Frozen has struggled to shake its ‘cheap as chips’ tag, but Eazy Cuizine is winning sales by pushing posh frozen ready meals to c-stores. Rob Brown speaks to its founder, James Cook

It's never been easy in frozen food. Heavily discounted and hidden away at the back of stores, the category's potential has all too often been ignored. For too long, says James Cook, co-founder of premium frozen food company Eazy Cuizine: he's on a mission to drive the value back into frozen.

It all started in 2005 with a secondhand blast freezer named Doris crammed into the Manchester flat Cook shared with his wife Julie. In this improvised culinary lab the pair dreamt up a range of dishes before freezing them in Doris to lock in the flavour and prolong their shelf life. And so Eazy Cuizine was born.

"There was a gap in the market for convenience food that wasn't full of additives and preservatives and tasted great," says Cook. While the supermarkets were busy giving their own label frozen ranges posh makeovers, Eazy Cuizine found a home in c-stores and Ocado. Listings in Nisa, Booths, Wholefoods and a host of indies have helped sales go from £150,000 in 2005 to an expected £1.2m this year.

Cook is aiming for 50% growth next year, fuelled by NPD and an innovative approach to in-store display. "We've created a freezer that looks like an Aga and has space for at least 20 lines," he says. "It stops our products getting lost in aisles where the focus is on promotions." He's also developing a front-of-store freezer aimed at encouraging impulse buys.

With the party season just around the corner, Cook reveals his next trick a range of petits fours, canapés and mini desserts. "We've developed these so indies don't miss out when people stock up on party food," he explains.

Of course Eazy Cuizine is not the only one pushing frozen posh nosh of late. The mults have spruced up their ranges and Cook the frozen food chain that shares a name with the Eazy Cuizine founder has enjoyed success targeting time-strapped gourmands online and through its growing retail estate.

The reason for the changing attitudes to frozen food? The economy, stupid, says Cook. "One thing is the amount of restaurants closing," he explains. "My family is in the restaurant trade and they are down because more people are eating at home."

That means foodies will pay a heftier price for culinary treats at home. Eazy Cuizine is priced accordingly, with prices for the line including Red Thai Curry, Beef and Ale Casserole and Fish Pie ranging from £2.99 to £11.99.

Bundled deals at Ocado have also helped drive value and boost sales for Eazy Cuizine at the online retailer by 175% in the past year. But the supermarkets are not next on Cook's hitlist. "We're trying to offer premium frozen products to give independents the opportunity to compete with the likes of Tesco Finest products," he says.

So as he extends his current 50-strong range to include 80 products in the next year, c-stores will remain the target for Eazy Cuizine. Talks are already underway with Spar, says Cook, who is confident sales will hit £1.8m next year.

Doris would be proud of what she helped to start. If she wasn't a freezer, that is.