While new initiatives were planned to revive sales of frozen food in supermarket stores by “making fixtures more exciting than they are”, Britain’s biggest retailer would be focusing most of its attention on driving online sales, where it is performing much better, said Sarah Bradbury.
“I think ice cream will probably lead the way from an experiential perspective,” she added, as a way of re-engaging customers’ senses and to create more theatre around the frozen foods category in stores.
Frozen category squeezed
Speaking at the British Frozen Food Federation’s annual conference on Tuesday (March 1) Bradbury recognised that as competition for shelf-space in supermarkets came under increasing pressure, the frozen category was being squeezed in favour of ambient and fresh foods.
She also noted that younger people were not attracted to frozen foods, and this was a demographic group that could be targeted by social media to help promote the benefits of online sales of frozen products, said Bradbury.
“We are the biggest part of online currently for frozen food so as more becomes commoditised online, it is the opportunity,” she said.
“We as retailers have so much to learn from the foodservice industry. [Foodservice] is so far ahead of us. There is absolutely masses for us to learn – especially from the restaurant trade.
“[Frozen] is a bit boring in retail at the moment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The next five years within retail frozen food is going to be really, really interesting.”
Frozen returns decreasing
Change was necessary because, as Bradbury pointed out, the financial returns on sales of frozen food as a proportion of store space were decreasing. “When we look at it versus fresh and ambient, we wouldn’t have the space we currently have if it was easy to remove the freezers,” she said.
There was an opportunity, for example, to promote to consumers the fact that frozen food did not require preservatives, increased convenience and reduced waste, attributes successfully promoted by Sainsbury and Iceland last year, Bradbury noted.
However, it would not be easy to change consumer perceptions, especially since fresh food was likely to get cheaper as competition from the limited assortment discounters increased, she added. “That is automatically going to put more pressure on our frozen food ranges.”
The solution, suggested Bradbury, was to increase innovation within the frozen food category to raise customers spend. “We are in a very fast race to the bottom and making frozen food cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. And actually we have to try and bring some value back in.”
She cited good examples of frozen developments which improved customer convenience, such as Birds Eye’s Stir Your Senses range, which was selling well through Tesco’s Express stores. Another example was the Young’s Gastro range, which was helping to stem the decline in the battered fish sector, she said.
Ice cream innovation
However, apart from ice cream, which saw a lot of innovation through examples, such as Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum ranges, elsewhere: “Frozen has tended to be about two years behind on its innovation,” she reported.
On a positive note, Tesco had seen sales of frozen fruit rise from £6M to £25M over three-and-a-half years, thanks to the growth in home juicing, said Bradbury.
Similarly, free-from frozen foods offered much potential for growth, she suggested, as did convenience products, such as pre-prepared frozen sweet potatoes, butternut squash, sliced red onions and avocado pears. Meanwhile, frozen peas and oven chips would remain a favourite, she predicted.