Since the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) was formed in 1948, frozen food has come a long way and is now a staple of the weekly shop for households across the United Kingdom (UK). The category is performing well, despite the frozen food industry facing a series of challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, Brexit and inflation.
Recent Kantar data has exemplified the frozen food industry’s strength, as in the 12 weeks to the 11th of June, volume sales of frozen food grew by 7,559,000 tonnes compared to the same period last year. The value of retail frozen food sales also increased, up 19.9 percent (£326,501,000). The frozen sector is outperforming fresh and chilled, with the latter’s volume sales down 3.3 percent, as consumers pick up frozen products to help stretch their budgets through the cost-of-living crisis. In February 2023, Which?, the UK’s leading consumer research and rights advocate, captured the prices of own-brand fresh and frozen products across eight popular food categories from nine large UK retailers. The comparative prices showed that consumers could achieve savings of up to 86 percent when comparing fresh and frozen products.
Frozen, premium products, such as fish, ice cream and confectionery, have decreased volume sales more than other products. This may not be surprising as shoppers have become more budget-conscious within the current economic climate. Savoury food, vegetables, pizzas, potato products, and ready meals have driven category growth.
As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the growth of remote and hybrid working, people are spending more time at home, allowing frozen to be a choice for the lunchtime meal occasion.
“There’s been 19 percent growth of lunchtime occasions featuring frozen food in the past two years,” said Birds Eye marketing director, Jim Shearer.
Plant-based frozen food is an excitingly innovative category, growing as more consumers look to the freezer for vegetarian and vegan options. Products that replicate the taste of real meat account for 82 percent of sales, while the remaining 18 percent comprises conventional veg-focussed products. The brand, Unconventional Taste, won the Gold Award at the BFFF’s British Frozen Food Awards 2023 in the Best New Meat-Free Product category for its Unconventional Plant-Based Burger.
More shoppers are buying into frozen, such as seafood, and there is an expectation of further innovation and variety in premium frozen products as consumers swap eating out for eating at home to save money. Princes debuted in frozen with their trio of frozen marinated kebabs made from 100 percent chicken breast. Unlike the crowded market of breaded and battered products, Princes offers a natural, healthy, premium frozen product. Rupert Ashby, chief executive of the BFFF, said the innovation across frozen was impressive and encouraging.
“Especially considering the important role the sector has to play as we look towards a future of increased value for the consumer,” stated Ashby.
BFFF members are facing a range of challenges. Most notably, rising ingredients and labour costs continue to drive food inflation. Energy prices remain high by historical standards, which has impacted this energy-intensive industry. When you add to this the ongoing issues around importing and exporting goods to and from the EU, the challenges facing the frozen food sector are immense.
Throughout this period of economic uncertainty and industry challenges, frozen food will continue to be a much sought-after category. When looking to the future, the frozen aisle will continue to provide value for money for budget-conscious shoppers, exciting innovation and a wider variety of plant-based and premium offerings. Frozen food will continue to become popular among a broader consumer base.