Consumers should be encouraged to spend more time seeking out high-end frozen products, says Norman Soutar

It was very encouraging to see the record annual results posted by Iceland, which has opened 74 new stores and seen total sales jump 10.4% to £2.2bn. For most, especially families, the freezer has always been a reliable source of staples such as fishfingers, frozen vegetables, oven chips and ice cream.

But times are changing. The recession, demand for high-quality, good-value meal solutions and ingre­dients, and awareness of minimising waste all play a part in changing the freezer's role in the domestic kitchen.

Food inflation has soared, and consumers put value at the top of their agenda. Figures from IGD show price is the key factor potentially a great opportunity for frozen.

A widely accepted and true view is that frozen offers great value. We need to protect that genuine value proposition by continuing to supply high-quality innovative products with broad appeal, helping extend convenience beyond the traditional end users of those eating alone and families with small children.

Shoppers make clear distinctions between 'cheap' and 'good value'. The FDF Frozen Food Market Climate Audit showed that, in February 2010, 17% of consumers felt their freezers were fuller than six months previously, and 71% thought frozen was better quality than it used to be.

These trends show why the freezer has become important in the downturn. Stocking up on great-value, high-quality frozen foods and ingredients for meals cooked from scratch along with a desire to reduce waste are all reasons why the freezer is fuller. With IGD figures showing 39% of consumers are doing more to plan meals than in 2007, it's no surprise the freezer is the household's second store cupboard again.

Consumers have long bought into the nutrition proposition offered by raw ingredients, such as peas frozen within an hour of picking, preserving nutritional content to perfection. But innovation and product development by UK manufacturers have created a wealth of new frozen meal solutions and ingredients 49% of consumers are quite/very inclined to try new products and would welcome more choice.

When Delia Smith dedicated a book and TV series to How to Cheat at Cooking, a key message was how to use products designed to be stored in the freezer as a source of short cuts to produce wholesome family meals.

There may also be lessons to learn from French frozen food chain Picard. Between 2002 and 2005, sales of frozen food in France increased by 6.2%, but in the same period Picard increased turnover by 32% to 894m, considerably outperforming the market.

Some of that success was down to an increase in store numbers and name recognition, but it was also due to the richness of its offering and its service positives many UK consumers would not automatically associate with frozen.

Perhaps Picard's shopping environment helps move frozen away from the price-led position, allowing the consumer to focus on its quality.

We need to work with retailers to create those associations, to increase the time consumers browse and to encourage them to seek out high-end products to supplement core staples. Educating the consumer must be in all our interests.

Norman Soutar is chief executive of William Jackson Food Group and chairman of hte FDF Frozen Food Group.

Focus On Frozen Food