If you’re an AB and shop at Marks & Spencer or Waitrose you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no such thing as frozen food. Frozen food, as hard as it tries, is still mostly seen as the cheap, low quality, less fresh option. At least by me and, at least until I ate a Cook Indonesian Vegetable Curry made by John in Kent yesterday.
If you haven’t heard of Cook – find your local shop, go in and buy something immediately. It will change your view of frozen ready meals as radically as it has mine. Started up in 1996 in a kitchen in Sittingbourne, Cook now distributes through 45 stores, 300+ farm shop customers, an online delivery business and over 400 employees. Right bang on the top mega trends of convenient, sustainable and locally sourced, Cook offers delicious ‘local made’ frozen ready meals in packaging that shows the frozen product as it is, instead of the usual unbelievable ‘serving suggestion’ food porn shot. A rule breaker if ever there was one.
But what’s happening in frozen food? And how has Cook done so well? According to the Nov 2010 report, The British Frozen Food Industry, Food Vision, the total retail food market is worth £62.3 billion. Consumers spent 8% of this on frozen food, amounting to £5.1 billion, a 5% growth year on year. The figures and facts stack up elsewhere. Iceland achieved record results for 2010, opening 74 new stores and increasing sales by 10.5%. Ex-Walkers Martin Glenn at Birds Eye put Unilever’s frozen foods back together last year with the purchase of Findus, further strengthening their successful turnaround at Permira.
One could argue that, thanks to the likes of Birds Eye and Iceland, frozen food is cheaper and therefore any growth is in line with careful spending in an economic crisis. However if we look deeper into the true value of frozen food, we can see in the same report above, that the frozen food supply chain is more energy efficient and often much fresher than the ‘fresh’ loose food we buy off shelf. ‘Rapid and highly organised methods of harvest/slaughter to freeze have evolved with the express purpose of minimising nutritional losses,’ says the report. It continues to tell us that freezing also allows a much more sustainable way of consuming local and seasonal foods out of season. The Irish Independent reported in 2010 that the average person throws out €1,300 worth of goods each year because they’re past a sell-by date, so there’s a lot less wastage also. The benefits are clearly far greater than price and convenience and hit all my AB buttons.
Frozen food is without doubt heating up as an opportunity for consumers, manufacturers and retailers alike. We all win. If I were Waitrose, I’d rethink my decision to freeze out my freezer space.