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, with a total of $82 billion and year-over-year growth of 13.3%, 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.
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
- Almark Foods—processor of ready-to-eat hard boiled and deviled egg products—was sold to Michael Foods (a subsidiary of Post Holdings).
- The spread of COVID-19 to employees at Smithfield and Tyson meat processing plants led to temporary closures and staff discipline in 2020.
- Our 2021 Refrigerated Foods Processor of the Year—Greenleaf Foods—called out competitors Beyond Meat and Impossible in August via an open letter questioning the health benefits of meticulously recreating meat in a lab rather than focusing on less complicated plant-based ingredients.
- Dean Banks was named CEO of Tyson, replacing Noel White.
- Dennis Organ was named CEO of Smithfield, replacing Kenneth Sullivan.
- Hormel opened Papillion Foods, a production facility located in Papillion, Nebraska, where salami and dry sausage products will be made under the Columbus Craft Meats brand as well as the Hormel brand.
Dairy-free products, like their meatless counterparts in the refrigerated foods category, gained significantly more market share in 2020 than the year prior. Almond milk, for example, sold nearly $1.5 billion, a 14.1% increase over 2019. Oat milk sold $246 million, an uptick of 223%, and non-dairy yogurt sold $316 million, an increase of 21.5%, according to Neilsen/NFRA statistics.
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 6%.
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
- Dairy Farmers of America finalized the acquisition of Dean Foods’ assets following Dean’s bankruptcy. Those at DFA say the assets were incorporated into DFA’s operations the second half of 2020, and will continue in 2021.
- Danone North America expanded its regenerative agriculture program and partnered with Full Harvest to use “ugly produce” in its Two Good Yogurt products.
- Darigold announced it was adding fourth dairy processing plant in the Pacific Northwest.
- Nuestro Queso invested $15 million to expand its cheese plant in Kent, Illinois.
- Irish dairy co-op Ornua invested $10 million to upgrade its Hilbert, Wisconsin, cheese plant.
- Springfield Creamery named Ed Regnier CFO, making him only the second CFO in the company’s history. The co-founder and co-owner of Springfield Creamery, Sue Kesey, has held the position of CFO since the company’s inception in 1960 and will assume the role of CEO.
- The California Artisan Cheese Guild elected Felice Thorpe Charlton as President.
- St. Benoit Creamery won “Yogurt Product of the Year” from Mindful Awards.
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
- ¡Yo Quiero! Brands opened a new 45,000-square-foot food distribution center in Rhome, Texas (near Dallas) and a new facility in Guanajuato, Mexico (near León), to help the brand expand further into the avocado and HPP industries.
- Hiperbaric sold its 300th machine to Calavo Growers for HPP avocado processing.
- Refrigerated salad dressing brand Litehouse acquired plant-based brand Veggiecraft Farms.
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
- Dole named Dr. Lara Ramdin as Chief Innovation Officer.
- Del Monte Fresh Produce promoted Annunciata Cerioli to SVP, North America, and Ana Cristina Fonseca to VP of Product Management.
- Bowery Farming named Colin Nelson as Chief Supply Chain Officer.
- Tim York was named CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), replacing the retiring Scott Horsfall.
- California Giant Berry Farms named Sean Martin as CFO.
- The U.S. Apple Association promoted Jessa Allen to Vice President of Membership and Events, and Tracy Grondine to Vice President of Communications.
- Produce collective FreshEdge incorporated Leonardo’s Produce and McCartney Produce into its family of brands.
- Cold-pressed, HPP beverage brand Caribé Juice acquired WTRMLN WTR, maker of watermelon juice sourced from “ugly fruit”.
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 breakfast meals sold $242 million--a YOY increase of 26.8%--while all other refrigerated entrées sold $190 million, a YOY increase of 24%.
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
- Scott Moffitt was named President & CEO of Hans Kissle prepared foods.
- Café Spice launched three new globally inspired refrigerated meals sold exclusively at Whole Foods. The company also added a home delivery option through Amazon Fresh.
- Prepared foods pioneers Reser’s was featured in the July issue of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, detailing recent expansions to its product lines and manufacturing facilities as the company continues to grow.
|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.