On 11 June 1948, a group of 11 people met at 352 The Strand, London, for the inaugural meeting of the National Association of Wholesale Distributors of Frozen Food, later renamed the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF).
The group that met that day proved to be visionaries. It was only 25 years since Clarence Birdseye had created frozen food, but they could see enormous potential for freezing food at the peak of quality so it could be used as and when needed.
In the post-war years, frozen food was new, exciting and seen as the future for the food industry. As the original name of the association suggests, the industry was initially focused on wholesale, as most consumers didn’t enjoy the luxury of a refrigerator, never mind a freezer.
However, growth was rapid. Association records reveal frozen food production in 1949 grew 20%, with 2,035 tons of fruit and 4,347 tons of vegetables frozen along with 5,000 tons of frozen fish from Grimsby.
Seventy five years later, much has changed. The overwhelming majority of catering outlets rely to a greater or lesser extent on frozen food, and nearly every home has some form of freezer.
Total frozen sales are circa £9bn, a figure the founders would find astounding. Kantar figures for the past quarter show retail frozen food sales are back in growth, with volumes up by 2,572,000 tonnes, compared to the same period last year.
Next week, on 15 June, the BFFF and its members will celebrate the association’s milestone anniversary at the annual Frozen Food Awards.
The event takes place at a time when the frozen food industry is once again exciting consumers and demonstrating its relevance to modern lives, not only for quality and nutritional reasons but also as we look to do things differently to tackle climate change.
UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of edible food every year, and this waste is responsible for about 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The most common reason for waste is that food is purchased and then left unused, and we often cook and prepare too much.
In terms of tackling emissions, this figure is something all of us can do something about, and frozen food is a key part of addressing this challenge. Buying frozen food reduces waste in several ways.
First, it has a much longer shelf life, which means less food going off before consumers get the chance to eat it. Second, there is less wastage throughout the supply chain.
Additionally, frozen produce can be easily portioned, so consumers can cook only what they need and save the rest for another day.
At the BFFF, we are working hard to get this message to consumers and caterers. Our first-ever Frozen Food Week, in September 2022, focused on cutting food waste and was widely supported by our members.
This is leading to a real change in the ‘mood music’, with numerous articles in national newspapers and magazines highlighting the benefits of frozen. And while we advocate the buying of frozen food, we also acknowledge the benefits of home freezing leftovers in the fight against food waste.
In the coming years, we face the twin challenges of climate change and feeding a growing global population. I am certain frozen food will become the product of choice for consumers and caterers looking for sustainability, affordability and quality throughout the next 75 years, as we become closer friends with our freezers.