When it comes to chilled and frozen foods, it’s always chilled that takes the limelight. It’s seen as profitable and exciting but in these straitened times it seems that more consumers are turning to frozen foods. Indeed according to AC Nielsen data, the frozen category is enjoying value and volume growth.

Chester Robinson, head of trade marketing at Birds Eye, attributes this to several factors: increased consumer awareness; the growth in smaller households; and the economy.

"In times of recession, consumers traditionally look to brands that they know and trust," he explains. "Frozen food also limits food waste, which is becoming increasingly important to shoppers in the current climate, as it saves time and money."

However he adds that although consumers are becoming increasingly value conscious, they do expect prices to be at a bit of a premium in forecourts because of the convenience. But even then he reckons forecourt retailers should look to be price competitive wherever they can.

Some retailers may be tempted to offer meal deals on frozen food but Robinson warns: "While there’s certainly an opportunity here, retailers with limited space may find it difficult to offer the level of choice necessary to make it feasible."

When it comes to quality, he says frozen food is on a par with chilled.

"In all our communications it is our aim to emphasise the nutritional benefits of frozen food. There is a real education job to be done to teach consumers the benefits of frozen over chilled and we will now be communicating quality messages on pack."

Robinson says Birds Eye products are created using only carefully sourced premium ingredients and the highly-efficient freezing process used locks in the natural nutrition, flavour and freshness of the ingredients.

"With limited space in some forecourt sites, frozen food is often overlooked, but the category can offer a huge opportunity for additional sales. Given that freezer space can be somewhat limited, it’s important for retailers to be stocking key lines from best-selling brands as consumers will be expecting to see them and can make quick decisions based on their knowledge of the brands."

Birds Eye therefore recommends: peas 400g; Roast Chicken Dinner; Roast Beef Dinner; Chicken Curry & Rice; four Original Burgers; two Crispy Chicken; 15 Chicken Dippers; 12 Omega 3 Fish Fingers; 10 Cod Fish Fingers; four Waffles and Birds Eye Arctic Roll.

Freezer planograms are different for each channel and Birds Eye is working on bespoke solutions for forecourts.

"Research has shown that upright freezers can drive sales, as long as retailers keep them compliant. Retailers should stock a tight range of well-merchandised products in their freezers and ensure that they maximise space and efficiency.

"If freezers are clearly signposted by segment and cuisine, with any new products flagged up, this will make it easier for time-poor consumers to make a decision."

David Stokes, Nisa business manager for impulse and frozen, suggests a 2m upright shelved freezer for forecourts.

"Products featured all need to be for ’eating that night’ especially if the forecourt is in a built-up area or serves a lot of students. Pizzas, ready meals, chips, snacks and ice cream multipacks are the lines to stock. Retailers should go for top brands and, where possible, price-marked packs to give the impression of an offer to the consumer. Pack sizes should be limited to individual or maximum ’two share’ sizes to encourage repeat purchases."

When it comes to products, according to AC Nielsen data, Birds Eye has a 47% share of frozen meals in the total impulse sector. In forecourts the Birds Eye Big Eat range of meals goes down a treat.

Fish fingers are a ’must stock’ in any freezer and Birds Eye has just relaunched its Omega-3 Fish Fingers with 33% more Omega-3.

Eighties favourite Arctic Roll is back as Birds Eye hopes to introduce a whole new generation to the popular retro dessert. This time around it is available in raspberry ripple and triple chocolate flavours, backed by a £3m multi-media campaign.

New for 2009 is the Healthy Options ready meals range. Every product in the range is low in fat, free from artificial colours and flavours, and contains ingredients that consumers would find in their own kitchen cupboards. The idea is to offer consumers ’a great taste they can feel good about eating’.

There are six products in the range including: beef hotpot, which is lean minced beef in a rich onion gravy topped with potato slices; spicy chilli & wedges, again lean minced beef but this time in a chilli sauce topped with potato wedges; fish pie which is Alaskan Pollock in a creamy sauce topped with mashed potato; and sweet & sour chicken, pieces of chicken breast in a tangy sauce served with long grain rice. All come in 350g packs with a rrp of £1.49.

The launch is supported by point-of-sale as well as a national sampling campaign.

Finally Spar has just relaunched its own-label frozen ready meals. Each product in the range has been improved to give consumers a better quality meal. The rice dishes, which include weet & sour chicken, chicken curry, chilli con carne and a new balti-style vegetable curry have increased in size and are now packaged in a dual compartment tray.

In the Italian range, the beef lasagne and macaroni cheese have richer sauces, stronger cheese and the lasagne is made with fresh pasta.

In the British Classics line up, the cottage pie and cauliflower cheese have increased in size and have an improved flavour thanks to more seasoning. The roast chicken and roast beef platters now come with roast potatoes, carrots and a richer tasting gravy. In addition, all products within the range have had their salt levels reduced.


=== In the chiller ===

l Müller UK is running a no-quibble, full cash refund ’Try Me Free’ on-pack offer on 2.7 million Vitality yogurt and yogurt drink six-packs throughout March. The activity aims to attract both lapsed and new consumers into the functional yogurt and yogurt drinks sector. There is also a £1.1m national press and online campaign.

l Yoplait has launched an In the Night Garden fromage frais featuring two of the popular children’s show characters: Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy. The fromage frais comes in a six-pack of 50g pots (two strawberry, two raspberry and two peach).

l Arla Foods is investing £12m in marketing support for Lurpak in 2009. This includes TV advertising and a new ’Saturday is Breakfast Day’ ad. According to AC Nielsen data, Lurpak is the UK’s number one butter brand worth £229m, and is enjoying 14.2% year-on-year growth.

l Spar wholesaler AF Blakemore offers retailers a value range of fruit and veg. Five products were launched last autumn and more were added in January. Lines include onions, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, apples and a vegetable stew pack. All are priced at £1.