Unilever is hoping to cash in on the UK's growing taste for gastro pub food with a frozen meal range called Pub Specials.
Working closely with chefs at Suffolk-based pub Fox & Goose, the company's Ice Cream & Frozen Food division has developed the ready meals range under its Birds Eye brand in an effort to strike a chord with regular pub diners.
Four gastro pub-inspired recipes have been created using traditional ingredients. These include Cumberland meatballs with apple & sage mash in a wholegrain mustard gravy with sliced green beans; and tender braised beef in a rich stout & mushroom gravy with parsnip mash & savoy cabbage.
Two chicken dishes - one with wild rice and a wild mushroom & tarragon sauce and another with hotpot potatoes, leeks, carrots & swede - complete the range. All are being launched next month, priced at £2.49 for 450g.
Brand manager Tom Callaghan said the meals would raise the bar in frozen: "These recipes are unique in the frozen aisle and will add new life to the freezer cabinet."
The launch follows mixed fortunes for restaurant-style ready meal ranges. Heinz entered the frozen market in 2002 with Main Street Bistro but axed it a year later because of poor sales. Marks and Spencer has had more success with its chilled Gastropub range.
Unilever believes the premium range will help arrest a decline in sales across the frozen ready meals category.
Stefan Chomka