Cold storage: frozen presents many opportunities for wholesalers

The frozen category is riding the crest of a wave and wholesalers across the UK are responding accordingly, investing in new freezers or altering their depot layouts to adjust for the demand.

Foodservice is an area where the market is seeing strong gains, but it is a trend that is apparent in retail, too. Not only that, but IGD research reveals buyers of frozen food are more likely than the average grocery shopper to be open to purchasing new and different products. However, 23% of frozen food shoppers said that on their last trip to a c-store, the offer was too small for everyday needs.

Therefore, it is more important than ever to ensure your wholesale operation is geared up to make the most of this trend. This feature will look at those wholesalers moving to increase their presence in the frozen food category and pick out the products that offer you the best chance of making the biggest possible profit.

The investors

According to the British Frozen Food Federation, there was a 2% growth in frozen sales in the foodservice market last year. Dave Young, founder and managing director of Fairway Foodservice wholesaler member Young’s Foods, has acted in response to the trend and refers to his business’ investment in a new cold store as the “correct commercial route”.

Young says that his business has seen a big demand for more frozen products, and it now has premium versions of many of its brands. Historically, Young’s was a chilled and ambient supplier with a small offering of frozen products. However, to meet customer demand, the business was forced to extend its offer.

“We had a rear yard that we weren’t using effectively,” says Young. “Now we have a 120-pallet freezer that will massively improve our storage facility, and which will help us maximise our range and bulk purchasing, making us more competitive. The opportunity for growth in frozen sales is great, and we must be aligned with other wholesalers to maximise this potential.”

West Country wholesaler and fellow Fairway Foodservice member Charles Saunders Food Service is also boosting its commitment to frozen: “We recently made a £3m investment in a new, larger depot in Yate, Gloucestershire, which we are aiming to relocate to this autumn,” says managing director Darren Gaulton. “The new premises will provide us with a much greater cold storage capacity and allow for our ongoing expansion.”

Elsewhere, London-based wholesaler EFG Foodservice, a Country Range Group member, purchased new freezer space to help extend its frozen range, as its original smaller facility was hampering sales.

“So far, we have seen an increase of around 30% in frozen sales, fully justifying the investment made,” says Frank Simister, sales manager at EFG.

However, one of the biggest issues that comes with investing in freezer capacity is space. EFG is based in central-London next to a canal, which magnifies the issue even further – rather than expanding the current site, it will need to invest in new warehouse space to expand its freezer capacity.

The products

Charles Saunders’ Gaulton says his business has seen steady growth across all frozen food sales in recent years, most notably in its core range, but in particular with its frozen fruits and vegetables, due to the flexibility and convenience frozen produce affords. He adds: “Fruit and vegetables, once only available ‘in season’, are available year-round in frozen form, resulting in less restriction on menus and less waste, as chefs can prepare exactly the amount they need.”

Another frozen product performing strongly is bread. John Marriott, managing director at nationwide wholesaler Holdsworth Foods, says: “There is plenty of innovation, with hybrid flavours influenced by the US, such as pretzels and burger buns. Vegan foods are also a growing category, as are gluten-free and other free-from foods.”

Gaulton echoes this: “The rise in specialist diets has been another area of development. It can be difficult for outlets to offer fresh solutions, such as dairy or gluten-free, without increasing waste.

“But by stocking frozen products, a caterer can offer choice and defrost products as needed, particularly cakes and desserts which are largely supplied pre-portioned,” he says.

As frozen shoppers expect more variety, the innovation and quality of foods being produced by suppliers has to match this to meet demand.

Dan Martin, head of foodservice at seafood supplier Whitby Seafoods, says that the casual dining sector continues to outperform all other areas of the market, driving growth in smaller portions and sharing platters. To cater for this, Whitby offers a range of bitesized frozen options.

Martin argues that to improve sales in frozen, wholesalers must constantly strive to add new innovative ideas while supporting customers with fresh, new ways of serving classic menu items.

Furthermore, he says that helping customers to comply with the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations by giving clear allergen advice for menus is equally as important.

He adds: “With this in mind, we annually publish a Casual Dining brochure packed full of recipes that are ‘bang on trend’, showing innovative new ways to serve our products.”

It’s simple – if you aren’t prepared to invest in your frozen offering or haven’t invested in it yet, you’re missing out on myriad sales opportunities. In foodservice, chefs and cooks are looking for marginal gains, making frozen goods an essential part of their pantry.

Meanwhile, as retailers look to make up for the decline in tobacco sales, they have a chance to mix things up in-store – frozen is one way to go about this.

Providing category support to those shopping in-depot, through promotions and marketing point-of-sale material, will also help increase sales – especially for those who are first-time frozen food shoppers. As the featured wholesalers show, there’s a big opportunity. Don’t let it go!


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