Jo Saker poses the question: Is frozen food even better than chilled?
For many of us, frozen food conjures up images of the 1970, when boil-in-the-bag fish, party vol-au-vents and black forest gateau were all the rage. Since then, there’s a certain amount of anti-frozen snobbery that’s stuck around. Sure, it’s convenient and cheaper, but frozen food has nothing on chilled.
However, times are changing. The reappraisal of frozen foods has gathered momentum. Specialist frozen food brand Cook, for instance, has made a clever emotional connection with the best of home cooking. Its ‘remarkable food for the freezer’ and award-winning meals and puddings can tempt the most accomplished cooks to take a night off, bringing inspiration and choice to a traditionally uninspired area, with gluten and dairy free options. Plus, for mums, it’s a surefire way to slip at least one veg portion past a fussy little eater. Premium retailers are approaching the frozen category in a new way too.
Quality in frozen isn’t just about fancy ice creams and frozen peas anymore, with product and recipe innovation running through a far broader range of categories. Waitrose, for example, offers items as diverse as buttery croissants ready to pop in the oven through to a range of Cook’s Ingredients ready-portioned for use. Marks and Spencer launched its first range of frozen ready meals in 2014, introducing recipes such as confit of duck and slow-cooked pulled pork to extend its reputation for “every day special” ready meals into frozen. A new level of food quality has emerged that combines great ingredients and home cooking values with frozen convenience.
We trust frozen food more and this confidence is helping to reshape our shopping patterns. No longer are frozen meals viewed as an emergency backup – they have become a fully-fledged option for weekly meal planning, offering quality ingredients and pre-prepared dishes to suit our busy lives and an opportunity to try something new. What’s more exciting than Canadian whole cooked lobster on a Monday night? Packaging design plays an important part in creating this perception shift. Hiding the food in closed boxes simply reinforces negative perceptions about the quality of frozen food. Packaging that proudly showcases its contents, offering maximum visibility through windows and watch straps, mean customers can see just how good their products really are. Nonetheless, this phenomenon is all part of the wider design story. A product visibility design approach, with little or no photography, needs to be balanced with richly descriptive copy that adopts the foodie language of home-cooking and adds warmth. We feel reassured that the ingredients used could come from our own kitchens. Proper food that we truly want to eat. So where next? Should frozen be a product delivery choice rather than a standalone category?
Merchandising frozen desserts alongside chilled desserts is hardly unrealistic. Likewise, it would be easier to do your weekly bread shop if breakfast-ready fresh croissants could be found alongside frozen ciabatta for the weekend. Frozen should simply be integrated into every relevant aisle in-store, to give customers real choice at point of purchase. Frozen food has grown up and it’s gaining a well-deserved place at our tables as a result.