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Bringing some 'freshness' to frozen.

Against a backdrop of increasing public awareness of food waste it’s no surprise that the frozen foods industry is extolling the virtues of frozen food. Yet while the benefits are irrefutable, the market remains static overall with only minor gains in value (Only 0.5% i.e. £29.2m growth in last year (Kantar worldpanel 52w/e march 2015) and with volumes down by 0.4%).

Arguably the industry continues to suffer from negative consumer perceptions such as the legacy of ‘cheap and cheerful’. The practical drawbacks of negotiating the supermarket freezer cabinet and worries about food defrosting during the shopping process coupled with the appeal of fresh over frozen remain significant barriers.

As well as crusading public awareness of the practical benefits of frozen, the industry needs to harness design to do a better job of communicating those benefits and countering the negatives.

- Convenience is key. Having delicious ingredients or complete meals on hand is a real advantage for time starved consumers and demanding families.

- Frozen food contains no artificial preservatives. It is an entirely natural way to preserve food.

- Frozen fruit and vegetables are nutritionally more reliable than the fresh supply chain. Freezing prevents sensitive vitamins and nutrients from being lost during transportation from farm to plate.

- Freezing allows you to choose from a vast selection of seasonal ingredients all year round.

- Frozen food can significantly reduce food waste as you use only what you need which is good for the environment as well as household budgets. We currently throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year (a shocking 19% of all the food we buy), the majority of which could have been eaten. It's costing us £12.5 billion a year (the same as the average UK family wasting £700 per year) Total food waste produces 17 million tonnes of CO2. Of this, 2.6 million tonnes are wasted because of food not eaten on time (about £270 for average household).

Worldwide about one-third of all food produced (equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes) is lost or wasted in the food supply chain and in the home.

Clearly some of these issues are best tackled through campaigns such as Sainsbury’s ‘love your freezer’, Iceland’s – ‘Power of Frozen’ and Birds Eye’s ‘ifreeze’ campaigns but brands need to do a better job of conveying the benefits of frozen at the point of purchase as well. Semiotic cues of freshness, nutritional value and food quality should all be dialled up to counter some of the negative perceptions of consumers. The ubiquitous cardboard box for example should be challenged to reinforce convenience and food quality messages.

There are numerous practical issues that represent opportunities for the category to appeal to consumers. Re-sealable bags go some way to address the ‘loose peas in the bottom of the freezer’ syndrome, but structural packaging should work harder to offer greater convenience in the whole journey from store to plate. Addressing the space that is wasted by half empty boxes and tubs with only a spoonful of ice cream could increase frequency of purchase by liberating freezer space sooner. The wider use of portion packing, which seems confined to some of the larger packs of chicken portions, would reinforce the convenience benefit of frozen.

Graphically the ubiquitous ‘food shot’ is being challenged by the use of alternative quality and provenance cues. Whitby Seafoods (value sales up 10%) evoke fond memories of the seaside with images of seaside huts instead of food photography on the front of their packs. This kind of more sophisticated approach tells a story and engages consumers at a deeper, more emotional level than the purely functional evocation of what the food looks like. The food photography beauty contest is not only a one trick pony, it is a tactic that consumers innately distrust knowing that in reality the food never looks as good as the photograph.

The main driver of the value growth over the past 12 months has been premiumisation, with some notable launches such as Birds Eye Inspirations (chicken and fish dishes - worth £31.3 million 9 months after launch in March 2014) and Youngs Gastro range (worth £27.1 million, Nielsen 52w/e 25April 2015) which helped push up average prices of frozen fish by 2.7%.

These premium propositions use obvious quality cues in their packaging designs largely through the styling of the food shot rather than design tapping into a broader range of emotions.

Our own work for Tesco finest’s frozen ranges including ice creams, lollies and desserts, meat, fish and poultry celebrates artisanal manufacturing and food provenance to tell the product story and to differentiate these ranges from the competition.

If the potential for growth in frozen foods is to be realised, design will have to work much harder to emphasise the advantages of this misunderstood category and to tell stories that engage consumers at a more emotional level than just the appearance of the food.