennis Organ, President & CEO $16B 12/29/20** Pork, processed meats 42
5 Hormel Foods Corp. Austin, MN Jim Snee, Chairman, President & CEO $9.6B 10/25/2020 Beef, pork, poultry, processed meats 35

(1)Unit of JBS S.A. (2)Unit of Cargill, Inc. (3)Unit of WH Group Ltd.. *Not all plants produce refrigerated meats. **2019 FY. 2020 FY not available at press time.

Rank Company Name HQs Top Executive 2019-2020 Sales FY End Refrigerated Prepared Foods Products Total Plants
1 Kraft Heinz Co. Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA Miguel Patricio, CEO $24.9B** 12/31/20 Lunch combinations 80
2 General Mills Minneapolis, MN Jeff Harmening $17.6B 5/31/20 Breakfast items 24
3 Conagra Brands Inc. Chicago, IL Sean Connolly, President & CEO $11B 5/31/20 Side dishes 50
4 Hormel Foods Corp. Austin, MN Jim Snee, Chairman, President & CEO $9.6B 10/25/20 Side dishes, sandwiches 35
5 Reser's Fine Foods Inc. Beaverton, OR Mark Reser, President & CEO $1.63B** N/A Deli salads, side dishes, dips/spreads 14

*Not all plants produce refrigerated prepared foods. **2019 FY. 2020 FY not available at press time.

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