The vegetarian frozen food market is benefiting from a dramatic improvement in consumer perceptions of frozen food, and the positive health associations vegetarian food tends to have.

In the year to 24 February sales totalled £121m, up 6.5% on the previous year [TNS]. Volume was also up 7% to 25.7m kg.

"A lot of new users are coming into the meat-free category," says Jeremy Hughes, trade marketing controller at Quorn.

"These people aren't necessarily vegetarians; they're simply people who recognise the need to get a better balance in their diet and want to get some of their protein from sources other than meat."

Growing awareness among consumers about the importance of the 5-a-day message is also playing a part.

"For this reason, they are turning to products that previously targeted vegetarians for a tasty alternative that has the benefit of adding to their 5-a-day," says David Boyle, marketing manager of Northern Foods' vegetarian brand Grassington's.

Boyle also notes that the rise of the foodie culture is making consumers more willing to try new products. The vegetarian frozen food sector is responding to this with exotic flavours such as Quorn vegetable burgers with chickpeas and Moroccan spices, and vegetable sausages with sun-dried tomatoes and fine herbs.

Hain Celestial is the latest to respond, adding three new ingredient lines to the struggling Linda McCartney brand.

Vegetarian mince, vegetarian meatballs and vegetarian chicken-style pieces will be available from August.

The move is "just the beginning" of the company's plans for the brand, which was once valued at £40m.

A relaunch at the end of last year has helped revive flagging sales for the frozen range.

Discussions are ongoing about what comes next, and a move into the chilled food and sandwich arena has not been ruled out.