Surging air fryer popularity leads Nestlé, other CPG giants to rethink food

May 7, 2024

For nearly half a century, the venerable Hot Pocket has been synonymous with the metallic crisping sleeve used to heat the cheese-, meat-, and vegetable-filled turnover in a microwave. But the rapid growth in popularity of the air fryer has changed how many consumers warm the popular snack—leading brand owner Nestlé to ditch the sleeve altogether, reports Food Dive.

“Consumers are telling us, ‘You know, once I cooked the Hot Pocket in the air fryer, I’ll never go back. It’s just so much better and so much crispier,’ ” said Adam Graves, president of Nestlé U.S.’s Pizza and Snacking Division. “The future is all about the air fryer. It’s really just a generational shift that you’re going to see.”

The air fryer has rapidly become a force in the food industry, upending what products consumers buy and how they prepare them. Roughly two-thirds of homes today have at least one air fryer, according to data analytics firm Circana, up sharply from 2021. Two years ago, the appliance became the fourth most popular cooking device behind the stove top, microwave and oven. More people have an air fryer today in their kitchen than a coffee maker, Nestlé noted.

And the lasting popularity of the device has not gone unnoticed by food manufacturers. Nestlé, Conagra Brands, Campbell Soup, and Perdue Farms are among the companies developing a dizzying array of products made in or for an air fryer. An even larger number of products lining store shelves now contain instructions on preparing them using one. In some packages, microwave or oven instructions have been removed in favor of those for an air fryer.

Graves said Nestlé first removed the crisping sleeve in 2022 from its larger-sized Hot Pockets after it observed people enjoyed the crispier crust that resulted from an air fryer. It recently removed the sleeve from its Hot Pockets breakfast lineup and is on track to remove it from the rest of the brand by the end of this year.

Other products—such as Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese bites and DiGiorno personal-size pizzas—suggest on the front of the packaging that people prepare the offering in an air fryer.

Households are still using the microwave with greater frequency, but he noted that the highest level of air fryer use is among teens and college kids. Many uuniversity students have the device in their dorm rooms instead of a microwave.

Younger consumers are “what’s going to drive the growth of air fryers and our business going forward,” Graves said.

Research contact: @FoodDive