Frozen food firms are making ever-increasing strides in terms of changing consumer perceptions about their category. But while consumers are warming to frozen food, it seems there is still work to be done.

"There is perception of lower quality in frozen due to poor experiences dating back from previous decades," says Young's Seafood and Findus UK md Mark Escolme. "However, in recent years brands have been working hard to change that image. More consumers now understand that freezing at source is a great way of preserving quality. It's our job to continue to change perceptions and turn this minority into the majority."

One brand that is intent on doing this is Birds Eye, which launched a £9m multimedia campaign last month in a bid to keep its assets in the public eye. "Following consumer research, Birds Eye developed a campaign that seeks to address the underlying concern around frozen food feeling like a compromise," says marketing director Ben Pearman. "The campaign aims to rebuild trust in the frozen category and re-establish a benchmark standard by championing the quality of ingredients used in Birds Eye products."

The project marks an important turning point for Birds Eye as it involves cross-category marketing, highlighting that Fish Fingers are made with 100% fish fillet and Chicken Dippers are made from 100% chicken breast.

Another big change for Birds Eye is the way in which the campaign is executed. A million miles away from jolly Captain Birds Eye, the advert takes a notably emotive stance, starring a polar bear who plays on parents' consciences by criticising their substandard product choices. "The ad will really engage consumers and drive a level of re-appraisal for the whole frozen category," says Pearman.

McCain is also widening its advertising scope by focusing on all its potato products, rather than just chips. But its Good Unlimited campaign couldn't be more different to Birds Eye's approach. It may not have the shock factor of the tough-talking polar bear, but McCain is convinced that the positive message has penetrated plenty of households. "The Good Unlimited ad aimed to extend the 'It's all good' message [beyond chips] and raise awareness of our potato products," says head of customer marketing Alan Castle. "More than 50% of frozen food shoppers have seen the advert. It really resonated with consumers and delivered a strong message, with respondents agreeing McCain products are 'real' and 'natural'. As a result, we have seen an increased awareness of the products featured."

Turkey stalwart Bernard Matthews Farms has also opted for a light-hearted, emotive approach to show its produce in a positive light with its newly launched Bootiful campaign. There has been a 25% increase in sales of Bernard Matthews products since the adverts began airing in April, according to category management controller Daniel McGuigan.

But it's not advertising alone that is pulling in patrons; the company is convinced that flagging up the provenance of its turkey is also a major draw. "Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy regarding provenance and the support for British food is still very important to many consumers," claims McGuigan. "All our Bernard Matthews Farms products use 100% British turkey, reared on Quality British Turkey and Red Tractor-certified farms."

McCain also rates provenance as a key factor in its appeal. "All McCain chip packaging is clearly labelled with '100% British' to reassure people that our potatoes come from British farms only, along with the Red Tractor logo, so everyone knows the high standard our food is grown to," says Castle. "This is important reassurance for our consumers."

The William Jackson Food Group, which owns Aunt Bessie's, has gone one step further and is in talks about gaining protected status for Yorkshire Puddings. "This is in response to a growing interest of consumers in the provenance and origin of their food," says Aunt Bessie's managing director Paul Heritage. "If Yorkshire Puddings are granted protected origin status consumers can be sure that the product they buy has been produced within Yorkshire by local producers and are of the utmost quality."

Pricing perceptions

That so many frozen brands are eager to be associated with good quality doesn't mean they aren't in support of pricemarked packs (PMPs).

"PMPs help consumers understand and take advantage of value-for-money opportunities," says Castle. "In the convenience channel McCain uses pricemarked packs for a limited duration to support convenience retailers, offer value to the consumer and stimulate sales."

Perceived value

McGuigan echoes this viewpoint. "In these price-conscious times, £1 PMPs have succeeded in driving shoppers into the frozen breaded poultry sector and as such have driven penetration," he says. "This is a move away from the traditional strategy of selling extra-free packs and has helped consumers budget while offering value for money."

Birds Eye has also put its weight behind PMPs in the frozen category. "PMPs are a good sales driver and now account for more than 17% of sales in frozen convenience," claims Pearman.

However, Escolme warns retailers not to let pricemarking dominate their display. "PMPs are good for giving consumers clarity at the fixture in a difficult environment to shop. However, too much emphasis on the price message can be negative in terms of over-emphasising the budget proposition, which detracts from the need to try to improve perceptions of quality for the category overall."

In addition to pricing, another way to increase frozen sales is by encouraging different consumption occasions. "At present, frozen food accounts for a relatively small percentage of meal occasions and features much more strongly at evening meal times," says Escolme. "However, there is an increasing variety of frozen products specifically designed to fill gaps in the category. Findus Wraps and Findus Crispy Pancakes both provide a frozen solution for light-meal or lunchtime occasions."

Aunt Bessie's is also trying to break tradition with its Midweek Minis. "In the past year we have conducted consumer research into additional consumption occasions," says Heritage. "The research revealed that a key opportunity is the midweek family meals occasion. As a result we have pushed a midweek consumption strategy focusing on Midweek Minis as a key product."

While manufacturers are trying to encourage consumers to go beyond their comfort zones with frozen foods, retailers can also help to grow sales by reminding customers of the sector's benefits. Norman Soutar, chairman of the Food & Drink Federation's Frozen Food Group and managing director of William Jackson Food Group, claims that pos needs to play a bigger role. "It's important for retailers to understand that people are using frozen foods as part of a repertoire for scratch cooking, for example, frozen veg, fruit, and even mash," he says. "A marker on the cabinet with ideas about how certain products can be put together could be helpful, eg frozen dumplings added to a stew."

Good, clear signage within frozen can make a big difference, adds Birds Eye. "In the convenience environment people don't want to dwell they grab and go so it is important to have pos material to encourage consumers to shop the frozen category," says Pearman. "With limited space in some sites, frozen food is often overlooked, but the category can offer a huge opportunity for additional sales."
Retailer opinion
"Our frozen category is performing well at the moment. We sell £700-worth a week. Visibility is really good in our freezer as we have bagged produce laid out at the bottom and then a separate section where ready meals are displayed upright this is really important so that customers can see pricemarked packs. 
Once they see a price flashed on pack, they think it's cheaper, so it definitely helps to increase footfall. But not every product is pricemarked as there has to be a balance. 
"I think people are starting to spend more within the frozen category by upgrading to brands. For example, a lot of people have switched from lesser-known brands to Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire Puddings because they recognise the better quality." 
Mandeep Singh, Singh's Premier, Sheffield
Brrrrrright ideas
Turkey time 
Bernard Matthews Farms is breathing new life into the 'Bootiful' slogan as part of a £5m marketing campaign, emphasising that turkey is versatile, healthy and affordable. The initiative will include online advertising and a consumer website. 
tel: 01603 872 611

 At the ready 
Three new ready meals have joined the Linda McCartney range. The variants include Vegetarian Meatballs with Pasta, Vegetarian Cannelloni and Vegetarian Chilli with Potato wedges. rrp: £1-£2.49 tel: 01582 401177 

That's shallot 
McCain Summer Wedges with a hint of Shallot & Lime are back for a limited period. They will be supported by a £300,000 marketing campaign, including online and press advertising over the summer. rrp: £1.84 tel: 0800 146 573 

Polar express 
Birds Eye has launched a £9m cross-category marketing campaign, with the slogan 'We're only content with 100%'. Packaging will further emphasise the quality message with a '100%' rosette. tel: 020 8918 3200 

Poultry effort 
The Hot Chicken Company brand manufactured by Rectory Foods has made its debut in the convenience sector. The seven-strong range of value-added chicken products includes Chicken Kievs and Wingos. rrp: from £1 tel: 01477 544 550