What’s next for the frozen food trend ?

After a stunning period of growth for frozen food during Covid, we look into where the thriving sector will go from here, and whether premium ready meals can stage a comeback.

The rise of the home chef has been a boon for the fine food sector, but the growing appetite for scratch cooking doesn’t mean that convenience is off the menu. In fact, for key workers, those who have been challenged with juggling work and homeschooling, or those who want to limit their trips to the shops, a newfound desire has emerged for frozen fruit, vegetables and meals.

“During the pandemic, people wanted to reduce the number of times they visited shops, but they still wanted the reassurance that they would have good quality, convenient solutions to hand,” explains Matt Whelan, MD of Fieldfare. “The pandemic kick-started a change in behaviour, which made people visit the freezers. On finding the freezers, shoppers have found so much more than ice-cream and peas.

“Consumers, initially through necessity, started trying products that they may have normally bought fresh, opening their eyes to an assortment of great products from raw ingredients to prepared solutions and lovely treats,” he continues. The resurgence of the frozen meal shows that time-pressed shoppers are looking for simple meals that don’t compromise on taste: an area where the fine frozen food industry excels.

New frozen food trends

Frozen meals weren’t a side-show success of the pandemic – they were the main event. The latest figures from Kantar and the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) revealed that frozen products were the star performers of grocery retail over 2020, outperforming fresh produce and every other food category in terms of value and volume percentage growth.

Over the 12 months to 29th November, frozen food sales grew 13.8% in value and 11.5% in volume. “It’s been quite an amazing period,” says Richard Harrow, CEO of the BFFF. “And in fact, the data shows that frozen has outperformed total grocery on every four week period.” The convenience of frozen food is still a driving factor behind its success – consumer research by Heron Foods for the BFFF found that convenience ranked second only to value for money for the reason people shop in the freezer aisle. But in 2020, frozen food was also bolstered by the cooking at home trend.

According to Richard, the cooking products segment of frozen food grew above the broader market, rising by around 19% in value.Waitrose’s Food & Drink Report 2021 also lauded the benefits of the freezer. Consumers have started using their freezers to hold a wider range of ingredient staples beyond frozen pizzas, its research found, and 55% of shoppers plan to continue to do this in the long term.

Demand for frozen fruits, vegetables and herbs is on the rise, and even basics like pasta are now becoming key players in the freezer. The age-old stereotypes about frozen food are finally fading among young and health-conscious shoppers. “Historically, frozen has held a perception of being cheap and poor quality, and this is a stigma that has been hard to shift,” says Matt. “Brands have been working hard to change this perception giving consumers a better understanding of the quality and nutritional value of frozen. And in recent years, we have seen a positive change in consumer attitudes.” Richard adds that younger age groups such as Millennials have a less negative view of frozen food, giving retailers a good reason to target younger tastes in their frozen food aisle. “They look at it for what they see in front of them, not from what their grandparents told them about the frozen food trend. And if they try products in the market and they like them, they will continue to buy them,” Richard says.

This means that high-quality options are beating the competition. Indeed, from his conversations with retailers, Richard knows that premium ranges are selling very well, showing that people want quality with their convenience. Frozen fish and seafood, which is particularly geared to the high-end side of the market, has proved popular, with products like frozen lobster, king prawns and even monkfish stealing the spotlight.

“Premium frozen foods offer consumers a small ‘permissible’ indulgence that they can enjoy without breaking the bank,” Matt explains. “In a time when restaurants are closed and old routines are disrupted, it also means that consumers can take a night off from cooking and treat themselves to a restaurant-style meal, accompaniment or sweet treat.” Fieldfare, which has unveiled a brand new look in order to boost engagement with shoppers, has had success attracting new customers with its award-winning Coquilles St Jacques, bake-at-home pastries and creamy potato gratin, but the brand’s unique scoop-your-own offer brings a fresh take to the frozen sector.

“By offering premium products across an array of categories, Fieldfare and other brands are showing their pride in frozen food and offering people high-quality solutions, which taste delicious and are convenient – ready and waiting for when they need them,” Matt says. “These brands offer something that frozen hasn’t seen much of previously – bringing new customers to the freezer and further improving shopper perceptions.” The collision of convenience and quality, which frozen foods can provide, creates a perfect opportunity for fine food retailers.

Source: https://www.specialityfoodmagazine.com/news/frozen-food-trend-covid-ready-meals

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