Frozen food sales surge during pandemic

Press/Media: Expert Comment


It has a longer shelf life, is often better value for money and can significantly reduce your food waste, yet it’s striking that it has taken a global pandemic to get people buying frozen food again. A comparison of sales from the first week of lockdown, back in March, to the same week in 2019, shows an increase of over 32.7 per cent (IRI, 2020). With sales reported to be booming as of July 2020, with an increase of £285m in the past three months, new opportunities exist within this category (Food Manufacture, 2020). The term ‘frozen food’ often conjures up images of items like pizzas, frozen desserts and fish fingers which, despite sounding tasty, are not always the heathiest options to eat on a regular basis. Therefore, it is not surprising that some (mis)conceptions of frozen food relate to it being less nutritious, due to its overly processed nature, and perceived lower quality when compared to fresh foods. While sometimes true, this depends on the food type and the frequency of which we consume these types of food. A team at the University of California, led by Ali Bouzari, compared nutrients in eight different fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables (including broccoli, carrots and blueberries) and found no consistent differences between fresh and frozen. Another factor that may inhibit frozen sales is the lack of trust consumers have in its quality (14 per cent of NI and nine per cent of RoI consumers reported concerns)
(Mintel, 2020). This means on-pack information about sourcing, ingredients and the level of processing could play an important role in helping to reassure consumers about the quality of the frozen food they buy (Mintel, 2020). For example, recent premium products launched onto the UK market include Ocean Isle premium crab meat, which claimed to be ‘hand-picked’, Donegal Catch cod fillets battered with ‘Irish Pale Ale’ or Green Isle ‘Sliced and buttered’ brussels sprouts. Likewise, opportunities are being created by ongoing restrictions on the food service industry, with shoppers wishing to recreate a restaurant experience at home. Convenience could prove a major trump card for producers of frozen foods. One safefood study conducted across the island of Ireland (2016) reported that men,
younger adults and those with few or no qualifications had low cooking and food skills. This highlights a potential opportunity for frozen food producers to think about the meal experience as opposed to simply viewing this category as ideal for side dishes like vegetables or chips. One new frozen food brand on the UK market has done exactly this, “By Ruby” is a frozen food delivery service offering meal solutions to those that can’t cook or simply don’t want to. By Ruby offers preprepared meals like fish pie, tarragon chicken and coconut curry using 100 per cent natural ingredients which are also ethically sourced from sustainable farmers (eg, organic, RSPCA certified, free range, herb fed poultry and no additives). Similarly, US subscription-based company Purple Carrot partnered with Conagra to offer frozen plant-based meal kits to those less skilled cooks. Young’s Fish has also tried to capitalise on the restaurant experience with its premium Gastro range, including products like lightly dusted Basa and tempura battered fillets. While some consumers have been carving out new routines thanks to the nation’s favourite motivator, Joe Wicks, others have used this time to indulge, finding food as comfort through these uncertain times. Frozen food can offer indulgence without a hefty price tag, therefore opportunities for new frozen dessert options and breakfast offerings exist.
Earlier this year US brand Cinnabon launched its range of frozen new sweet and savoury breakfast products like caramel pecan ooey-gooey rolls or Cinnabiscuit chicken sandwich, all incorporating its famous cinnamon blend. By contrast, for the more health conscious consumer and aligned to the rising trend of plant-based diets, opportunities exist for incorporating more vegetables into frozen products. Some recent veggie innovations include Green Isle’s cauliflower rice and its protein stir fry pack, while The Saucy Fish Co has created patties which combine shredded vegetables with fish flakes. Also, some US brands have focused their attention on vegetables as a core ingredient. For example, Spinato’s recently launched a broccoli crust pizza and Garden Inspirations launched its breaded cauliflower bites and zucchini sticks. Making frozen food desirable again is not without its challenges, competing directly with the fresh and chilled category, which is perceived to be fresher, of a higher quality, healthier and generally more exciting! However, the current climate may be an ideal time to attract consumers back to this category as they seek out longer-life foods as they stock their kitchens. Developing products that support consumers in the preparation of healthy meals for the household, act sustainability and taste just as good as fresh products are key credentials to winning within this category.

Period5 Nov 2020

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleFrozen food sales surge during pandemic
    Degree of recognitionLocal
    Media name/outletFarm Week
    Media typePrint
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    PersonsLynsey Elizabeth Hollywood