Nestle, Tyson and meals giants depend on air fryers

A hot air fryer for sale at the Kroger Marketplace in Versailles, Kentucky, USA on Tuesday November 24, 2020.

Scotty Perry | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Kettle Foods, known for its kettle-boiled potato chips, recently introduced what it calls “the future of the potato chip category”: air fried chips.

The Campbell Soup The brand’s snack launch, made with patent-pending technology, is the latest example of Big Food banking on consumer love for anything cooked in air fryers.

According to market research firm The NPD Group, U.S. consumers spent nearly $1 billion on air fryers in 2022, up 51% from 2019. Sales of the cooking device have skyrocketed since 2017, gaining an additional one in the early days of the pandemic Boost as people cooked more at home.

And now, with more workers returning to the office and spending less time in the kitchen, consumers are increasingly turning to portable convection ovens. Joe Derochowski, cottage industry consultant at the NPD Group, said the main benefit is the ease and speed with which the device can be used, as well as the ability to achieve a crispy texture without frying. And food manufacturers want to benefit from this trend.

“They say, necessity is the mother of invention. And in this case, the need is to keep growing sales,” said Ken Harris, managing partner of Cadent Consulting Group. “The best way to increase sales is to take behavior you already have and find a new use for that behavior.”

Big food companies like Kraft Heinz And nestle saw a surge in sales early in the pandemic. As consumers return to eating out and cooking less, food manufacturers’ sales continued to grow thanks to double-digit price increases. But as shoppers’ grocery bills soared in 2022, they began buying cheaper options instead, resulting in shrinking volume.

As inflation cools and retailers put pressure on suppliers to stop raising prices, food companies will have to look elsewhere for growth.

Adam Graves, president of Nestlé’s pizza and snacking business in the US, said the company is borrowing from the air fryer boom with its frozen food brands, specifically to offer customers added value.

“It’s the biggest trend we’re seeing in the modern kitchen right now,” said Graves, who owns two air fryers himself.

Last year, Nestlé launched pizza bites under its DiGiorno and Stouffer’s brands. The packaging of both lines tells consumers, “Try it in your air fryer.” Other Nestle products, like Hot Pockets, now include air fryer cooking instructions, as well as instructions for heating in the microwave and oven.

Tyson Foods jumped on the trend relatively early, launching its air fried line in 2019. The products, which range from chicken strips to the latest Parmesan seasoned chicken bites, contain 75% less fat. Tyson brand senior marketing director Colleen Hall said the line has achieved annual retail sales of about $100 million.

Tyson has also gone a third of the way by adding air fryer instructions to its packaging for its frozen ready meals.

“If you look at how often it’s used as a preparation method, it’s about 5%,” Hall said. “I think consumers want to use it more, they want more ways to use it. So it’s a good time for us to put it on our packaging.”

According to Hall, citing recent data on brand health, hot air fryer directions boost Tyson’s brand preference. She attributed this to the convenience of the device and the perceived health benefits of the cooking process.

For fish finger maker Gorton’s Seafood, increasing its use of air frying is a means of retaining the customers it’s won during the pandemic lockdowns.

“[The pandemic] was a pretty dramatic change that brought a lot of new households into our category and into the brand,” Jake Holbrook, Gorton’s vice president of marketing, told CNBC. “And we’ve worked hard through our messaging and our products to keep these customers in the category and making Americans eat more seafood.”

The train fills up

Air frying is the second most popular way to heat frozen ready meals, according to Holbrook.

The Nissui-owned company jumped on the trend by posting air fryer cooking guides on its website. Then it added the instructions on the packaging. Air fried butterfly prawns and air fried fish fillets were introduced in January.

Gorton’s introduced air fried fish fillets and air fried butterfly shrimp nationally in January.

Source: Gorton’s Seafood

Gorton’s new butterfly shrimp and fish fillets were air-fried before packaging, but consumers can reheat the seafood by re-air-frying. The product packaging advertises 50% less fat.

“Everyone’s going to jump on this bandwagon over the next two years as long as it’s trending,” Harris said.

Other food manufacturers following the trend include Kellogg, which began adding air fryers to its plant-based products from Morningstar Farms in early 2021 in response to customer requests. Also, Hormel food has responded to consumer demand for air fryers by updating its packaging and adding recipes to its website and cooking videos on YouTube to create Spam Fries and Mary Kitchen Corned Beef Hash.

Nestlé has gone further and is aimed at consumers who have not yet bought an air fryer. In December, it teamed up with Insta Brands, makers of the Insta Pot and its own version of the air fryer, to give the device away. It ran a similar giveaway internally at Nestle US for its employees.

Graves estimates that about 60% of US households currently own an air fryer. But it’s not ubiquitous yet.

“If you compare it to a microwave — there’s a microwave in pretty much every home — the air fryer has a long way to go,” Harris said.

Still, it’s on track to join the microwave as a staple in US kitchens. In 2022, the air fryer overtook grills and multi-cookers to become the #4 cooking appliance, according to the NPD Group.

“I think people originally thought [the air fryer] was something that could be a fad,” said Tyson’s Hall. “It’s similar to the 1970s — people thought the same thing about the microwave.”

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