Unilever wants out of frozen foods. So does Heinz, owner of the Linda McCartney veggie brand. Not what you’d call a vote of confidence in the freezer cabinet, is it?
According to Goodlife Foods sales director Tim Clifford, the negative press surrounding Unilever’s plans for its Birds Eye subsidiary isn’t doing the sector any favours - despite the relatively good performance of some vegetarian categories.
“In our main accounts we’re actually up year-on-year,” he says, pointing out that retailers have been working hard at rebranding freezer sections to make them quicker and easier to shop. He adds: “The
pressure everyone is facing is on price.”
Clifford admits meat-free is not the most adventurous area in frozen foods. “The customer is looking for good quality food and good value prices. It’s about trying to bring in products that add interest without being too niche.”
Bestsellers in the frozen meat-free sections are centre-of-plate items such as added value escalopes, pastry products and meat-style ingredients such as frozen veggie mince. Totally out of favour are frozen ready meals - which Quorn, for example, has now abandoned - with sales down 18.4% in the year to November 6, 2005 [TNS].
Quorn UK marketing controller Mike Cohen says family shoppers are instead switching to frozen meat-free burgers, pies and sausages as healthier substitutes for their children’s meat favourites.
Goodlife is seeing the same trend. “With products such as nut cutlets, for example, we’re pushing what’s good about them - such as high protein, which is important to vegetarians,” says Clifford.
Tivall is the biggest own label supplier of frozen meat-style lines to the multiples. UK country manager Jane Collins says interest from meat reducers in vegetarian alternatives means meat-style products are the driving force, with sales up 10% year-on-year [TNS, 52 w/e October 2005].
Quorn and own label are driving growth in frozen meat-free products.
Collins points out that retailer brands are growing 5%, compared with 0.5% for the frozen vegetarian category as a whole. And in meat-style products, own label is up 22%, compared with 10% for the whole sub-sector.