- Nestle, Kellogg, Tyson Foods and Gorton’s Seafood are among the food companies leaning into the air fryer boom to appeal to consumers.
- With inflation cooling and retailers putting pressure on suppliers to stop raising prices, food companies have had to look elsewhere for growth.
- According to Nestle’s Adam Graves, nearly 60% of American households own an air fryer.
An Airfryer for sale at Kroger Marketplace in Versailles, Kentucky, USA, on Tuesday, November 24, 2020.
Scottie Perry | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Known for its kettle-cooked potato chips, Kettle Foods recently unveiled what it called “the future of the potato chip category”: air-fried potato chips.
The launch of Campbell Soup branded snacks, made with patent-pending technology, is the latest example of Big Food betting on consumers’ love of everything cooked in air fryers.
According to market research firm The NPD Group, U.S. consumers will spend nearly $1 billion buying air fryers by 2022, a 51% increase from 2019. Sales of the cooker have skyrocketed since 2017, gaining traction during the early days of the pandemic an extra boost because people cooked more at home.
And with more employees returning to the office and spending less time in the kitchen, consumers are increasingly turning to portable convection ovens. Joe Derochowski, home industry consultant at the NPD Group, said the main benefit is the ease and speed of using the device, plus achieving a crunchy texture without frying. And food manufacturers want to capitalize on the trend.
“They say necessity is the mother of invention. And in this case, necessity is to grow sales,” said Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group. “The best way to grow sales is to take behaviors that already exist and find a new use for that behavior.”
Major food companies such as Kraft Heinz and Nestle saw sales soar early in the pandemic. As consumers returned to eating out and cooking less, food manufacturers’ sales continued to grow thanks to double-digit price increases. But as shoppers’ grocery bills rose in 2022, they began buying cheaper options instead, leading to shrinking volume.
With inflation cooling and retailers putting pressure on suppliers to stop raising prices, food companies have had to look elsewhere for growth.
Adam Graves, president of Nestle US’s pizza and snack division, said the company is capitalizing on the rise of the air fryer with its frozen brands, specifically to provide more value to customers.
“It’s the biggest trend we’re seeing in the modern kitchen right now,” says Graves, who owns two air fryers herself.
Last year, Nestlé launched pizza snacks under the DiGiorno and Stouffer’s brands. The packaging of both lines tells the consumer “Try it in your Airfryer.” Other Nestle products, such as Hot Pockets, now include cooking instructions for the airfryer in addition to instructions for reheating in the microwave and oven.
Tyson Foods jumped on the trend pretty early on, launching its air fryer line in 2019. The products, ranging from chicken strips to the latest addition, parmesan spiced chicken bites, contain 75% less fat. Colleen Hall, senior director of marketing for the Tyson brand, said the line has reached about $100 million in annual retail sales.
Tyson is also a third of the way by adding air fryer instructions to the packaging for its frozen ready foods.
“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 options to use it. So it’s good timing for us to put it on our packaging.”
The airfryer directions are increasing Tyson’s brand preference, according to Hall, who cited recent data on the brand’s health. She attributed it to the convenience of the device and the perceived health benefits of the cooking process.
For fish stick maker Gorton’s Seafood, increased interest in air frying is one way to retain the customers it has won during pandemic lockdowns.
“[The pandemic] was a pretty dramatic shift 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 been working hard through our messaging and our products to keep those consumers in the category and getting Americans to eat more seafood.”
Air frying is the second most popular way to reheat frozen foods, according to Holbrook.
The company, which is owned by Nissui, capitalized on the trend by posting cooking instructions for the air fryer on its website. It then added the directions to the packaging. In January, it unveiled Air Fried Butterfly Shrimp and Air Fried Fish Fillets.
Gorton’s launched Air Fried Fish Filets and Air Fried Butterfly Shrimp nationwide in January.
Source: Gorton’s Seafood
Gorton’s new butterfly shrimp and fish fillets were cooked through air-frying prior to packaging, but consumers can reheat the seafood by re-frying it. The packaging of the products states that it contains 50% less fat.
“Everyone is going to jump on this bandwagon for the next two years while it’s trendy,” Harris said.
Other food manufacturers following the trend include Kellogg, which began adding air fryer instructions to its morningstar Farms plant-based products in early 2021 in response to customer inquiries. Similarly, Hormel Foods has responded to consumer demand for air fryers by updating packaging and adding recipes on its website and cooking videos on YouTube to make Spam fries and Mary Kitchen corned beef hash.
Nestle has gone even further and is targeting consumers who have not yet purchased an airfryer. In December, it teamed up with Insta Brands, the maker of the Insta Pot and its own version of the air fryer, to give away the device. It ran a similar giveaway internally at Nestle US for its employees.
Graves estimates that about 60% of American households currently have an air fryer. But it’s not yet ubiquitous.
“If you compare it to a microwave — there’s a microwave in pretty much everyone’s house — the air fryer has a long way to go,” Harris said.
Still, it’s well on its way to joining the microwave as a staple in American kitchens. In 2022, the airfryer leapt over grills and multicookers to become the No. 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.”