Frozen Food Study Indicates Retail Buying Changes Here for Long Term

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A new study commissioned by frozen food producer and marketer Birds Eye and the Iceland Foods retail chain suggests that the acceleration of frozen food’s revival during the government-imposed lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is set to continue, and create long-term changes in buying habits. With more shoppers than ever being drawn to the category since mid-March, the results of the study highlight value for money and reduction of food waste as two of the main reasons that the popularity will remain.

The collaboration between Iceland and Birds Eye reveals how habits have changed, with the freezer becoming a firm favorite with younger shoppers. Over a quarter (26 percent) of 18- to 24-year-olds are buying more frozen equivalents of so-called “fresh” items and almost a third (31 percent) are trying new frozen foods such as meat substitutes. Generation Z is making frozen fashionable again, with 40 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds stocking up on frozen vegetables, fruit, meat and fish.

As attitudes towards food continue to develop, with people spending more time in the kitchen and cooking from scratch, a third (33 per cent) of all UK shoppers are using their freezer more efficiently, with a further one in five (21 per cent) including more frozen foods in their cooking. The statistics indicate this could be a long-term trend as almost a quarter (24 per cent) plan to continue buying more frozen food after the lockdown is eased and eventually discontinued.

The cost saving potential has been highlighted as one of the key benefits that frozen food has over so-called “fresh” alternatives, with one in five (21 percent) highlighting how frozen items can be better value for money, and 17 per cent agree they can get far more for their money by buying frozen products.

New data from a previously unreleased study by Manchester Metropolitan University, which analyzed the financial impact of families eating fresh and frozen food, found that frozen offers around a 30 per cent saving in comparison to fresh; and the average family could save a whopping £1,500 a year by incorporating more frozen food into their shopping choices. With over a third (34 per cent) of consumers planning to tighten their purse strings after the lockdown is lifted, frozen food is set to be a regular fixture on the nation’s shopping lists.

Further research commissioned by Birds Eye and Iceland before lockdown took a deep dive into consumer shopping habits and found that over £188 million worth of food was wasted nationwide each week. For every £1 spent at the till, more than 15p was money down the drain due to the amount of perishables thrown away. Eighty-five per cent of consumers expressed a desire to reduce their household food waste, but a quarter of those admitted to not knowing where to start.

But it seems that lockdown has given shoppers the time to reflect, with 47 per cent of those polled expressing they are far more conscious of the food that their household is wasting since March, with the figure rising to over half (54 per cent) of 18- to 24-year-olds. When asked why, the top reasons were becoming more aware of what they are spending on food (48 per cent), avoiding unnecessary trips to the shop (44 per cent) and being more conscious of the food that is being wasted collectively (39 per cent).

When it comes to food and shopping habits, the resilience and adaptability of British shoppers has led them to find the silver lining. Over a third (34 per cent) plan to be more considerate with their money, 19 per cent have become more adventurous with their cooking and a quarter (25 per cent) are spending more mealtimes together as a family.

Saving money by switching from fresh to frozen does not mean compromising on health, in fact, a quarter (25 per cent) of shoppers have eaten more frozen vegetables in lockdown than they did before, with peas, sweet corn, carrots and broccoli taking pride of place in freezers. 14 per cent have even increased their vegetable intake during the lockdown months thanks to the convenience of frozen, with the number rising to 17 per cent for 18- to 24-year-olds; an age bracket traditionally known as being less likely than other adults to get their five-a-day servings of vegetables and fruits.

“People are more concerned than ever before about the effects of food waste on the environment. Being at home so much recently has given them more time to cook and enjoy food and made many realize that frozen offers an ideal way to buy food which is not only healthy, with less additives, but also produces minimal food waste,” stated Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). “I believe that as consumers discover the huge range of products in the frozen aisle, they will be delighted by the quality, value and diversity of what’s on offer and keep coming back for more.”

Richard Harrow

Steve Challouma, General Manager UK at Birds Eye, commented: “It’s clear that whilst lockdown has brought many different challenges, new frozen shopping habits have emerged to help us save money and reduce food waste, whilst still enabling us to enjoy great quality and delicious food. The research also shows that many of us are making healthy food choices and adding more goodness to our diet – with shoppers actively buying more frozen vegetables. We’re excited to see shoppers discovering the many benefits frozen food, including the interesting and tasty products on offer, and how they can be enjoyed on their own or used in creating delicious recipes. As households become even more conscious of their spending, we expect this behavior to continue.”

Steve Challouma

Richard Walker, Managing Director at Iceland, added: “We’ve been passionate about the benefits of frozen food for decades, and frozen has never been more relevant than today. Many families have taken positive learnings from lockdown, and we recognize that families are looking to reduce both their household spending and food waste more than ever before. We believe that simple switches to frozen food can help to make a real difference, without any need to compromise on taste or quality. The recent findings highlight the positive role frozen food can play, and we look forward to inspiring more and more families to make the switch to frozen as a permanent change.”

Richard Walker