Trend Watch: Premium frozen food

14 June 2023, 08:59 AM
  • Goodbye chicken dippers, hello Moghul Chicken Curry. Time to make your customers a frozen offer they can’t resist says Sally-Jayne Wright
Trend Watch: Premium frozen food

Sales of fresh food are down, but frozen sales are holding steady. So supermarkets have invested in upright display freezers to increase impulse buys and visibility.

There’s lots of temptation: whether it’s Beef Fillet Wellington and All-butter Brioche Dough, seen at Marks & Spencer; retro spam fritters at Iceland; or Hackney Hot Cross Bun Gelato at Arena Foods deli in London’s Tooting.

What’s on offer for independent retailers?
At Arena, our nearest indie, we discovered Little Moons (rice dough-encased ices) in flavours we’d never heard of; also the range of Filosophy Greek Feta & Courgette Pies, and Aquahawk king prawns. We bought the prawns. Plump and delicious, they didn’t shrink when the ice melted and were £7 a kilo, cheaper than Taste the Difference at Sainsbury’s Local – so the fine food sector can add value as well as variety.

Why is frozen food trending again?
- Handy products for free-from eating and healthy diets. Think gluten-free Yorkshire puds, mini no-chicken kievs, frozen avocados and high welfare chicken breasts (all seen at Marks & Spencer)
- Sustainability. Less food waste and less packaging
- Value for money. Frozen is cheaper than fresh across the board (Which? survey, February 2023)

Is frozen less healthy than fresh?
Actually, no. Former broccoli farmer, Rupert Ashby of the British Frozen Food Federation, declared, “Fresh broccoli can be up to five days old when it hits the supermarket shelves unlike frozen which is freshly frozen.”

Is frozen food cheaper?
When news got out that frozen berries were cheaper, sales soared. By 2023 they were in the national shopping basket (ONS).

What’s a barrier to frozen food sales?
“Getting customers to the freezer.” said Rupert. “Typically, it’s situated against an exterior wall.” Claire Postans, brand director at COOK, said, “We find ready meals sales are best when freezers are positioned close to chilled, bakery or fresh products. That way customers are in the mind-set of ‘dinner tonight’ while having the flexibility of storing the meals for later.”

Tell us more about branded ready meals in display chest freezers.
Fieldfare and COOK lead the way in upmarket frozen food. The new kid on the aisles is By Ruby, now in 250 independents and 54 Waitrose stores. Retailers buy a brand new freezer for about £1,000 from a specified supplier, may sell only the named brand’s goods in it and receive full merchandising support. By Ruby co-founder, Milly Bagot, said, “We can normally order freezers and brand them within one month. You should see a return on investment within four months.”

We’ve visited destination farm shops with up to 10 COOK freezers. They sell takeaways, puds, everything. What if we’re only small?
Claire Postans said, “Our top 20 best-selling lines are very similar across the country so a two-freezer set-up will have our best-selling one- and two-portion meals.”

Why don’t these companies use upright display freezers?
Because they cost much more to buy and run, and hold less.

We spotted Itsu Chicken Bao buns at Waitrose. Are restaurant-branded frozen meals a trend?
Yes, and 63% of UK adults agree they purchase ready meals as an alternative to having a takeaway (Mintel, 2022).

What frozen takeaways do you suggest?
We recommend the authentic Indian range made in Somerset by Bini Ludlow and stocked by Macknade Food Hall. “Multi-buys go well, said Bini. “Customers pick up two rice dishes and three different curries.”

Another supplier of quality Indian frozen is Mandira’s Kitchen. “Chicken curries far outsell other lines,” advised Mandira. We tasted our way through a range of Indian meals. Standouts were the new, evocatively-named Railway Mutton Curry by Mandira’s Kitchen, By Ruby’s fragrant Chicken Tikka Masala and Bini’s Moghul Chicken Curry.

Will consumers want to run ovens for 55 mins to cook a frozen meal?
Most can be microwaved in 15 minutes or defrosted overnight for next-day cooking. Bini’s Indian meals have a defrosted, refrigerated shelf life of 10 days.

Our customers are eco-conscious. We fancy those Fieldfare freezers with scoop-your-own goods. But we’re concerned it might impact our sales of fresh farm veg.
In fact, it may increase your sales. On Fieldfare’s website in May, we saw active promotion of the fresh asparagus crop at farm shops with Fieldfare freezers.

What’s the best way to tempt our customers to frozen?
Colourful point-of-sale material and frequent tastings. Promote in-store and on social media. You could try a Friday discount on fish. However, Claire said, “We’ve found value promotions don’t necessarily drive long-term sales growth, only short-term freezer filling.”

How do we make the most of the frozen food trend?
- Keep freezers pristine and full, using back-up freezers to restock
- See what nearby shops offer. Any gaps you can fill?
- Ice creams are affordable indulgence. Hand-held ices sell well
- Don’t forget shortcuts for canny cooks like triple cooked chips for air fryers and ready rolled, all-butter pastry

Will the trend last?
With more food price inflation to come and environmental concerns, frozen makes sense. There’s new product development aplenty. Now it’s up to buyers to make frozen food ranges not just inspired, but irresistible.

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