Parfetts Sheffield depot

I have recently been thinking about frozen - not the Disney blockbuster but the category in wholesale and independents. An FWD analysis years ago showed that in wholesale the gross margin does not cover the costs of selling frozen, and it has the additional dilemma for retailers shopping at cash & carry of maintaining the cold chain while transporting frozen product.

Despite this it is still a relevant category for impulse retailers, especially ice cream.

However, the recent Grocer report about Chilled Missions (23 May, p34) and the Nomad investment in Birds Eye set me thinking about other areas of frozen food. The new chilled initiative from Kerry Foods is essential reading for ambitious independents. The real dilemma seems to me to be around meal solutions. We have had real success recently in driving sales of premium cooked meats, deli products and yoghurts to add to the already core areas of milk and hard and soft fats. Despite this, ‘eat tonight’ products prove incredibly difficult in the independent sector. There is no brand presence in this area as the multiple offering is all own brand, and even where credible offerings are available from time to time the issues of a varied and extensive range and especially wastage mean critical mass is difficult or impossible to achieve. Even the leading symbols (Spar has been at the forefront) have only just got a credible basic range after years of investment and effort.

In the meantime shouldn’t frozen offer a solution? We are often told that in quality terms frozen matches or exceeds fresh, but this message hasn’t been successfully conveyed to consumers yet. Birds Eye seems to have been a victim of its own success and market dominance. In my opinion it has consistently failed to build on its initial success. In our sales the first Birds Eye product languishes at number 21 in volume sales, while Chicago Town, Aunt Bessie’s and McCain’s have shown how to innovate and excite the market.

In the wider market Malcolm Walker has single-handedly shown how to both innovate and promote frozen food, while Cook has shown how a premium ready meal cooked from frozen should be done. Even at the value end Kershaws and Bisto are showing how it should be executed. The missing link for smaller stores starting this journey is a credible branded frozen range of genuine meal solutions.

Despite the concerns over the impact of the cold chain on the environment (‘Global Cooling,’ 6 June, p30) this seems to me to be a longstanding missed opportunity and, I would argue, a market failure. Perhaps Nomad has the ambition and backing to address this.

Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons