Despite consumers demanding fresher ingredients, the frozen and chilled market is still going strong with ‘Packaged Facts’ estimating that frozen food products in the dinners/entrées, pizza, side dishes, and appetizers/snacks categories, having overall sales of $22 billion in 2016.

We spoke to Kirsty Henshaw founder of frozen food manufacturer Kirsty’s and Kids’ Kitchen to find out more about the frozen and chilled market.

Andy Singh: How has the chilled and frozen market changed in recent years?

Kirsty Henshaw: Although the concept of quick, convenient and tasty food remains at the heart of the sector, brands are now able to interpret and add elements such as healthy properties, premium quality or foods that can’t be easily made at home.

I believe the advancement of technology and innovations in the market have helped lead the biggest shift in this sector and that’s the style of food now residing in this section. Once perceived as bland meals full of additives, the market is now full of fresh delicious and healthy meals that are packed with flavour and no nasty additives.

A relevant topic within the consumerism market is the issue of waste. We all lead increasingly busy lives and although we buy fresh produce for the week ahead, the majority ends up being thrown out as plans change or products deteriorate. Frozen, and to some extent chilled meals, have the ability to keep for longer (up to three months for frozen) and the customer is treated to a deliciously healthy meal within 5 minutes saving time, money and wastage. For our part, we look to provide healthy and naturally free from ready meals that fit with busy lifestyles.

AS: How did food scandals, such as the horsemeat scandal of 2013, impact the frozen industry?

KH: When the horsemeat scandal broke out, the real issue was that no one was sure who was responsible for dealing with the fall out. The industry now has firmer guidelines and a stricter and more effective Food Standards Agency as a result.

Despite the initial outcry in the immediate aftermath, putting these new systems into place ended up being a positive step in the right direction for the industry. There are now much more strict policies here forcing the way processors and manufacturers operated alongside their suppliers, and that can only be a good thing.

The other side of the coin was that loss of consumer trust.  Most supermarkets ended up having to slash the price of the products to keep the sales going.  A lot of consumers went back to caring about the supply chain of their food products and I think local butchers did very well out of it all.

For our part, we were not affected as our customers have come to trust the Kirsty’s and Kids Kitchen brands and we even noticed a small uplift as customers turned to brands they can trust.

AS: How are manufacturers trying to win back consumer confidence?

KH: Manufacturers worked hard after the confidence breach.  Suppliers were reassessed, supply chains became less complicated for more transparency and there was an increase of sourcing products local, or at least from the UK.

The industry itself shook up the way they audited companies and increased testing and random auditing to prove how seriously they were taking it all.

We felt that it was a case of simply building on our brand and reiterating our core values of using quality ingredients that are carefully cooked to deliver a healthy and naturally free from meal for our customers.

AS: What can we see from the frozen and chilled market in the future?

KH: The sector continues to evolve whether through product offerings or innovations in packaging and preparation. Convenience will remain key, however, health and wellbeing is a trend that is set to continue into the foreseeable future whether free from, reduced salt, reduced fat content or cooked in a way that preserves the nutrients.

Newly emerging brands are starting to cut out the supermarkets altogether. They’ve recognised their own power of convenience and are now offering freshly pre-prepared meals, tailored to the individual’s health needs, delivered straight to their door.

In the light of the growth in this sector, in France, a new company called Picard has opened 1,000 stores around the country that exclusively only stocks frozen ready meals. I think consumers are embracing frozen and chilled meals, realizing they provide the perfect solution when it comes to convenient, nutritious and cost effective meals.

AS: Are there any new technologies that the frozen and chilled market is utilising?

KH: New technologies are enabling the frozen and chilled sector to not only compete with the freshness of fresh produce, but supersede it. Traditionally frozen was viewed as not as healthy due to having to add preservatives and the produce not being completely fresh. However, consumers have come around to the fact that freezing actually preserves nutrients and frozen is now often more nutritious than fresh. The snap freezing process locks in freshness and flavour with the need of additives to preserve shelf life. The key remains to lock in the freshness, but the opportunity is in explaining the benefits to consumers.

AS: What are the main things that manufacturers are doing differently to win over the consumer?

KH: The scandal paved the way for stricter guidelines for traceability and established who in fact was responsible for those kinds of episodes. I think this itself helped regain the consumer’s trust. The industry held up its hands and apologised and put stricter measures in place to protect the end user. These measures along with providing convenient, quality and affordable products are the key to success or failure.

AS: What are Kirsty’s and Kids Kitchen doing differently to their frozen counterparts that is making them stand out amongst the crowd?

KH: Our brand really cares about our consumers and everything is done to ensure we include them during each process of the development. We hold focus groups to get honest perspectives of new products and love hearing feedback from anyone and everyone.

Our food is healthy, nutritious and naturally free from gluten, wheat and dairy. This is a happy by-product of developing delicious meals packed with flavour. We also work hard to devise recipes that use nutrient-dense vegetables and also create meals that are both tasty and nutritiously balanced. One example is our Italian meatballs and vegetti that uses more than five vegetables in the ingredients and yet tastes great and offers something different to what you may prepare at home. Kids Kitchen is currently the only Kids range that is naturally free from gluten, wheat and dairy. We are also clever at putting in nutritious vegetables into the meals that children barely notice.

AS: How are the meals produced?

KH: We have a long-standing partnership with our manufacturer who are proven manufacturers of ready meals. The facilities they use are state of the art and fully compliant to BRC Grade A standards. This allows me to focus on marketing, product development and working with customers on understanding what they want and how we can get it to them.

AS: What can we expect to see from both Kirsty’s and Kids Kitchen in the not too distant future?

KH: There are some really exciting things in the pipeline at Kirsty’s including two brand new ranges – although remaining rooted to our ideals of providing nutritious, balanced and convenient food for customers. We’re still in the planning stage and so can’t mention specifics, but can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on.