It has been a fairly torrid 12 months for vegetable growers and retailers.

Some of the 5.5% increase in the category's value to £366m will have been caused by last summer's poor crops of peas and green beans in particular, which forced up prices.

However, there were also positive forces driving frozen vegetable sales.

"There has been further innovation in the market through new products such as soya beans," says Brian Young, director general of the British Frozen Food Federation. "More expensive items such as asparagus have helped to maintain momentum in this sector too."

Interest in world cuisine is also having a beneficial effect as consumers look to recreate the dishes they have eaten in restaurants. Most vegetables used to prepare these meals are available in a frozen format, including stir-fry mixes and frozen okra.

The convenience of frozen is key. "Frozen fruit and vegetables provide convenient ingredients that can be bought in bulk then used as and when a recipe dictates," says a Mintel spokesman.

Mintel expects the market for frozen fruit and vegetables [and canned] to have increased by 14% from 2007 to 2012. Stripping out the effects of inflation in the food sector, this is equivalent to 5% real-market growth.

However, the sector has much to learn from developments in fresh fruit and vegetables, says Mintel. Its advice is for manufacturers to look at what the fresh fruit and veg market has done to improve variety and entice more shoppers looking for healthy diets. And they're making headway.

Consumers are already beginning to accept the argument that frozen foods have the same nutritional value as their chilled or fresh counterparts and sometimes higher.

Frozen peas have long been understood to be a better alternative to fresh as they are "more convenient and frozen within two and a half hours of being picked", says Birds Eye marketing director, Ben Pearman.

"Driven by a number of PR initiatives, including endorsement from high-profile celebrity chefs, many consumers are now realising that frozen vegetables are, in many instances, 'fresher' than so-called fresh options. "

But the category is in need of a further shot in the arm to reach its full potential, he believes.

Birds Eye - which, according to data from BMRB, accounts for 44% of the frozen peas and vegetables market - is launching a promotional push in September with a TV advertising campaign featuring Suggs extolling the virtues of frozen peas.

He'll be the latest in a line of celebrities and chefs to back what is becoming a frozen revolution. n