A Kent-based producer hopes to reverse the fortunes of the frozen food category by offering consumers premium ready meals based on unusual recipes.

Ferndale Foods is launching the ultra-premium frozen range, which will appear under its newly created brand name, The Genuine Food Company, exclusively into Waitrose.

The range, which can be microwaved straight from the freezer, was developed by Ferndale's in-house team of chefs and includes Piedmontese Braised Beef Casserole, Flaked Cod with Minted Fennel Cream, Creamy Chowder of Flaked Cod and Mussels, Lasagne of Crab and Prawn with Dill and also Gruyère and Mediterranean Seafood Casserole. The range is designed to deliver restaurant taste and quality.

"We believe The Genuine Food Company range marks a step change for the frozen meals category," said MD James Logan. "It will offer gourmet meals to time-poor consumers seeking the convenience of a frozen product with the taste and quality of home cooking."

The Genuine Food Company range uses no artificial colours or additives and the products are hand-cooked before being blast-frozen to lock in the taste and nutrients.

The frozen food producer said this launch was the first of a series of initiatives this year. The company is striving to get back on track after it made 500 staff redundant last year, a move it was apparently forced into after Asda switched suppliers. But Ferndale said it was committed to the frozen category and believes the premium range will attract consumers looking for superior alternatives to other ready-meal options.

"The range will deliver an exciting new ultra-premium addition to the frozen fixture with strong freezer standout, encouraging consumers to shop the fixture," said Logan.

The range answers the call from retailers for more NPD and premium offerings in the frozen category.

The frozen ready meals category dropped in value by 13% in the year to 7 October 2006, according to ACNielsen.