The Big Freeze

07/08/2017 - 12:05
Frozen products are back on the agenda as caterers look for ways to offer quality and value for money to keep costs down.

There’s a feeling of deja vu as the current uncertainty of Brexit mirrors the concerns of almost a decade ago when the recession kicked in. Demand for frozen food grew then to offset the impact of an unsettled economy, and many believe it will happen again now.

John Hyman, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF), says the frozen food industry is worth just over £8 billion, of which the foodservice sector accounts for £2.4 billion, but his aim is to make it a £10 billion industry with the help of its members.

“Frozen ingredients offer constant availability, meaning that price inflation as a result of demand becomes a smaller issue,” comments Hyman. “Food inflation can also be offset through waste reduction and savvy use of budgets. Frozen food has traditionally been lower in price, with money saved through portion control with pre- prepared products.”

Hyman says he has been overwhelmed by the positivity about frozen food, with research showing it has won over many chefs. However, he admits not everyone understands its ability to help menu planning or that some products have very long shelf lives.

Innovation is rife as shown by BFFF’s 2017 foodservice awards.

Gold winners included Authentic Food Company’s vegetable samosa; Bidfood’s cooked quinoa and veg mix and its red Leicester West Country farmhouse bloomer; Crown Foods’ MSC gluten-free bubble-coated salmon fillet; KK Fine Foods’ Mediterranean vegetable lasagne; Laila’s Fine Foods’ Thai red chicken curry; and carrot cake roulade from Mademoiselle Desserts.

“What’s clear is there are more examples of premiumisation,” says Hyman. “In the past, frozen food was seen as good value for money and convenient; now people want the best as well.”

While it’s difficult to get in-depth knowledge on the bestsellers, he says sweet potato products and premium desserts are growing, while frozen fruit is being driven by the growth of smoothies and fruit with breakfast.

Cathy Amos, sector marketing manager at Brakes, agrees that categories such as frozen fruit are performing better than others.

“Traditional frozen vegetables remain important too, but we’ve also developed premium sides that feature spring greens, chards, beetroots and tenderstems,” advises Amos. Frozen bread and pastries are offering benefits, she adds, as caterers are able to offer a wider range of products.

Anglia Crown, which provides meal solutions for the healthcare sector ranging from roast dinners to veggie pasta and BBQ chicken drumsticks, says that around 10 years ago its sales split was 2% frozen and 98% chilled, but now its frozen product sales have overtaken chilled sales with a split of 53% and 47%, respectively.

Hospitals unable to produce meals on-site could benefit from having pre- prepared frozen meals, particularly for specific dietary requirements, advises head of commercial, Paul Howell.

“A trust or hospital choosing a pre-prepared service benefits from improved efficiencies, cost savings, waste reduction and consistent quality,” he adds. “Our meals are beneficial for wards with high patient turnover and unpredictable volumes. Individual prepared dishes also enable customers to serve the exact number of patients at any time.”

The Healthy Food Company says it is now setting about improving menus in schools, hospitals and care homes, following its development of nutritionally balanced, frozen ready meals for children, such as macaroni cheese, beef lasagne, chicken curry, cottage pie and fish pie.

“Our meals are groundbreaking,” claims co-founder Kay Shearing. “We ensure the nutrition we’ve worked so hard to get into each dish is locked in by flash-freezing our food.

“By working with schools we help children develop good, healthy eating habits they will take into adulthood. We also understand the importance of catering for special diets and we’ve developed vegetarian, halal and dairy- free options.”

From a frozen poultry perspective, sales have increased in the past 12 months, according to Nigel Parkes, purchasing and marketing director at Flagship Europe.

He believes that one of the reasons for the growth in frozen food usage is changing lifestyles, as consumers now decide what they are going to eat and where at the last minute, making it harder for operators to predict how many they will serve. Another reason is that frozen cooked poultry reduces the risk of cross contamination when compared with fresh raw products.

Frozen meat can also be purchased in advance without fear of spoilage, plus it can come with sauces that enhance its flavour during the freezing process, says Funnybones Foodservice development chef Tom Styman-Heighton.

“Pulled meat, for example, should be slow-cooked, so we sought a range that has the flavour and chunky hand-pulled texture of home-cooked meat,” he says.

Working with patisserie suppliers pays dividends, as caterers don’t need a pastry chef, says Marie-Emmanuelle Chessé, international development project manager at Tipiak. She says that in the past year there has been particular demand for its gluten-free macarons and mini French pop eclairs.

Meanwhile, Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier, says that with profit margins being squeezed, the need to cut wastage is more crucial.

“Our patisserie defrosts in as little as an hour at room temperature depending on the product, so items can be taken out of the freezer once demand has been predicted,” he advises.

New product development continues to steam ahead with ranges targeting specific trends and sectors. Dr Oetker Professional, for instance, has developed a foodservice-exclusive 9in rising dough pizza base, topped with classic passata to complement any additional toppings, which cooks from frozen and delivers an authentic freshly baked crust.

At this year’s LACA Main Event, the company took the concept a step further and debuted its Chicago Town Balanced Choice cheese-topped pizza specifically targeted at children. The pizza complies with nutritional guidelines by keeping fat levels to a minimum and has added fibre, while the soft crust is filled with a tasty hidden vegetable sauce, which is also part of the topping.

Senior brand manager Emma Haworth says it is a new “hidden veg concept” for kids, with an appealing topping including carrot, red pepper, tomato and pesto. “All children loved it; it’s not a compromise for them,” she adds.

The Phat Pasty Co’s new gluten-free, vegan mushroom and leek pie provides a premium product that cooks from frozen.

“Gluten-free and vegan food can be difficult to create in-house,” says ‘The Phat Controller’, Paul Clark. “Phat is a Soil Association Food For Life supplier partner and this pie fits well within our range to provide authentic, wholesome products to meet customers’ needs.”

Clark says the baked product, available via Bidfood, is reheated in the oven from frozen to serve or hold on a hotplate.

Big Al’s Foodservice has responded to the food-to-go trend with pre-cooked authentic Italian stone oven-baked pizza twists, ready in 60 seconds from frozen, and offered in packaging designed for easy eating on the go.

“Operators can also tap into the morning trade with our new breakfast stone-baked twists consisting of bacon, cheese and egg wrapped in fresh Italian dough that is also ready in less than a minute,” adds head of business development UK Darragh Gilhawley.

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