Richard Harrow Talks Frozen Food and the UK Market


In an exclusive interview, Richard Harrow, CEO of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) discusses the current state of the British frozen food industry and the key elements that should assure a constant growth for the frozen food market in the years to come.

According to the latest Kantar figures, the frozen food market was worth GBP6,1bn in the first 10 months 2020, up 14,7% YoY, meaning that it added over GBP700m worth of turnover. The percentage growth is actually ahead of total groceries, which registered +12,2%. In terms of volume, frozen food is ahead of the market with an 11,4% growth compared to 8,7% growth in the overall groceries market.

“One of the really interesting stats is that with the restrictions we’ve seen people shopping less often and buying larger quantities. So trip numbers down, the weight of purchase up. The overall market has seen a 9,6% decrease in trips, yet frozen food has seen a 3,1% increase. We are seeing people buying into frozen more often and we think part of that is linked to this drop in overall frequency. If you are shopping once every ten days, you are obviously concerned that fresh products are gonna go bad at that time, so you’re buying more frozen. So we’re seeing very strong demand for vegetables. The pizza market has been very buoyant, it’s up by about 11,7%. Savory foods are also up by 12,4%, ” Harrow points out.

“We’re also seeing quite strong growth for meat substitute products, if you walk around the supermarkets you see more and more shelve space being given over to the products. What’s really interesting is that they now tend to be standalone categories, while a few years ago you would have the old product within a category, you would have a vegetarian burger in the burger section. Right now they are very specifically ranging with quite decent SKU counts, both branded and unlabelled. There’s a lot of products in there, not all of them will survive, but there is a lot of innovation.” Harrow adds the fact that in the frozen category there is less wastage than in others, which a very good advantage.

When compared to the beginning of the year, the CEO of BFFF says current sales aren’t that strong. “If you look at the growth numbers that we had in the early part of the lockdown, in March we had a 28% increase in the market. It then varied throughout the year, and as we came into the second lockdown, we were running at about 17,5%. So not quite as high. “

He says that during the first lockdown, consumers really panicked, as it was a new normal to them. “What happened was that there no food shortages, the problem was getting the product from the factory to the distribution center. It was literally the supply chain. There was a lot of comment about panic buying, but it wasn’t really panic buying – if you looked at the real numbers that Kantar provided, it was actually a lot of people buying a few extra items. That was the real data.” Harrow says that’s now settled down, and people are now more used to restrictions and there’s no panic. There’s still an uptick, but as it was during the first part of the year.

There’s a lot of evidence that sales of frozen food will remain high, Richard Harrows says. “The other thing that is going to start to change is the messaging around food wastage. A lot of it is about the impact on your wallet, either as a consumer or as a professional kitchen. We’re starting to see messaging that highlights the impact that food wastage has on the environment. We have a situation where we use natural resources to make a product, and then we waste it by throwing it away. And when we throw food away, it also creates emissions. As that message becomes prevalent, I think we will start to see a stronger position for frozen food because we can talk about the fact that if you buy a bag of cauliflower, you don’t have to use it within a few days, you can use a quantity and then put it back in your freezer. I think that plays to the strength of frozen food and when you align that to the fact that we’ve seen a huge growth in innovation for frozen food, no longer is the category about frozen chips, peas, and fish fingers, we’re about a lot more than that. And as consumers come into the category and they see that, we hope they’re gonna like what they see and start to say «well, perhaps I’ll try frozen again».”

That’s especially true of the younger generation, Harrow points out, as they don’t have the preconceptions of what frozen food used to be like. “A lot of young people buy things for the values they represent, and we can clearly demonstrate that as an industry we are environmentally positive.”

As for 2021, Harrow does not believe the industry can retain the whole of the growth that i’s had. “14% YoY growth is extremely strong, and if you actually look at the overall market, if you combine out-of-home and retail, frozen has lost about GBP200m. It’s gonna be clear that when that returns, we’re going to start seeing a transition from the retail back into foodservice, and we hope that foodservice will also pick up the idea that frozen is ideal.”

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