Findus has raised the stakes in the freezer aisle with a range that rivals and it believes betters Birds Eye's Simply Bake To Perfection.

The Fresher Taste ready meals, which will hit shelves next week, are similar to the high-flying Birds Eye range in that they feature frozen chicken or fish in a specially-designed plastic pouch that can be baked in the oven.

But Findus claimed the four-strong Fresher Taste had key benefits over its ­rival, which has recorded sales of £29m for its five fish lines alone since the brand's March 2009 launch [Nielsen 12 June 2010].

Unlike Simply Bake, Fresher Taste could be cooked in the microwave, pointed out Findus Group MD, Mark Escolme. The contents had been vacuum-packed to minimise ice crystals, which can make food soggy when cooked, he added.

The meals also included vegetable side dishes in separate pouches and the packaging featured windows on each side of the box that let consumers see the food inside, he said.

"This is a complete meal rather than just the protein and consumers tell us that not being able to see the food in frozen food has ­previously been a barrier," he said. "This is fresh food, frozen. We haven't just launched a new range; we have introduced an entirely new sub-category of great-tasting, premium, frozen ready meals."

The Chicken Breast in a vintage cheddar & bacon sauce features a side of ­buttery broccoli, green beans and peas, while the Flaky Cod fillet in a creamy mornay sauce is accompanied by potatoes, broccoli, ­carrots and parsnips (rsp: £3.99). Each pack contains one serving.

Findus said it was confident consumers would welcome the new range, but Birds Eye questioned the price point.

"Findus is a downmarket brand famous for its crispy pancakes," said Birds Eye marketing director Ben Pearman. "It simply can't support a £3.99 price point, especially in the ready meal category, where the average price is around £1.30."