Frozen ready meals have taken a real kicking over 2013. And there is one standout reason why.
Horsegate, obviously. Not least in February, when tests revealed that Findus lasagne contained 100% horsemeat and the ping of the microwave took on an eerie tone. If customers had a Findus in the freezer it either went in the bin or straight up on eBay. Value sales slumped by 43% as the value of the brand was decimated, spiralling from £9.5m to £5.4m.
It wasn’t alone either. Whether horsemeat tests put them in the clear or in the dock, the category suffered as a whole, slumping by £35.6m, or 8.4%. That’s the second biggest category decline of them all, according to our Top Products survey.
The top five brands in frozen ready meals all saw value sales decline in 2013 including Weight Watchers, Birds Eye, Kershaws and Mr Brains. Yet it wasn’t all bad. One brand showed that horsegate didn’t have to be a problem.
Step forward the Bisto family. Like a bunch of suburban Chinese philosophers, they all sat round the kitchen table one night in March and realised this horsegate problem was, in fact, an opportunity. And one of them, probably Bellingham, suggested a plan so daring and adventurous that it just might work. Then they all got cracking in the kitchen.
The next morning Bisto added a frozen Spaghetti Bolognaise and a frozen Lasagne to its existing five strong portfolio of frozen ready meals. Not only that, but they were cheap. Just £1.50 per pop.
It was hard not to be impressed by the fact that dull old Bisto was charging at horsegate head on, jumping head-first into the Findus vacuum and launching the very products that had become synonymous with the scandal. This was a potential PR masterstroke, regaining control of the very thing which threatened to destroy them.
‘You can trust Bisto meals’ blared the ads. ‘Made with meat from trusted sources’ they added. And just to make sure everyone understood what was going on, Bisto also slapped a ‘100% British Beef’ rosette on packs.
Its reward was a sales rocket of 52% and a value boost of 64%, which whacked £3.8m on the value of the brand. Bravo Bisto.
And although it’s been a terrible year for the category, a monthly breakdown shows that sales of frozen ready meals are on the up. They are yet to return to where they were when horsegate hit, but after the kicking it took in 2013, getting back on the road to recovery is about as much as the category could have hoped for. Let’s hope the trend continues.