In 1948, when frozen food first arrived on these shores, only the most affluent could afford it.

Sixty years later, manufacturers are doing everything they can to combat shoppers' perception of frozen food being low-quality.

Prior to the credit crunch there had been a concerted effort to introduce more premium ranges. Since then, the message they've tried to convey is one of quality.

"Northern Foods, like other manufacturers, is committed to bringing about a step change in consumer opinion by getting shoppers to realise that frozen products deliver on taste," says Kevan Mallinder, Goodfella's head of UK marketing.

Anne Murphy, general manager of Birds Eye UK and vice chair of the Food and Drink Federation's frozen food group, says all companies have had the same experience: when prices fall, so do perceptions. This has led to frozen being seen as the poor relation to fresh and chilled.

There are signs that retailers have recognised the dangers of heavy promotional activity, though.

TNS data shows volume on deals across frozen food is down 0.7% year-on-year.

But Murphy says retailers should be doing more on the merchandising front.

"The positioning and presentation of frozen food in store has been an issue," she adds. "It's important to recognise the work retailers have undertaken to turn things around through initiatives to improve availability and presentation. This renovation of the category is something that will continue."

Murphy points to the ice cream sector's success in persuading shoppers to trade up to premium products through range and flavour extensions. She says Unilever's Magnum is a good example of this, and praises the company's investment in innovation and advertising.

Premiumisation has been big news. Findus has tried to tap into the trend with its Novelli range of products based on recipes produced by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.

Frozen pizzas have also been upgraded. Northern Foods' Pizzeria was relaunched in February to replace Delicia Pizzeria Thin and target a more sophisticated adult market. The company has also introduced what it feels are more exotic ingredients, such as spicy chorizo and sun-dried tomatoes.

Such innovations are being reinforced by the retailers, as Murphy notes: "Retailers are investing in the innovation and quality of their own-label frozen products too."

McCain's new Gourmet range has helped premiumise the frozen chips category, while Heinz's launch of Amoy Straight to Wok frozen stir-fry and rice meals and McDougalls' Upper Crust Savoury Tarts have attracted new users to the category.

Birds Eye is one of a number of manufacturers that have tapped into growing interest in healthy food. It describes its Omega-3 fish fingers as "the single biggest event within frozen fish in the last year". The product is part of Birds Eye's Good Mood Food range and was supported with a multi-million pound advertising campaign.

Young's, on the other hand, has reinforced the traditional credentials of its new Great Grimsby range.

"Great Grimsby aims to put food values back into a tired, mature sector, bring consumers back into the category and trade existing shoppers up," says Helen Taylor, marketing controller at Young's.

"It is also encouraging that sectors such as scampi have held up well in the face of significant inflation, so that value remains ahead of last year."

Prawns have been joined by lobster tails and other more premium offerings. But there's no need to complicate things. "Across the frozen category we need a really simple message: make people aware of quality," says McCain marketing director Simon Eyles. "There is still some way to go in that, and brands must keep pushing this forward." n