Forgotten fish fingers and years-old oven chips are a thing of the past. Today, luxury frozen food brands such as Cook have reinvented the idea of frozen food as one offering premium quality ready meals in a way that is healthy, convenient, and sustainable.

However, three years ago the market was not looking so fresh. The Findus horsemeat scandal saw a number of recalls from products within the market, following an investigation by the Food Standards Agency, which found a number of meat-based ready meals containing horsemeat. Poultry packaging also came under scrutiny in 2015 when the Food Standards Agency found that 7% of outer packaging of chicken sold in supermarkets tested positive for campylobacter, the most common form of food poisoning in the UK.

Growing demand: ensuring survival

This scandal deeply shook the trust that consumers had in frozen food. Yet, not only has the industry persevered, it is thriving. Earlier this year, figures by the market research company Kantar Worldpanel showed that the value of categories such as ready meals and frozen confectionery have survived the scandal and are now growing significantly, with value increasing by 2.1% and 6.4% respectively.

Recent figures from the Frozen Food Report II now estimate the current value of the British frozen food market at £8.13bn, including retail sales of £3.73bn and food service sales of £2.4m. It is the potential of frozen food to answer a diverse range of consumer needs, ranging from sustainability to health that has ensured its survival. Recognising this, the frozen food industry has regained retail leverage by extolling the sustainability benefits of frozen food.

Food waste currently costs the average household £470 a year. This is rising to £700 for a family with children, and this issue has become more prominent in the public conscience. The industry has drawn from studies evidencing how frozen food prevents waste and positioned itself as a viable solution to reducing the 7m tonnes of food and drink that is thrown away from homes in the UK.

Sustainable credentials: health-conscious consumers

Alongside sustainable credentials, the industry has also sought to promote the health benefits of frozen food such as frozen vegetables, which offer increased nutritional content for a lower cost. Demand for frozen fruit has also increased due to the growing trend for juices and smoothies.

With sales of frozen food predicted to grow between 1%-2% over the next five years, it is clear that there is scope for the industry to prosper. However, if the frozen food market is to really assert itself with consumers, its packaging must reflect its core strengths of health and sustainability and revamp the traditional image of frozen food: one of value and convenience, but not of luxury or premium quality.

This is where investing in packaging is vital. By using new materials and designs, the industry can reinvent existing products as luxury brands and capitalise on the true potential of the frozen food offering.

Packaging innovations: becoming a premium product

To have this impact in the frozen food aisle, food manufacturers need to innovate. Firstly, the packaging design of the product needs to quickly attract the attention of consumers and assert itself as a premium product. This is particularly important in the frozen aisles where the products are obscured behind fogged up glass doors, and cold temperatures mean that consumers are likely to spend less time browsing.

In terms of sustainability, packaging must have impeccable sustainability credentials to ensure that it is a truly a viable option for consumers who are choosing frozen food as a green choice. Meanwhile, those consumers choosing frozen food for its health aspects also require a greater choice of packaging, such as packaging that can be steamed or microwaved. Consumers choosing frozen food are doing so for convenience, and so luxury frozen ready meal brands are adopting trays with printed lids, enabling quick and easy access to the product.

As frozen food becomes higher quality and with fewer preservatives, packaging too will have to adapt. Recent innovations include pads that absorb juices and odours. In vacuumed meat, there is often an odour when the meat is defrosted, which leads the consumer to assume the meat is off.

A luxury option: reducing waste and saving money

Packaging that contains anti-bacterial properties will be particularly relevant for the poultry market which will eliminate dangerous bacteria such as E.coli that causes food poisoning. These packaging innovations will take time to be brought into the mainstream and will initially cost more, but will serve companies in the long-term by reducing waste and saving money.

With such a rich and diverse offering to consumers, the future is positive for the frozen food industry. The public is ready to move on from scandals and bad press to fall back in favour with frozen. However, a final push is needed from the industry to revamp and reinvent frozen food as a luxury option. Packaging is at the heart of this, and with creative design and clever innovation, it could ensure the success of the industry for years to come.