During the coronavirus lockdown in the United Kingdom consumers were visiting supermarkets less often so were stocking up on frozen food to see them through longer periods of time between shopping trips. Unsurprisingly frozen food sales have soared to new heights over the last six months, which can be attributed in part to a dramatic increase in online purchasing.
“We now know more consumers than ever have been shopping in the frozen aisle since mid-March. This is hardly surprising, given the long shelf life, reduced food waste, value for money and variety of food on offer there,” said Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). “We are seeing lots of shoppers visiting our website for information on how to defrost, how long to keep frozen food and to find out if they can refreeze food that’s been defrosted. There are also plenty of people seeking inspiration from the recipe section. This all points to ongoing success for the frozen sector.”
According to the BFFF, pre Covid-19, the frozen food sector was forecast to grow +43.8% between 2019-2024, with online participation set to increase by 1.7 percentage points to 7.7% of total grocery sales. However, by week two of lockdown online share hit a new record at 7.9%, 0.2 percentage points ahead of where it had been predicted to be in 2024.
Soaring Vegetable Sales
The UK frozen vegetable category has experienced steady growth since 2013. According to a study published by Statista Research Department in July of this year, an estimated 8.8 million people consumed frozen vegetables more than once a week in 2019. This category has continued to perform strongly since then, growing at +10% versus last year (Nielsen 11.07 MAT 52 Wks), while frozen potatoes also continue to grow by +24.8% (Kantar Data to 12-Jul-20 Top line Frozen Potato Performance L12wks). According to Nielsen, this significant growth has partially been driven by the increase in number of occasions using frozen, home cooked meals continued to grow in May with scratch cooking up 35% versus an average month pre-lockdown.
“Whether it’s potato waffles or peas, frozen food has demonstrated that it can help families create those special moments without the stress and anxiety when preparing them,” said Chris West, commercial manager at Birds Eye. “To help keep parents inspired during lockdown, Birds Eye’s launched the ‘So what’s for tea?’ online campaign, to give shoppers ideas for mealtime recipes and activities to entertain the family during lockdown.”
According to Birds Eye’s shopper data, consumers are not only stocking up with more frozen products, but in-home consumption is going up too. People are not just filling their freezers once to have emergency backup options on hand, but are actively incorporating more frozen products into their meals, which is likely to keep demand higher than expected over a longer period.
Convenience and Value
Convenience has always been a top priority for consumers, but during lockdown demand for easy to prepare frozen vegetables rose to new levels. Responding to this demand, Birds Eye added to its range of Steamfresh products worth £33M RSV, with the launch of the Vibrant Vegetable Mix. Included inside the convenient pyramid steaming pouches are crunchy sugar snap peas and yellow carrot batons, with a sweet chili seasoning. The new range is now available in Tesco, and beginning in October it will be offered at ASDA and Morrisons for £2.
Following the extension of the Steamfresh line, Birds Eye’s market share in the category rose to 66%. As lockdown eased the frozen vegetables category continued to perform well, with the habits formed during this period and financial uncertainty helping to sustain consumer demand for frozen food. Exciting new product development in the channel will help to retain shoppers.
All the major supermarkets now sell prepared vegetables for customer convenience under their own brand labels. Iceland, for example, offers a range pre-prepped frozen vegetables under its own label, which includes diced onion, sliced mixed peppers, mixed casserole vegetables and sliced carrots – all of which retail for £1.
In addition to its range of frozen vegetables, which includes frozen stir-fried vegetables priced at £1.11, sliced mushrooms for £1.15 and Mediterranean vegetables at £1.55, ASDA is encouraging further uptake in this sector with a vegetable bundle offer of sliced carrots, garden peas, and broccoli, cauliflower and carrots for £2.64.
Consumers have become more health conscious over the last decade, with many aiming to eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Since the novel coronavirus outbreak the focus on health has become heightened, which means customers have not only been stocking up on more frozen vegetables, but consuming more at each meal too.
“Shoppers are increasingly conscious of how they can support their health with more nutritious eating, but without compromising on great taste and texture,” said West. “We hope the combination of sweet chili seasoning and crunch from the mini corn and sugar snap peas in the Vibrant Vegetable Mix will help inject some color and flavor to mealtimes, without the inconvenience and hassle of cooking from scratch.
Birds Eye will also be bringing back its Eat In Full Color TVC this autumn. It will focus on the Steamfresh range – encouraging consumers to add more essential nutrients and vibrant color to their plates with a tasty mix of frozen vegetables. The Steamfresh range was also given a revamp earlier in the year, helping to attract shoppers to the range and aiding visibility in store.
“Bringing back the Eat In Full Color campaign for a second year, together with this new launch, underlines how committed we are to changing the perception of frozen vegetables and doubling the consumption of vegetables in the UK,” said West. “As a nation, we’re still not consuming our 5-a-day, so it’s even more important that we as a brand are innovating new products product solutions and tasty recipe suggestions.”
The frozen vegetable category has been increasing in popularity year-on-year and it has markedly benefited from increased consumer demand for frozen food during the lockdown period, sharing in the frozen sector’s success. With an uncertain future and an even greater focus on health, it’s clear to see why it’s predicted that this category will continue to grow in the coming months. – Reported by Sarah Welsh