The Department of Health is expected to extend its Healthy Start scheme to include frozen fruit and veg, The Grocer has learnt.
The scheme provides pregnant women and young families on low income with vouchers worth £3 that can be exchanged for fresh fruit and veg, as well as milk and infant formula milk. Some £73m worth of vouchers are issued each year.
The vouchers could not previously be redeemed against frozen fruit and veg as the DoH claimed retailers would encounter problems with barcoding and would struggle to maintain the integrity of the scheme.
However, supermarkets have disputed the DoH's position and offered their "full support" to extending the scheme, according to the director general of the British Frozen Food Federation, Brian Young.
"We've been asking for frozen to get its fair share of the scheme for two years now," said Young. "I think the DoH asked the wrong people in the first place, because all the retailers we've spoken to said it wouldn't be a problem."
Young will be meeting with Department of Health officials next week to discuss including frozen in the scheme, and expressed confidence that there would be a u-turn.
Adding frozen would make it easier for the scheme's target demographic to be reached, he added. "Many of the people who apply for these vouchers shop at supermarkets such as Iceland, Aldi and Tesco, where there's a range of frozen food on offer."
The Department of Health had not argued that frozen should be excluded on nutritional grounds, but for purely logistical reasons.
The BFFF's stance has received the backing of the British Nutrition Foundation. "Frozen veg is often a cheaper, more convenient, and in no way nutritionally deficient alternative to fresh produce," said spokeswoman Anna Denny.
The frozen vegetable category is worth £376m [TNS].