In a sector as mature as frozen food, true innovation is hard to find, with most efforts coming through range extensions and variations.
But some companies have succeeded in adding value by creating sub-categories, and consumer take-up has proved they’ve really hit on a niche.
Délifrance UK, which bought French viennoiserie manufacturer Appetit de France in early 2004, this year launched a range of frozen croissants, pain au chocolate and pain aux raisins, which can be cooked at home in 10 minutes.
Marketing controller Lucy Pickersgill says Délifrance uncovered a significant gap in the market: “Consumers needed to buy equivalent ambient product either the day before - losing the freshness - or make a special trip to buy on the day.
“Our frozen range allows consumers to stock up the freezer and capture the freshly baked flavours and textures of traditional boulangerie fare at their convenience.”
She adds that part of the appeal is the opportunity to bake something at home. “A lot of people are looking to eat in and it creates the illusion that they’ve done it themselves.”
Recognising the difficulty in getting shoppers to browse the freezer aisles, Délifrance opted for a consumer campaign to raise awareness through in-store sampling.
While the viennoiserie range trades on people’s cravings for a continental lifestyle, Kitchen Range Foods targets that most British of childhood memories - the trip to the seaside - with its Cadbury Mini Dipping Donuts.
Head of marketing David Young says: “In-store bakery had been in long-term decline and we looked at how we could make it relevant to consumers’ changing behaviour.
“Mini Donuts are a product you can dip into and share, and having the Cadbury brand name makes them very visible. It was important for us to deliver stunning packaging to arrest people’s progress in the aisles.”
Facing competition from chilled pizzas, of which 155 million were sold last year compared with 352 million of the frozen variety [ACNielsen, MAT to April 16, 2005], pizza manufacturers are also looking to innovate.
Schwann’s, which produces the Chicago Town brand, has recently released Chicago Town Breakfast Slices for on-the-move eating, and Chicago Town Wraps. Senior brand manager Brian Maughan says of Breakfast Slices: “This product is unlike anything else in the breakfast category, providing a contemporary, American twist on the traditional cooked English breakfast.”
Dr Oetker, also a pizza provider, wants to develop the premium adult-oriented frozen snacking market and this year launched Ristorante Piccolo, a six-inch version of its Pizza Ristorante, which it says will appeal to “a new consumer segment and those with smaller appetites or a calorie-conscious approach”.