Fresh or frozen food— which one should you pick? If you want to purchase the former, fresh fruits and vegetables, for instance, are replaced often due to panic buying, so there’s no guarantee that you will find fresh foods in your grocery store, explained The Conversation, a news and analysis website.
Nutritionist at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis Jennifer Presson noted that it is best for consumers to stock up on frozen products and canned goods as they have a longer shelf life than their fresh counterparts.
Consumer Engagement Surrounding Frozen Food Products
When asked if the respondents ate more meals that are prepared at home since the onset of the pandemic in the US in early March, 93% of consumers who bought frozen food said “yes,” reported the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), a member-driven national trade association that advances the interests of the frozen food and beverage industry. 73% of consumers also said that they have been taking more time to prepare meals than usual. 86% said they have purchased any frozen food items like frozen pizza, vegetables, or entrees since the pandemic started.
46% have bought groceries online during the pandemic and 39% have purchased frozen foods online during the pandemic. A large proportion of consumers (85%) bought online groceries including frozen foods since the onset of the pandemic. Income level wise, 36% of lower income households (<$45,000/HH/year) said they have purchased groceries online during the pandemic compared to 42% of middle income households ($45,000-$75,000) and 58% of higher income ($75,000-$125,000) households.
30% of lower income households (versus 36% and 52%) said they bought frozen foods online during the pandemic, and 83% (versus 86% and 90%) said they bought groceries online, including frozen foods. For high income households earning more than $125,000, 60% said they bought groceries online, 50% said they have purchased frozen foods online, and 83% said they bought online groceries, including frozen foods.
70% of consumers said they have bought more frozen foods post-pandemic than pre-COVID-19. 68% bought different frozen items and 72% purchased different frozen brands post-pandemic prior to the outbreak due to unavailability.
When asked what made the consumers purchase more or different frozen food items versus pre-COVID-19, 60% of those who bought more frozen foods said that frozen food lasts longer (versus 58% of those who were a frequent frozen food buyer and 65% of those who were not a frequent frozen food buyer). 58% said they wanted to stock up in case of food shortages (versus 57% and 64%), and 51% believed that having frozen foods help minimize trips to the grocery store (versus 57% and 64%).
46% believed that frozen foods are convenient (versus 48% and 37%) and 36% said that it saves time (versus 37% and 30%). 33% thought that frozen foods are safer than fresh food right now (versus 36% and 26%). When asked to think about how they might be shopping for frozen foods in the next few months compared with their habits pre-pandemic, 50% said they expect to purchase more frozen foods, with 18% saying “a lot more” and 32% saying “somewhat more.” 38% said it would be “about the same,” 8% said “somewhat less,” and 4% answered “a lot less.”
Further, 45% of one-person households said they expect to purchase more frozen foods compared to two people households (47%). The figure rose to 52% for three to four people households and 57% for five or more people households. Likewise, 57% of households with children living at home stated they expect to purchase more frozen foods compared to 44% of households with no kids living at home.
Should Buyers Go for Fresh or Frozen Fruits and Vegetables?
Dieticians told CAN (Channel News Asia), a English-language news channel in Singapore, that frozen food can be a good, healthy alternative to fresh foods. Claudine Loong, a lecturer with Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Chemical and Life Sciences, commented, “If handled well, frozen foods can be a convenient and affordable way to incorporate healthy food from every food group, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy.”
Loong said that most frozen fruits and vegetables are freshly picked and often frozen within hours to retain their nutrients and flavors. According to her, frozen fruits and vegetables undergo minimal changes to their nutrient content like carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Loong said, “Sometimes, frozen fruits and vegetables may even contain more vitamins and minerals than fresh food because of this.”
Consumers Should Not Forget to Balance Their Diet
Carolyn Stephen, a nutritionist with Singapore Polytechnic’s Food and Innovation Resource Center, emphasized that consumers should follow the same principles when buying fresh foods to ensure a balanced diet if they purchase more frozen.
Eating the same frozen foods all the time is not good for your health as you will need a variety of vitamins and minerals from different foods. You have to consume frozen foods in moderation to avoid nutrient imbalance. Stephen recommended planning what meals you will prepare in advance and ensure that all food products, frozen are not, are consumed before the expiry date. “It's important for adults to actually plan the meals out and then take stock of what they have actually bought so that they know that they're actually cooking it every day,” she said.
Loong warned that not all frozen products are made equally. There are some frozen products like pizza and chicken nuggets that contain a lot of calories, sodium, added sugar, and saturated fats. Hence, these types of products should not be consumed in excess.
Avoid Refreezing Thawed Food
Stephen and Loong said that thawed food should not be refrozen. When food is thawed, dormant bacteria can be active, commented Stephen. You can defrost frozen food in the refrigerator, which is safer as it ensures that juices from the meat do not drip to other foods you have. Once the food is defrosted, cook it right away and don’t refreeze it.
It’s not bad to consume frozen food so long as you eat them in moderation. Fresh fruits and vegetables might be hard to come by so it’s normal to settle for their frozen alternatives. Balance your diet and be careful of unhealthy frozen foods like chicken nuggets.