Don’t let chilled hog the limelight. Frozen food is tasty, healthy, convenient and reduces waste, says Patrick Limpus

Now more than ever, it makes sense to bring more high-quality foods and home-cooking solutions to the freezer.

Since the advent of the first chilled ready meal – the M&S Chicken Kiev circa 1983 – shoppers have been slowly brainwashed into believing “fresh” or chilled is best. Meeting insatiable customer demand for exciting new foods is automatically directed to the chilled fixture. This needs to change.

We at The Sauce Kitchen aim to be one of those leading the way, working alongside and together with others in our industry to drive change and champion the freezer aisle as a destination of choice for suppliers and shoppers alike. We want to do for cooking sauces what Birds Eye did for garden peas.

Why bother? We know freezing food is nature’s way of preserving food. Taste and nutritional goodness are retained and factory thickeners and most preservatives are unnecessary. With most families owning a microwave, frozen food can be convenient and, with individual servings, help control waste and portion control too.

We should be ashamed of our levels of waste in-store and at home. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign claims the average family of four wastes food worth £680 a year.

As noted in The Grocer’s Green Issue last week, annual food waste volumes are still mountainous (equating nationally to an unacceptable 8.3 million tonnes of UK landfill) and although good efforts are being made to reduce this, in truth we are still chipping away at the problem. More can be done, and the freezer addresses the issue right at source. No more out-of-date half-empty jars of sauce or forgotten bogofs at the back of the fridge. 

The use of factory ingredients to make food “cheap” can also be a false economy. The cost of healthcare is rising at an unsustainable rate, fuelled by diseases with a strong link to diet (diabetes, heart disease, obesity). Some “cheap” factory ingredients (refined carbohydrates, thickeners, artificial sweeteners, factory fats etc) have been linked to these conditions. Frozen foods just don’t need these ingredients.

When as much as 95% of items in a typical domestic freezer have been bought chilled and frozen at home, we know shoppers are comfortable with freezing but less than inspired by much of the frozen offer.

How can we drive change? First and foremost by producing food with real integrity that tastes great. Pleasingly we are seeing an increasing number of frozen products in this vein. But product developers need to show NPD to frozen category buyers, not just their chilled counterparts. Independents need to be part of the debate, too.

And retailers can help by investing in improving the freezer environment and using their own “in-house” media to communicate the benefits of ­frozen to their customers. Between us we need to make the freezer a place that consumers are proud to shop.

Consumers will take time to find new innovations in the freezer and change their shopping patterns, so category buyers need to be patient.

Meanwhile we all need to work with our media contacts to persuade them to promote and educate the market in an honest and compelling way – because if we don’t engage the consumer in the debate and enfranchise them to re-evaluate the frozen offer now, then when?

Patrick Limpus is CEO of The Sauce Kitchen.