While lack of consumer knowledge regarding frozen food is still a key contributor to food waste, innovation and consumer education are continually driving the frozen food sector.
Survey findings published by The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2016, revealed that misconceptions about the safety of eating defrosted food was a key contributor to the 7m tonnes of food waste thrown out by British households each year. Of the 1,500 people surveyed by the agency, 43% wrongly thought food could only be frozen on the day it was bought, while 38% believed food could become unsafe to eat in the freezer.
The FSA gives clear guidelines on refrigeration and freezing while Initiatives such as WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) campaign, launched over 10 years ago, provide reference and communications material for local authorities to use to promote food reduction in their area as well as advice for consumers on making food last longer through freezing.
So how have things progressed over the past two years and what more can be done?
While the FSA describes freezing as “the pause button” for the life of food products, many consumers still don’t realise that food can be frozen from any time up until its ‘use by’ date rather than the alternative ‘sell-by’. There are also ever-present arguments that taste and texture of frozen food is negatively affected because of damage resulting from ice crystals. Better packaging can help food manufacturers minimise quality deterioration in their food products, should their customers choose to freeze them, thereby increasing consumer confidence, according to Andy Wilkinson, Senior UK Sales Manager of food packaging manufacturer Advanta.
He said: “By nature, food begins to spoil the moment it is harvested. For food manufacturers, maintaining the quality and taste of products when frozen should be a top priority when producing it and selecting its packaging. Considering our historical efforts to preserve foods, from prehistoric methods of freezing and dehydrating to more novel, Victorian efforts, like canning, pickling and curing, freezing food for preservation should be a standard practice to reduce food waste.”
One example is supermarket meats wrapped in plastic film, which is permeable to air, and, when stored in a freezer, will be subject to freezer burn. “While the meat will still be safe to eat, the extremely dry air of the freezer can dehydrate the meat, causing the quality to deteriorate. That said, meat sealed in vacuum packaging or modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) can be stored safely for a long period of time, without the risk of freezer burn,” said Andy. “Aluminium foil packaging is another popular option. The material acts as a barrier to light, gases and liquids and most food and drinks have no adverse effects on uncoated aluminium. Therefore, there’s a low risk of contamination or deterioration to the product once it’s in the freezer.”
IGD, the research and training charity for the food and grocery industry, revealed earlier this year that shoppers of frozen food are more likely than the average grocery shopper to be open to purchasing new and different products (47% vs 39%) and its Shopper Insight Manager, Nicola Ball, believes continued innovation is vital to drive category growth and prevent shoppers from leaving the category
“Frozen meals, in particular, is a category where shoppers are looking for variety,” she said. “Some 23% of frozen meal shoppers claim that on their last trip, the range was too small for their needs. To effectively fulfil frozen meal shoppers’ needs, we need to understand what is important to them.”
If industry award schemes are anything to go by, innovating is not lacking in the cooling and refrigeration industry. When the RAC Cooling Industry Awards, which champion innovations and environmental success in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry, were recently given out to the 2018 winners at a ceremony in London, more than 600 professionals turned out to witness it. Meanwhile the British Frozen Food Federation’s Annual Product Awards entries showed exceptional innovating, said BFFF chief executive, John Hyman. He said: “It was really encouraging to see how many companies put products forward, which serves as a sign of the confidence they have in their products. In their 31st year, the annual awards prove that frozen food is still at the top of its game when it comes to innovation.”