In an economically weakened Europe, frozen food producers have responded well to the needs of families looking for more cost-effective ways to keep everyone well fed. There are many instances where this has led to the expansion of product ranges or inspired the creation of completely new lines.
The overriding outcome is that while fresh is still considered the preferred option by many European consumers, particularly in southern Europe, frozen is no longer perceived as inferior. Certainly the German, Russian and Eastern European markets rely heavily on frozen fish and this is increasingly becoming the case throughout northern Europe and the UK.
There are umpteen benefits that frozen fish brings to the consumer table, including lengthy shelf-life, greater convenience, the retention of nutritional content and reduction of food waste. However, frozen fish’s greatest asset is its affordability; it invariably offers shoppers value for money. The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF), for example, estimates that frozen fish and seafood is currently 25 percent cheaper than fresh – something that surely contributed to the increase seen in UK retail sales of frozen fish and seafood last year.
According to Kantar Worldpanel, the country’s frozen fish and seafood sales grew slightly to more than €928 million in 2013. This performance is in line with the overall frozen food market growth of 2.5 percent and the increased trend for dining at home.
Looking ahead, while European economies seem to be recovering across the board, it should be noted that the gap between cost inflation and wage inflation remains stubbornly wide to the disadvantage of consumers. Therefore, with the sustained challenge on disposable incomes, Europe’s frozen food market should continue to experience growth throughout 2014.
The multiple benefits of frozen food are not just being recognised by shrewd retail shoppers, it seems savvy chefs are also becoming increasingly aware of what the category can bring to professional kitchens in terms of quality, cost and waste. A new survey has revealed that 95 percent of UK chefs and caterers are now stocking and using frozen food and that 82 percent understand that frozen products come with locked in freshness – a 22 percent increase compared to the results that were seen in a similar survey in 2011.
‘The Perception and Usage of Frozen Food’ survey, conducted on behalf of the BFFF, also revealed that 85 percent of chefs use frozen food at least weekly in their establishment. And when asked about their views on frozen food, almost 94 percent of respondents agreed that frozen food reduced waste as it offered better portion control and 82 percent claimed that frozen could help with long-term menu planning.
The survey, which was completed by chefs and caterers from across both cost and profit sectors, also showed that eight in 10 chefs believed that frozen food offered year-round availability of seasonal products. Seven in 10 claimed that frozen ingredients also offered them optimum price stability and competitiveness.
Another important finding in the survey was that 86 percent stated that they believed that frozen foods are frozen at the peak of their quality – a 16 percent increase on 2011’s results.
While frozen fish’s reputation is clearly on an upward trajectory, unfortunately the same can’t be said for fresh seafood. The notoriously savage UK media recently sunk its teeth into the fish sold as “fresh” by some of the country’s leading supermarkets and found many products of “unacceptable” quality. The alarming findings included some whitefish species that had spent more than two weeks on ice and yet apparently still had two or three days left in their shelf-life. In other words, unsuspecting shoppers could be consuming fish that had been out of the water for almost three weeks.
While red-faced retailers will undoubtedly address these failings in time, they can take comfort in the knowledge that the products in their frozen aisles represent nutritionally-rich fish in prime-condition at a stable and attractive price. Finally, innovation and new product development has ensured that there’s just as much variety to satisfy consumers in the frozen seafood cabinet as there is in any other aisle.