With "fresh" and "healthy" emerging as food industry buzz words, it's easy to wonder if frozen foods—which almost inherently fail conjure connotations associated with either fresh or healthy products—still appeal to the majority of American consumers. According to Frozen Foods in the U.S.: Hot Meals, Sides, and Snacks, a recent report by market research publisher Packaged Facts (packagedfacts.com), consumers are slowly warming up again to frozen foods due to both the well-known convenience of the products and the recent introduction of more natural and organic frozen offerings that are lending the segment a much needed health halo. Consumer concerns about preservatives and other ingredients are alleviated by the notion that if the products are natural or organic, they must be fresher or, at least, healthier.

"Frozen foods of all kinds have been challenged in recent years as a result of the convergence of several trends, especially, but not exclusively, a growing demand for fresh products or, at least, fresher products in refrigerated rather than frozen form. Nevertheless, frozen food products still have much to offer," says Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle. "For instance, frozen products identified as natural or organic are having a more positive experience than frozen foods in general. These organic and natural frozen foods appeal to the consumer who is both cost conscious and health conscious."

Looking ahead, the future of the frozen foods segment is encouraging after several years of challenges and slowly declining sales. Packaged Facts estimates that sales of the collective frozen food categories dinners/entrées, pizzas, side dishes, and appetizers/snacks will edge up from $22 billion in 2014 to $23 billion in 2019.

In addition to the continued emergence of natural/organic frozen foods, increased sales of in frozen dinner/entrées, pizzas, side dishes, and snacks in the upcoming five-year period will be based on the ability of major marketers to adjust to the changing consumer environment that calls for more variety (in terms of flavors and serving styles), healthier foods, and better pricing. Also a factor will be increased growth among smaller brands like Annie's (now under General Mills), which should gain more customers for their natural and organic frozen dinners and entrées.