Frozen food doesn't have the best reputation. Tater tots, TV dinners and frozen spinach, which in decades past served as examples of the food science that made cooking quick and convenient, are no longer in sync with demands from Americans for healthier options. Soup and smoothie maker Daily Harvest, which has the backing of celebrities that include Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams, thinks it's onto a new kitchen science that can shake up preconceptions about frozen food.
Daily Harvest founder Rachel Drori claims its farm-freezing technique — in which it freezes organic produce that has been picked at peak ripeness and frozen within hours right at the farm — locks in nutrients far better than the conventional method of picking produce while still green and letting it ripen in transit or on store shelves. The online food retailer then delivers items directly to consumers, primarily busy parents.
Several start-ups have in recent years turned "bad foods" that moms hesitate to put in their shopping carts into big bucks, and they've been successful getting major food corporations to acquire them for hundreds of millions, if not a billion or more. Annie's Homegrown made mac 'n' cheese and gummy snacks healthy before General Mills bought it for $820 million; Applegate made chicken nuggets and processed lunch meat healthy before Spam maker Hormel snatched it up for $775 million. As far back as 1999, Kellogg's bought the parent company of Morningstar Farms, maker of frozen-food aisle veggie burgers, for $300 million.
Erin Lash, food-sector analyst at financial research firm Morningstar, said there has been a shift in what consumers perceive as being healthier. "Products labeled 'light' and 100-calorie' have fallen out of favor," Lash said. "Simplified ingredient profiles, natural and organic have been winning."
Just past the midway point of the year, the number of venture capital investments in frozen-food start-ups and the total amount invested is well ahead of the pace from 2014–2016.