Frozen food sector is hotting up Birds Eye set to transform frozen sales and healthy living is driving ice cream resurgence

In the UK wholesale sector the ‘frozen’ category covers frozen food, ice cream and frozen desserts, and takes in retail and foodservice. In recent years frozen food has suffered in consumer perception versus chilled, which has taken the high ground in recipe innovation. A further factor, the scratch cooking revolution has emboldened consumers to cook with fresh ingredients, rather than frozen. And yet the fact remains that frozen foods, from ready meals to vegetables, continue to sell steadily because of their strong convenience appeal.

Two iconic British frozen food retail brands have come under one roof recently, with Nomad Foods’ Birds Eye buying Aunt Bessie’s for around £210m.

Along with the recently acquired Goodfella’s and San Marco pizza brands, buying Aunt Bessie’s gives Birds Eye the opportunity to expand its portfolio into another key meal occasion, the Roast Dinner, the fifth-largest meal occasion in the UK, eaten 1.3 billion times each year.

Created in 1995, Aunt Bessie’s is the number one brand in the UK for frozen Yorkshire Puddings and roast potatoes, with retail sales of over £140m and a portfolio ranging from roast dinner staples to savoury and sweet pies and desserts.

In a separate deal Birds Eye has now completed its acquisition of Goodfella’s. Goodfella’s was the UK’s first major frozen pizza brand when it launched in 1993, with 7.7 million households now buying the brand annually.

The purchase takes Birds Eye’s share of the frozen savoury category from 15% to around 20%, strengthening Birds Eye’s position as the leading frozen brand.

Frozen meat free continues to grow strongly, +15% YOY, with annual sales exceeding £200 million (Kantar Worldpanel), outperforming other frozen categories such as meat, fish and potatoes. It’s good news for the cash and carry/wholesale channel, as convenience retailers can use meat free to attract new consumers to the frozen category. Meat free is becoming more relevant to UK consumers, with 47% (YouGov) reducing their meat consumption.

“More shoppers are buying frozen meat free than ever and when they do, they shop the broader frozen category more often,” says Quorn National Account Manager Gary Routledge. The fastest growing food brand in the UK top 50, Quorn has developed a core range of five frozen products specifically for the convenience channel, to target family meals.

The range includes everyday favourites like Quorn Crispy Nuggets, recently awarded “Netmums Recommends” by the mum’s website, Quorn Burgers and Quorn Sausages. These are complemented by Quorn Cottage Pie and Quorn Lasagne ready meals.

Quorn accounts for over 49% of frozen meat free sales (Kantar World Panel.) Meat-free is attracting new consumers into the frozen category, so it’s important that retailers stock products such as nuggets, burgers and sausages, which make the introduction to meat free really simple and provide meat reducers with a great-tasting dinner for tonight.

Demand for Quorn’s frozen pricemarked range is being accelerated by a £1.5m TV campaign, encouraging healthier family dinners, focusing on Quorn Crispy Nuggets and Quorn Sausages. Quorn has also launched a ‘What’s for Tea?’ partnership with Netmums, engaging parents of tots to teens.

The prejudice that frozen food does not deliver the same nutrition and taste as fresh is declining as public perceptions shift. Frozen ready meals don’t have to be beige and bland, insists Jo Devenish, Co-Founder of Gourmade: “It’s been long overlooked, but the frozen aisle is changing. Value sales are significantly up on last year and the market will only continue to grow.”

Gourmade’s wide range of dishes offer the taste of home-cooked meals without the hassle of preparing them and cost less than the homemade equivalents, making them a doubly attractive proposition.

Launched last September, Gourmade’s bestsellers include Mac, Cheese & Bacon, Fish Pie and Lasagne and side dishes Posh Peas, Potato Dauphinoise and Sweet Potato Wedges. The dessert line-up features Raspberry Cheesecake and a trio of Roulades. The frozen ready meal range’s success has led the company to create 10 new internationally inspired, complemented with a selection of classic British pies.

Shah Khan is Marketing Manager at Aviko UK & Ireland, the UK’s fastest growing frozen potato brand. Shah reckons the combination of the amazing spring and summer, the school holidays and bank holidays, the Muslim celebration of Eid Al Adha and hopefully continued warm weather through to October means an increase in family sharing occasions, outdoor dining and other activities, which will prompt planned and top up shopping, to help wholesalers make more sales and more profit from frozen potato products including Aviko Golden Hash Browns:

“We are seeing exciting growth levels in the frozen potatoes sector in hash browns, shaped potato products, mashed potato, gratin and sweet potato products, driven by shoppers buying an increased variety of frozen potato accompaniments to make everyday meals more interesting. “

Shah Khan at Aviko reckons many wholesalers and the convenience retailers they serve could be missing out on incremental sales by stocking too many low value chip brands and not dedicating enough space to quality frozen potato products that are driving category growth.

Bannisters Yorkshire Family Farm

supplies customers in both retail and foodservice. Sales Director Marie Medhurst picks up on the healthy eating trend in frozen food:

“There’s been a clear shift in recent years to healthier eating and cleaner ingredients when buying products to cook at home and eating out.

“Our frozen potato products are as natural as possible. They are all gluten free, and most are also vegan and dairy free. The potatoes we use are British, sourced from responsible businesses. The only produce we buy from further afield is sweet potatoes, as they’re not commonly grown here yet! Choosing UK produce also reduces our reliance on imports and the impact of transport on the environment.

Bannisters’ products include Baked Jacket Potatoes. Bannisters began supplying caterers with frozen, readybaked potatoes over 30 years ago, and were the first to bring them to retail freezers a decade ago. Bannisters’ Little Jacket Potatoes are perfect for children and those with smaller appetites. The new Naked Jacket Potatoes are perfect for those who enjoy baked spuds but don’t want added calories from olive oil.

Our growing taste for world foods means popular catering outlets need to offer broad menu selections. Focused almost entirely on the cuisines of the USA, Tex-Mex, and Mexico, Funnybones Foodservice brings the flavours of North, Central and South America to the UK foodservice market in frozen product formats.

Funnybones Foodservice’s new Jamaican patties are made to traditional Jamaican recipes, with authentic herbs and spices and fresh Scotch Bonnet chillies. The four varieties come frozen in packs of 20.

Funnybones Foodservice’s Development Chef Tom Styman-Heighton thinks wholesalers should be bullish about the quality of frozen food:

“Wholesalers need to offer a good variety of on trend, quality frozen foods and highlight frozen’s benefits as the most practical and cost efficient way for foodservice operators to offer quality and choice. It not only delivers convenient portion control, it means even seasonal food is easily accessible for those looking to offer menu favourites all year round.”


The other major part of the frozen food category, ice cream sales continue to go from strength to strength, boosted by this year’s glorious spring and summer weather.

Ice cream experts Unilever report growth across the spectrum in both lower calorie and indulgent products, proving that despite the shift to health and wellbeing, consumers still look to treat themselves on special occasions with more indulgent ice creams.

Alix Colin, brand manager for Magnum describes Magnum Tubs’ launch in 2017 as a great example of a brand born on a stick evolving to meet other occasions and delivering category growth by offering consumers an indulgent ice cream experience to enjoy at home, whatever the weather.

Magnum owns 17% of the ice cream category, with Magnum Classic the allround bestseller. Magnum Tubs’ launch led to the Classic variant also becoming number one new product in luxury ice cream in 2017. It is followed this year with a new luxury Chocolate & Hazelnut Praliné variant in tubs, hand held and mini hand-held formats.

Ben & Jerry’s is another Unilever brand famous for delicious and indulgent ice creams. This year Unilever have launched Moo-phoria in Chocolate Cookie Dough and Caramel Cookie Fix flavours but just 128-132 calories per serving.

As well as its mainstream offerings Ben & Jerry’s is now also catering to over 3.5 million British people who identify as vegan and are looking for vegan, nondairy and gluten free products.

Launched in January, Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy flavour line up comprises Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Chunky Monkey and Peanut Butter & Cookies. Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy is now the UK’s number one free-from ice cream range.

To ensure Cornetto stays relevant to a new generation of consumers, this year Unilever also launched new Vegan Cornetto, a gluten-free option made with soy ice cream. Completing Unilever’s new ices lineup, new Breyers® delights has a delicious creamy taste, yet is high in protein and lower in sugar, with 350 calories or less per tub.

The longest established brand in Unilever’s dairy-free roster, Swedish Glace has been bringing dessert ice cream enjoyment to people with dietary needs for many years and has strong dairy, lactose and gluten-free credentials. Swedish Glacé’s new Almond and Cocoa variant taps into the latest flavour trends and offers a four-strong line up of delicious soy and almond based ice creams.

Alongside the global players, there’s a growing market for quality ice creams from specialist suppliers. Sally Newall, MD of Simply Ice Creamreports increasing numbers of people buying quality ice cream to eat at home or with friends.

Simply have been selling more sorbets than ever this year, which Sally Newall thinks is partly due to the weather, “but we have also seen strong sales in our bestselling honeycomb flavour and salted caramel. Our fruit based sorbets have seen good sales too, with mango, lime and passionfruit selling exceptionally well.”

Simply are launching a gingerbreadflavoured ice cream for Halloween and a mince pie flavour for Christmas.

Slush Puppie

Slush Puppie machines have been here since the 1970s and with retro drinks back in fashion, the brand is stronger than ever. Richard Benjamin, Director at Manchester Drinks says:

“Consumer demand for no added sugar drinks and snacks shows no sign of slowing, making the Slush Puppie Pouch’s launch perfectly timed. With 72% brand awareness, the success of our SlushPupPouchUK social media channels demonstrates a huge amount of goodwill and nostalgia towards the brand. We are confident parents will be happy to treat their children to this new style of Slush Puppie for the next generation.”

The three new flavours Blue Raspberry, Strawberry, and Sour Cherry – have broad appeal as all-year-round products that fulfil a need for after schools treats, birthday parties and days out. A consumer marketing drive starts from September with sampling activity, and a targeted social media programme is planned to drive awareness and encourage sales.

Slush Puppie Pouch can be sold ambient for consumers to take home and freeze themselves, or frozen in store for ‘on-the-go’ consumption.’