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Operators are sourcing more frozen foods to meet labor, supply and waste challenges

With fresh proteins and produce sometimes tough to get and kitchen help even tougher, value-added frozen products can help ease the crunch.
frozen food
Value-added, high-quality frozen ingredients can help ease labor, supply and waste reduction challenges. / Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants continue to face the triple challenge of labor and supply shortages and food waste surpluses. Not to mention high food costs.

One solution may lie in the freezer.

With fresh proteins and produce sometimes tough to get and kitchen help even tougher, a new survey found that 40% of foodservice operators are now sourcing more frozen foods than they did in 2019. Healthcare, convenience stores and fast-casual concepts reported the greatest increase.

The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) partnered with Restaurant Business sister company, Technomic to conduct the survey of 350 foodservice operators across 10 segments. The findings, released last month, point to a greater acceptance of frozen foods among the respondents:

Frozen foods are optimally positioned in today’s disrupted foodservice environment,” said Joe Pawlak, managing principal of Technomic. “First of all, today’s supply chain and product availability issues are well-documented. Frozen foods provide operators with the flexibility to purchase products by need, store them for lengths of time and use them when other formats may be out-of-stock or unavailable.  Secondly, many of today’s frozen foods are already value-added, meaning that some degree of processing has occurred, allowing for operators to save on labor. 

“And lastly, and maybe more importantly, most operators believe that they can make enticing, high-quality menu items using frozen ingredients and components,” he said.

According to a spokesperson for US Foods, the fourth largest broadline distributor in Technomic’s company ranking, “product development advancements across the food industry have enabled us to create frozen products that are prepped back of house without sacrificing the quality and taste. They can also be customized by operators to put their own spin on the item but with added convenience. The idea that a frozen item is inferior to a fresh item is outdated thinking for most of our operators.” 

US Foods has seen an uptick in demand for labor-saving frozen products. “This is driven by an operator’s desire to reduce back-of-house labor (prep time, culinary expertise required and number of back-of-house staff), as well as food waste reduction and product volatility protection,” said the company

With the popularity of chicken sandwiches continuing and the chicken supply erratic, a recent top seller is the broadliner’s new breaded chicken breast fillet, where dill pickle flavor is infused in both the marinade and breading. The product is fully cooked and comes frozen, so it only needs a simple fry back-of-house to deliver a signature sandwich or, it can be sliced up for salads, bowls or wraps.

“An operator can add their own special sauce to the sandwich and a signature bun to align with their brand’s identity,” said the spokesperson. “We’ve seen a robust demand for this product primarily due to the back-of-house prep ease and the spectacular flavor and texture of the product when it comes out of the fryer.”

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