The vegetarian category's sales in the frozen sector are struggling, but this doesn't mean manufacturers are ready to give up on it yet.

According to TNS, the frozen vegetarian category remained largely static in 2006 with growth of just 1.8% against an 8.7% growth in the chilled aisles.

Despite this, in December Mediterranean Foods made its first entry into frozen with the launch of frozen falafel and promises more NPD this year. "With an established chilled product range, moving into the frozen market was a logical extension for us. We have started with our most popular chilled variety but our plans for more frozen food products are already well advanced," says commercial manager Jinan Al-Kadhi.

Hain Celestial, owner of the Linda McCartney brand, is also promising to tackle the frozen sector. It is hoping its relaunch next month will boost the frozen category with the innovation it has been lacking. "We need to raise the perception of frozen food," says commercial controller Ken Reed. "Consumers need to think of their freezer as a store cupboard in which to keep high-quality products.

"There needs to be a reinvigoration in frozen and we intend to communicate real food values back into the sector."

Premier Foods, however, would presumably argue this is already happening. Quorn is "massively outperforming" both frozen and chilled, thanks to innovation and brand investment, according to Premier Foods' trade marketing controller Jeremy Hughes. In 2006, Quorn grew by 16% in chilled and 20% in frozen [TNS].

Belinda Mitchell, co-founder of Simply Organic, which operates only in chilled, claims frozen will continue to suffer because shoppers spend less time in the aisles. "Customers still browse the chiller in a way they don't browse the freezer, which means they spend more time looking at the products on offer."

Ben Johnson, marketing director of The Grocery Company, believes the category has the potential to attract more health-conscious meat-eaters, but adds: "To do this, vegetarian brands and products must shout and offer something different."

Attracting health-conscious meat-eaters will be key, says Mitchell. "We believe customers in the vegetarian category are increasingly demi-veg and healthy eating is the driving force for the majority of these customers. The future is potentially very bright but only if the category can capitalise on the demi-veg consumer's demand for healthy eating and effectively promote its ability to assist healthy eating." n