The fall and rise of frozen food

* 3 min read

Frozen food has had its ups and downs over the years. Mired in controversy, frozen was dealt a hefty blow in 2013’s horsemeat scandal. Several major brands were swallowed up by the media frenzy that ensued. Remember Findus? Noticed a distinct lack of frozen lasagne in the supermarket aisles?  

At any rate, the category has experienced something of a moment in 2016. Frozen food has grown up – and consumers are starting to see real quality on offer.

So what’s changed in the past few years? A lot it turns out, and packaging has played a major part in this transformation. Here’s an overview of three of the top trends I see currently shaping the world of frozen food.

1. Affordable premium 

First off, we’ve seen a palpable increase in the amount of fancy frozen dishes available to shoppers. Waitrose and M&S have always been the go-to for quality, but neither is known for its frozen range. The drawback for consumers remains the prospect of spending a pretty penny on a product that doesn’t scream quality.

“Homemade” quality frozen brands like COOK are leading the way when it comes to improving frozen’s rep. But the news earlier this month, that Iceland is going “upmarket”, might well be a sign of things to come. With the team behind Heston Blumenthal’s Waitrose meals on board, the notion of affordable, high-quality frozen food is certainly on the agenda.

This also comes at a time when more unusual products are being brought to the freezer, seeing Iceland again widening its scope. With its latest “The Power of Frozen” campaign the brand emphasises the diversity of its offering, with food carefully selected “from across the globe to freeze and bring to [its] stores”.                                     

2. Packaging innovation

Innovation is being characterised by a wide choice of meal solutions in frozen. More and more, customers can choose from a wealth of dishes presented in a variety of different ways. So the process of selecting an item in a supermarket is defined by a series of factors. The product itself is king, but our impression of what we choose to buy is closely tied up with how it’s presented. It’s the same as the meal on your plate at a restaurant – we eat with our eyes.

More brands are taking the same approach we took with our recent work on Tesco’s chilled Valentine’s ready meals, asfrozen takes on codes from other categories. When the product looks great – frozen or not – there’s a lot to be gained by allowing customers to see what they’re buying. And that means not only transparent packaging designs, but amazing mouth-watering photography.                                                       

3. Homemade

Freezing home-cooked food to defrost later isn’t a new concept. Savvy mums have been preparing double the amount for years as a way to save time, money and effort. When COOK entered the scene, it turned the idea on its head. Suddenly consumers could buy homemade quality in-store.

COOK has been flying flag for the expansion of frozen into this arena since 1997, but there are other brands coming on the scene too. Ruth’s Real Food is a great example. It’s by no means a big outfit but it has some great ideas. Especially Mini Meals, designed for those with “a smaller appetite”. More considered portion-size is an avenue I’d like to see more brands going down. Smarter methods of packaging fresh food such as salad are already becoming commonplace, there’s no reason why the same principle couldn’t work in frozen.