The new range comprises four authentic pub favourites: Cumberland meatballs with apple & sage mash in a wholegrain mustard gravy & sliced green beans; tender braised beef in a rich stout & mushroom gravy with parsnip mash and savoy cabbage; white wine chicken breast with wild rice, asparagus & broccoli in a wild mushroom & tarragon sauce; and scrumpy-glazed chicken breast with hotpot potatoes, leeks, carrots and swede.
With a premium price of £2.49 - well above the average price of up to £1.50 in frozen ready meals - Birds Eye hopes to put some value back into the frozen food category. Unilever Ice Cream & Frozen Food category director John Farrell says: "Frozen foods in the UK are struggling. In 2005 the value of the market went down by 15% and there's a big threat from chilled, so we need to replicate that quality perception. With Pub Specials we've raised the bar in terms of taste and quality and we want to inject some value back into the market.
"From the consumer's perspective, Pub Specials capitalises on the growing trend for traditional pub food," adds Farrell. "There's been a rise in pubs selling real quality dishes and consumers see them as great places to go for a good meal, so we've tried to tap into that. The recipes are unique to frozen - they're classic, authentic pub favourites made with premium ingredients."
To reinforce the quality proposition, Birds Eye has opted for packaging that's different to its existing frozen meal range. "Packaging is a really important area for us to drive reappraisal," says Farrell. "The sleeve principle means you can see the product, which is what chilled does very well. We need to do more of this - it's one of the easiest ways to drive reappraisal. We've started to look at new packaging for red meat products, which has a window so people can look at the product.
"We have to tackle the perception that frozen foods are processed and not made with quality ingredients," adds Farrell. "We need to challenge that via our communications. We need to reassure consumers about the quality of frozen food and tell them that the products are made with ingredients that you'd find in a store cupboard; and get people to reappraise frozen food."
Birds Eye expects the new range to be worth £8m by the end of 2006. "This will be very important for a category that's down by 15%," says Farrell. "The retailer margin is in line with the category, but they can make more cash through the higher price point."
Pub Specials is being supported by a £1m marketing campaign including outdoor advertising and promotions in stores to encourage shoppers to try the range.