Jonny Forsyth
Jonny is a Director of Mintel Food & Drink, focusing on creating ‘big picture’ thought leadership content such as what Gen Z and the metaverse mean for the food and drink industry.

In late September, Sainsbury’s, a leading UK supermarket, created a pop-up called “Sainsfreeze” to highlight how hard-pressed consumers can freeze more food than they realise to help them stretch their budgets further – and help save the planet. While people are familiar with freezing meat, seafood and bread, fewer people know you can also freeze eggs, yoghurt and cheese as well as fruit, vegetables and herbs.

I visited the pop-up to see for myself, admitting that, despite 15 years of industry experience, I did not know you could freeze eggs, and I’m clearly not alone. Sainsbury’s data finds just one in 10 UK adults realise it is possible to freeze eggs.

Brands can help consumers save money and be more sustainable

The cost of living crisis means consumers are in need of more help from Britain’s biggest retailers and food and drink manufacturers. According to Mintel’s financial tracker (August 2022), 45% of 16+ UK adults report being worse off financially than a year ago, and over a third are buying more “reduced to clear” items. However, only 16% freeze their reduced items, instead believing they must be eaten the same day – according to data commissioned by Sainsbury’s. 

From a brand perspective, the pop-up will help to position Sainsbury’s as a consumer champion and an ethical, sustainable brand. Mintel Trend Popscape encourages brands to ‘consider populating alternative physical spaces as a means to new forms of advertising and marketing’, noting that ‘physical proximity can give brands the means to stand out from the clutter’. 

Sainsfreeze has generated positive publicity in trade and national newspapers and the physical mini-store (essentially a giant freezer with Sainsbury’s branding) offers people a practical and – to many – novel way to reduce food waste and save money. UK charity WRAP estimates the average family wastes £60 a week throwing out food. While this figure sounds overly high, COVID-19 did alert many more people to the sheer scale and cost of the food waste their households generate every week. And the upcoming Mintel UK Supermarkets Report shows that 80% of grocery shoppers say they have actively tried to reduce the amount of food and drink they waste in the last 12 months.

Costing of living: communicating help for consumers

As the cost of living soars, supermarkets and brands that can convince consumers they are “on their side” have an opportunity to grow their market share. Tesco’s Chief Executive said: ‘customers are facing unprecedented increases in the cost of living and it is therefore even more important that we work with our supplier partners to mitigate as much inflation as possible’. In its Interim Results for 2022/23, Tesco notes that customers have been ‘trading from fresh products into frozen equivalents’.

However, in terms of sheer price, discounters continue to threaten sales of the UK’s traditional “big four” supermarkets, as well as pricier brands. Indeed, Aldi has been shown by the pro-consumer group Which to be the cheapest UK supermarket in August, with a typical shopping basket costing £11.81 less than in Sainsbury’s. But the two leading British supermarkets have learnt from their mistakes in the Great Recession (2008-09), when they underestimated the German discounters. Sainsbury’s, for example, has invested in matching Aldi prices for its 20 best selling lines. And as my colleague, Mintel’s Category Director of Retail Insights, Nick Carroll notes: ‘Tesco is leaner than the supermarket we saw enter the last financial crisis, and while the discounters are clearly performing very well, Tesco is showing its market leadership this time round in defence of its customers’.

The value equation = price + perceived benefits

It must be remembered that value is about more than just price. It is about the benefits consumers perceive they are getting in exchange for the monetary price they pay. And if supermarkets and brands can convince consumers to freeze more of their fresh food, it can help consumers stretch their budgets further and make more meals out of less. UK supermarket Co-op, for example, has recently introduced a ‘freeze me’ label for its milk products in an effort to reduce 70,000 tonnes of milk waste and save its shoppers money.

Encouraging consumers to freeze more of their food, and therefore waste less, also helps brands highlight their sustainability credentials. I was shocked by WRAP figures showing a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, contributing 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year. Encouraging and educating the freezing of more fresh food items strikes me as a straightforward tactic for brands seeking to help consumers save money, while doing their bit for the planet.

Big opportunities for private label frozen foods

There is also a big opportunity for supermarkets to increase their share of frozen food sales at the expense of brands. Only 30% of UK adults think branded frozen food is better quality than private label, with 26% disagreeing. A key shopper demographic, 35-54 year-old consumers perceive no difference at all between frozen brands and private labels. This means supermarkets should focus their innovation pipelines on cheaper competitors to frozen food brands, and frozen brands such as Birds Eye and Findus will need to spend more on communicating why they are higher quality and therefore worth sticking with even if they cost more.