Sales of Frozen Healthy Ready Meals Rise at Healthy Pace in British Market

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An increasingly fast pace of life means that convenience is king for a large number of consumers in the United Kingdom, and this very much is evident at mealtimes. Indeed, 28% of the population reportedly eats frozen ready meals at least once a week, while 17% consume such products two to three times a month, and 26% dine on them once a month or less. 

Fifty-nine percent of Brits who eat prepared foods procured from the freezer aisles of supermarkets and retail stores say that the quality has improved. As a result, among other factors, the market has experienced significant growth and is now estimated to be worth £3.0 billion per annum. According to Mintel, sales of ready meals and ready-to-cook foods grew by 19.2% in value from 2014-19. Volume sales have also posted a solid performance, rising by 9.2% over the same period to reach 572 million kilograms by 2019. 

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Health and Well Being

The UK health and wellness market has increased significantly in the last few years and shows no signs of slowing down. It would seem that millennials are driving the growth as the media often portrays them to be more concerned about their health than previous generations. This interest in health can be attributed in part to the intense spotlight placed on body image on social media platforms. 

“Health concerns pose a long-standing barrier to uptake,” said Amy Price, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Promisingly, however, there is high openness to meals with healthier ingredients or options featuring fortification, offering clear evidence that ready meals have permission to position themselves as contributing to nutritious diets and healthy lifestyles.”

Mintel found that 41% of Brits who eat ready meals would like to see a greater number of them contain healthy ingredients. More than one-third look for offerings that contain no additives or preservatives, 30% desire environmentally friendly packaging, and 23% want functional benefits.

Consumers’ focus on health and well being has seen the likes of Weight Watchers International enjoy impressive subscriber growth from 1 million to 4.5 million in 2018. Mindy Grossman, Weight Watchers International’s president and chief executive, released a statement saying:

“We have embarked on an exciting journey – from being the global leader in weight management to becoming the world’s partner in wellness.”

The dieting company has experienced strong growth following Oprah Winfrey’s investment in a 10% stake of the business in 2015 and the recruiting of social media influencers including Hollywood director Kevin Smith and DJ Khaled.

Brand Power

Big brands play a key role in consumers’ purchases with key players having serious pulling power. These powerhouses invest significant amounts of money into marketing campaigns that encourage customers to seek out their products in supermarkets, and retailers are using this to their advantage by offering their own versions at a more modest price point.

The two major dieting brands – Weight Watchers and Slimming World – have expanded their reach by selling frozen ready meals in some of the UK’s leading supermarkets. Tesco, Morrisons and ASDA all carry Weight Watchers branded frozen ready meals and Iceland sells Slimming World’s products. 

Iceland has exclusively teamed up with Slimming World, offering a range of its “free” frozen ready meals promoted as “perfect if you’re already a Slimming World member or just looking for a healthy option.” The range includes Nasi Goreng Noodle Bowl, Chunky Beef Chilli and Beef Lasagne, all priced at £3.50.

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“Cooking from scratch at home with healthy ingredients will always remain at the heart of Slimming World’s Food Optimizing eating plan,” said Allison Brentnall, Slimming World food and publications manager. “However, we do understand that sometimes in the real world there are times when you are just too busy and it’s not always possible to create healthy, filling meals from scratch. What we’ve developed with Iceland is a back-up plan for exactly those times.

“Now our members can enjoy a nutritious, balanced meal ready to cook straight from the freezer in minutes, instead of opting for something that doesn’t fill them up or give them the best weight loss results. Our members have told us that these meals are ‘lifesavers’ and help them to stay on track when they might have struggled before, plus because they’re tasty as well as healthy they’re popular with the whole family.”

Weight Watchers has the lion’s share of supermarket coverage with Morrisons, ASDA and Sainsbury’s all stocking its frozen ready meals, with prices starting at £1.75 for a single-serve meal. Products weighing in at 320 grams each include Chicken Tikka Masala (Tesco), Chicken Sweet & Sour (ASDA) and Salmon & Broccoli Melt (Morrisons).

Private Label Power

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Retailers are getting in on the action too, hoping to carve out a share in this lucrative market, with most supermarkets now offering an alternative own label frozen, healthy ready meal range to supplement the well-known brands. 

Morrisons’ calorie controlled Counted range includes Thai Green Curry priced at £1.50, Chilli Con Carne costing just £1, and Chicken Dinner for £1.75. Although these products are within their own range Morrisons also prints the Weight Watchers SmartPoints® values per pack, which broadens their appeal further.

ASDA has also gone down a similar route with its Slimzone own brand range of frozen meals that may be enjoyed when following the Slimming World extra easy plan. Meals include Beef and Three Bean Chilli, Cottage Pie, BBQ Chicken with Sweet Potato & Butternut Crush, and Turkey Bolognese.

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The supermarket giant’s move was based on customer insight that identified a gap in the market to make controlled weight loss cheaper and easier for consumers. The launch of Slimzone “allows consumers to pick up a tasty range of ready meals and products in the frozen aisle, which are free to enjoy on Slimming World and with a retail price of £2.50 each – 50p cheaper than the equivalent competitor product.”

 “We always aim to do the right thing for our customers, and saving time and money when it comes to leading a healthier lifestyle is a priority,” said Hannah Munns, frozen category senior director at ASDA. “We know a large number of our customers are on the Slimming World diet, or are just looking to make healthier choices, so Slimzone is a great option when trying to stay on track with weight loss and products they can trust. Based on the demand for this product and the competitive price we’re confident that the range will save our customers the right combination of inches and pounds.”

The healthy ready meals market is in good shape at present, with consumers looking for convenient and affordable options for quick and healthy meals. With continued growth in the category it seems as though the only way is up. – Reported by Sarah Welsh

Possibility of No-Deal Brexit Chills And Fills Cold Storage Sector in UK

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With Brexit looming large over the United Kingdom, many food importers have been stockpiling inventory for some time now. Although this may provide temporary relief from any supply issues that could arise if Britain leaves the European Union with no deal or agreements in place regarding post-Brexit relationships with the EU, there isn’t infinite storage space and the predictions surrounding the impact of stockpiling aren’t positive. 

"There is no available space," stated Peter Ward of the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) when he spoke to BBC Newsnight earlier this month. "The market, as represented by our members, is full. The biggest concern at the moment is that the October deadline comes right bang in the middle of peak season." 

The timing could not be any worse, he believes, as warehouses are already gearing up for black Friday and Christmas retailing, and there is a limit to the volume of stock that UK cold storage providers can accommodate.

According to estimates from the Savills real estate service company, approximately 7.5 million square feet of warehouse space are currently under construction, but this is equivalent to only 1.4% of the total capacity of around 514 million square feet.

"You can't just turn on supply,” pointed out Ward. “Putting real estate in the system takes five to seven years.”

Aside from the fact that construction of new refrigerated warehouses is not a feasible option within the time frame, it is unlikely that providers would go down that road because the space is highly likely to become redundant in the weeks and months following Brexit. 

CEO Colin Taylor of UK cold storage operator Rick Bestwick Ltd, believes that there is a strong possibility that shortages of certain products are inevitable. Pointing out that throughout the year refrigerated warehouses generally function at around 90%+ capacity, and while this figure increases to and occasionally exceeds 100% from October to December as a result of the build-up of Christmas stock, he noted that the space is typically reserved months or years in advance. This means that it would be impossible to stockpile to the extent that the government and consumers would expect in the event of a No-Deal Brexit later in the year.

2 Colin TaylorCEO Colin Taylor of Rick Bestwick Ltd thinks that shortages of certain imported food products may be inevitable should a “no-deal” post-Brexit UK become a reality.

“Every effort is being made to optimize the space that is available, and we are working with our customers to more accurately predict space requirements in order to accommodate as much additional Brexit stock as possible,” said Taylor. “We will always prioritize the needs of our customers and aid in any way we can to guarantee the smooth operation of their supply chain.” 

Sustainable Storage 

As an industry that relies on high and reliable levels of energy supplies, refrigerated warehouse operators are increasingly looking for and implementing ways to reduce their use of electricity. Of course, all businesses in Britain are expected to run as sustainably as possible, but with energy accounting for a large proportion of cold storage costs and frozen food production budgets there are huge financial incentives for suppliers and manufacturers to innovate.

The cold storage industry is innovating in a number of ways to address this issue, with many warehouses, including Rick Bestwick, turning to renewable energy solutions. The fact that warehouses have a significant amount of roof space means that there is a huge opportunity to generate on-site solar power by means of a photovoltaic panel system.

“Other very effective automated tools we’ve installed throughout our facilities are automated fast sealing doors,” said Taylor. “Imagine opening the door to your freezer and the energy that is wasted when all the chilled air escapes. Now imagine that the door is large enough for a lorry to drive through and it becomes obvious that the faster it shuts the better.” 

The employment of smart lighting is another way that Rick Bestwick has reduced its energy consumption. The use of motion sensitive on/off lighting arrays mean that only areas in use are illuminated, thus creating significant power savings over time. 

“Heat mapping is also important for us,” added Taylor. “With the use of thermal imaging cameras and drones we can pinpoint areas of concern. If something as simple as a rubber seal on a door deteriorates large sums of energy can be lost and product quality can suffer, so our engineering director maintains rigorous inspection and maintenance protocols to reduce and eliminate this issue.” 

Evolving Trends.

There appears to be three major trends in the cold storage sector at present, with the first being a reduction in the number of small to mid-size players on the scene. Governmental legislation and challenging market conditions have driven a number of companies out of business, and the extremely high barrier to entry has reduced the quantity of independent operators across Europe. 

“Several large brands have been rapidly expanding into the EU and the UK in particular, buying many of the smaller independent cold stores and groups,” said Taylor. “This will accelerate in the next few years and the large networks created by consolidating businesses will change the face of the industry. There will be higher quality service, bigger logistics networks, greater investment leverage for new technology and less competition overall.”

With technology advancing at a rapid rate there has been a huge boom with automation and artificial intelligence tipped to feature more in the cold storage sector as it becomes more sophisticated and affordable for operators. 

“This will have several effects,” said Taylor. “Primarily it will help solve the current labor shortages the sector is experiencing, and it will deliver greater efficiency and price stability. However, cost savings for customers will only be deliverable with a change of operating structure. Yearly tenders will no longer be effective at securing cost savings over the long run, so five- and ten-year contracts will become increasingly common.” 

Although the cold storage industry in the UK is facing several major issues at the moment, the most pressing is clearly the rapidly advancing Brexit and the problems associated with leaving the EU without a deal in place. Labor shortages are also a concern for an industry that relies on manpower, but with technological advancements this will not always be the case. Above all else, the cold storage sector needs to continue innovating to avoid being outpaced by competitors. As such, it would seem that automation and AI will be the way forward for some time to come. – Reported by Sarah Welsh

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Hot Summer & Cool Product Innovation Fuel Skyrocketing UK Ice Cream Sales

The British ice cream market got a big boost last year thanks to soaring temperatures in June and July. As a result, Mintel’s Market Size and Forecast report notes a sharp rise in ice cream sales during 2018’s heatwave, with the market currently estimated to be worth £1.4 billion – up 26% from 2013.

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“The scorching 2018 summer has been a boon to the ice cream market, fueling sales growth at a time when cost pressures are putting a squeeze on operators,” said Anita Winther, a research analyst at London-headquartered Mintel.

Iceland, the frozen food retail specialist, rings up ice cream sales of around £100 million a year. Its increased market share, which has risen 12% in the last 12 months, highlights the market’s clear growth.

Evolution

The ice cream sector has evolved way beyond the basics, with unique flavors hitting the market all the time. As the sweet treat is enjoyed year-round it is vital that flavors are continually updated to appeal to consumers, which is why the focus is increasingly on innovation with new players coming into the field.

Lotus Biscoff recently entered the frozen realm with premium individually wrapped, ice cream stick products. Made from real dairy ice cream, these new entries feature the same unique flavor synonymous with the company’s much loved coffee biscuit.

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“The ice cream is wrapped in a layer of Lotus Biscoff spread and coated in a crisp layer of Belgian milk chocolate and crushed Lotus Biscoff pieces,” said Frances Booth, category marketing manager at Lotus Bakeries. “With luxury and indulgent brands continuing to drive the sector's growth, the new ice cream sticks are a must-stock product for the upcoming seasons.” 

Nostalgia

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Although sophisticated flavors such as salted caramel or honey and fig are in high demand, nostalgia among adult consumers means that playful flavors, such as New Forest Ice Cream’s (NFIC) Candy Floss, should be big sellers this year. Available wholesale, the Candy Floss four-liter retails for £12.65, while the 4.75-liter tub goes for £14.75.

“Everything from fun, colorful toppings and vibrant sugar-sleeved cones to pastel colors are great ways to incorporate this trend,” said Christina Veal, director at Lymington, Hampshire, England-based NFIC. “Our latest Candy Floss ice cream has a perfectly pink pastel color combined with strawberry sugar crunch pieces to deliver that sweet pop.”

Although Salted Caramel is by far Iceland’s biggest selling flavor, it’s followed closely by Bubblegum, which is made in Italy and costs £1.75 for a 900-ml tub.

“Our customers prefer the fun flavors,” said Charlotte Durant, Iceland’s senior buyer for ice cream and desserts.

Adult-Friendly

Summer and cocktails go hand in hand in Britain, which is why some manufacturers have introduced alcoholic flavors into their ice cream and sorbet lines. Ocado offers Speakeasy’s Limoncello Alcohol Infused Ice Cream and NFIC has a Gin & Pink Grapefruit sorbet which features delicate botanicals cut with the sharpness of pink grapefruit – the perfect treat for imbibing adults to enjoy.

Alcoholic flavors are a great balance between enjoying a dessert and having a refreshing beverage or cocktail,” said Veal. “Offering ice cream and sorbets infused with alcohol means that customers don’t have to choose between the two as they can enjoy the best of both worlds.”

Non-Dairy Options

The rise of veganism has seen more free-from ice cream variants hitting the market. Although dairy ice cream is the most popular type of frozen dessert, eaten by 75% of adults, the buzz surrounding non-dairy options has resulted in 11% of British consumers choosing plant-based options.

“Vegan diets are continuing to grow in popularity, therefore the need to offer quality alternatives on all menus has never been greater,” said Veal. “It is incredible how many people opt for dairy alternatives wherever they go, whether this is down to diet or lifestyle choices or simply just because they are interested in trying something new. Therefore, we always recommend having a couple of key flavors on hand to ensure you’re appealing to all consumer needs.” 

NFIC has introduced its first vegan range in two flavors: Vanilla Pod and Salted Caramel ice cream.

“We stock two dairy-free option in brands in our The Food Warehouse stores,” said Iceland’s Durant. “The volume is still relatively low but we are working on an own label vegan ice cream offering for next year.”

ASDA sells Magnum Vegan Classic ice cream for £3.50 per pack of three.

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Health 

Ice cream is viewed by many as a treat and as such little thought is generally given to its health credentials. In fact, according to Mintel, 71% of consumers do not believe they eat enough ice cream to be concerned whether it’s unhealthy.

However, many people do focus on health, and with the UK government targeting sugar levels in food an increased number of low calorie variants have hit the market. Low calorie ice creams are predicted to drive sales, with 44% of ice cream eaters encouraged to consume more by such variants, according to Mintel.

“Lower calorie ice cream brands have caused a stir in 2018, building up a not insignificant market penetration,” said Winther. “While the lower calorie proposition has potential to bolster category volume sales and help it withstand the ongoing war on sugar, these products’ relatively high price and poor image as indulgent remain barriers to uptake.”

Consumer interest in health issues has also resulted in increased demand for more single portion ice cream cups, with 57% of ice cream eaters looking for products which deliver convenience and indulgence, reports Mintel. The fact that single cups offer greater portion control will appeal to consumers and Public Health England.

Halo Top, which is sold in the United States, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Taiwan and Austria, is now available in the United Kingdom. Claiming to have the same great taste as regular ice cream, this product line contains two-thirds less calories. However, health seemingly comes at a price, costing a hefty £5 a tub in ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons stores.

ASDA has also jumped on the bandwagon with its range of high protein, low calorie ice cream. Available in three flavors: Birthday Cake, Vanilla and Peanut Butter, these products come in at under 400 calories a tub. Priced at £2.50 they are a wallet-friendly low calorie option.

Cookie Dough ice cream, another low calorie offering from ASDA, serves up just 199 calories per half tub.

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Although the UK ice cream market’s recent boom can be attributed to the hot weather experienced last summer, innovation within the sector has certainly contributed to increased consumer spending. – Reported by Sarah Welsh

Princess Holds Court at Thai Union Innovation Center Debut

HRH Somdech Phra Kanishthadhiraj Chao Krom Somdech Phra Debaratnarajsuda Sayamboromrajakumari presided over the grand opening ceremony of the Thai Union Group’s new Global Innovation Center (GIC) on June 7. The company’s top management team joined other invited guests in welcoming Her Royal Highness at SM Tower in Bangkok.

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On this special occasion, the Princess granted permission to Thai Union Chairman Kraisorn Chansiri and Chairman of Executive Director Cheng Niruttinanon to present a donation to Her Royal Highness’ charity, while President and CEO Thiraphong Chansiri gave an introduction about Thai Union’s seafood business and the GIC.

HRH Somdech Phra Kanishthadhiraj Chao Krom Somdech Phra Debaratnarajsuda Sayamboromrajakumari then officially opened the Global Innovation Center and invited Dr. Tunyawat Kasemsuwan, Thai Union’s Global innovation director, to present an exhibition about the work of the GIC. HRH also visited the global food operation room of the GIC and prepared HRH’s own special recipe of Som Tam Tuna.

During the visit, HRH observed the operations and advanced technology of the GIC, including innovative products such as frozen Yellowfin Tuna Slices – ready-to-eat cooked tuna made from 100% yellowfin tuna meat and high-quality pure tuna oil, a good source of Omega fatty acid and DHA. HRH also inspected the GIC’s DNA printing innovation for tuna traceability that can identify specific tuna species from raw materials, the catch location of Skipjack tuna and the origin of individual fish based on genetic profile. 

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About the GIC

The Global Innovation Center was established in 2015 as the Global Innovation Incubator, a center for research and the development of products for Thai Union’s seafood product brands around the world. It was also created to combine modern nutritional science and production innovations to develop products that address the needs of consumers and the global food industry. The center also uses technology and innovation to improve production processes, providing additional benefits and value to customers, consumers and stakeholders.

In 2019, the Global Innovation Incubator was rebranded as the Global Innovation Center and relocated from the Faculty of Science at Mahidol University to Thai Union’s Bangkok office at SM Tower. The GIC was built over 5,000 square meters with a value of THB 300 million. More than 40 Doctoral Degree scientists and over 120 researchers in the fields of marine biotechnology, engineering, medicine, food science and nutrition from around the world work at the GIC, coordinating and exchanging knowledge and expertise in R&D and using the latest technologies to provide the best outcomes for consumers and the environment.

About Thai Union

Thai Union Group PCL has been supplying value-added tuna, shrimp and other seafood fare to global markets for more than 40 years. Today it ranks as the world’s largest producer of shelf-stable tuna products with annual sales exceeding THB 133.3 billion (US$ 4.1 billion) and a global workforce of over 47,000 people.

First quarter sales in 2019 rose 46.5% year-on-year, as the company reported profit of THB 1.27 billion.

“Our first quarter performance was a positive start to the year,” remarked CEO Chansiri when the figures were posted in May. “Thanks to continued operational efficiencies and continued margin recovery, we are starting to see the flow-on benefits, with a recovery in our overall performance and normalizing of our operations.” 

Gross profit advanced 29.3% from a year earlier to THB 4.38 billion, while the gross profit margin improved to 14.9% from 11.6% in the first quarter of 2018.