My challenge, having joined Birds Eye as CEO in November, is to restore growth to the frozen food category. There are a lot of misconceptions with regard to frozen food and, as the category leader, it is up to Birds Eye to change the public's perception. The two big consumer trends are for convenient, healthy and 'natural' food that is produced in an environmentally sensitive way. I believe frozen food is perfectly placed to deliver.
Manufacturers will be rewarded if they make it easy for consumers to buy food that is healthy and nutritious. We know consumers are concerned about health and nutrition, which is why we started yearly nutritional audits of our food as far back as 1996. We freeze our food to preserve it naturally, so there is no need for artificial preservatives, but we also choose not to add any artificial flavourings or colourings.
The FSA is about to launch the third phase of its consumer awareness campaign on salt, which Birds Eye fully supports. Salt reduction is not easy to do if taste is to be maintained, but in my experience of Birds Eye and Walkers, a surprising amount can be achieved with management focus and creative R & D input. We're inventive, often replacing salt with a pinch of herbs to add depth to the taste.
Our range of more than 20 ready meals has already achieved salt level targets set for 2010 by the FSA - reducing it by an average of 37% per 100g. Strict nutritional standards are also set for all our Captain products. For instance, per serving our Captain's Fish Fingers always contain less than 20% of the GDA for salt for five to 10-year-olds.
But it isn't just salt we are serious about. During my time at PepsiCo we were among the first to make the change to sunflower oil in 2002 to reduce saturated fat without compromising on taste, a move that we successfully achieved at Walkers. You may have seen some ads that ran during Obesity Awareness Week showing that 32 fish fingers contain less saturated fat than just one child-sized pizza.
Care for the planet is another important consumer trend and my vision is that Birds Eye will continue to provide great food but in a more sustainable way.
We've developed a range of sustainable agriculture guidelines that are constantly reviewed and have taken a number of steps such as leaving a metre unplowed at the edge of our pea fields and using low-pressure tyres on our tractors.
Birds Eye was a founder member of the Marine Stewardship Council, but fish sustainability is a complicated subject. The real issue is that, on the whole, consumers have not yet seen sustainability as a reason to switch purchase.
Birds Eye has a zero-tolerance policy on illegal fishing and fish caught out of quota and we don't buy 'spot market' fish (the usual market for illegal fish), despite it having temptingly low prices.
To drive fish sustainability, Birds Eye needs to wean consumer tastes from species that are becoming scarce, to those which are plentiful. Part of our role with the MSC is to help raise awareness of fish sustainability as an issue, because once consumers take an active interest, manufacturers will too.
I would like to see NGOs recognising that manufacturers operate in competitive markets, where pushing through consumer change is difficult. Where companies are able to do so, they should be rewarded for making positive changes. When it comes to salt, organisations such as CASH strike the right balance and I wish some of the others would take the same approach.