Sugar-free, meat-free and gluten-free foods are becoming must-haves for retailers, food outlets and their wholesalers, says Toby Hill.
With competition fierce, margins tight and customers’ needs diversifying, getting the right fresh, chilled & frozen range is an ever-evolving challenge for retailers and foodservice operators alike. This is where wholesalers can work with their customers, by pointing them to new products and helping them navigate the maze of divergent dietary preferences.
But wholesalers need support from suppliers to recognise the important trends shaping consumer habits and the products designed to match these trends.
Keep it healthy
Trends towards healthy eating have transformed the market over the past decade, and the fresh, chilled & frozen category is no exception. Consumers want to adjust their diets in a range of ways and suppliers have developed a variety of new products to meet these needs.
Danone Dairies has focused on consumer concerns about sugar: “Sugar reduction in particular plays an important part in the discussion about healthier living, as 92% of consumers are trying to reduce their sugar intake,” notes Graham Burgess, head of category development at Danone Dairies.
The brand’s Light & Free yoghurt takes up this challenge, having no fat or added sugar. It sits neatly on the shelf alongside Danone’s Actimel Active Health Drinks, sales of which were recently propelled by its ‘Stay Strong’ advertising campaign.
Another health trend involves eschewing gluten, with 13% of people now following a gluten-free diet, research body Mintel says. Several suppliers offer products to cater to this preference: Adelie Foods’ Urban Eat range includes sandwiches certified by Coeliac UK, while Bannisters’ Farm’s range of frozen potato products includes several gluten-free options, with no added coatings or batter.
Both Bannisters’ and Adelie have also developed products to cater for those who want to eat healthier without imposing specific dietary boundaries. Adelie’s Urban Eat Better range encompasses a variety of products enriched with protein, omega-3, fibre and more, from salad-based snackpots to spinach-laden wraps. And Bannisters’ has boosted its sweet potato offering with Baked Sweet Potatoes and Sweet Potato Skins, “driven by the trend for healthy eating and a desire for a low GI alternative to traditional potatoes,” notes sales director Marie Medhurst.
Gluten-free is not the only diet to have experienced an explosion in popularity in recent years: vegetarianism has surged, too, with The Vegetarian Society estimating that 12% of people now follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
“The meat-free category is more mainstream, with much broader appeal than many wholesalers imagine,” says Julian Cooke, head of category management at Quorn. “The category is valued at more than £270m and is bought by almost 9.5m shoppers. Meat-free shoppers spend four times as much in-store as other shoppers, making a massive difference to basket spend.”
Fortunately for wholesalers, there are now several well-established vegan and vegetarian brands. Quorn has a comprehensive range for wholesalers: frozen products include Quorn Mince, Quorn Sausages, Quorn Vegan Hot & Spicy Burgers and Quorn Chicken Nuggets; chilled lines include Quorn Lasagne, Quorn Cottage Pie and Quorn Deli Ham.
Another established leader in the meat-free category is Alpro. UK and Ireland category controller Julie Stevens emphasises the advance of plant-based food and drink in impulse and convenience, where sales are growing by 15%.
“The sales potential is palpable, and it’s a key growth area for wholesalers to capitalise on,” she explains. “We know how precious chilled space is to the convenience sector, particularly as more shoppers are using small stores to top up on grocery items – making it even more essential for wholesalers to offer retailers the brands that drive footfall.”
Alpro’s products include almond, coconut and soya milk – all potential distress purchases for those on plant-based diets. Moreover, sales of Alpro’s range of dairy-free Big Pot Plain yoghurts continues to go from strength to strength.
Isla Owen, senior marketing manager at Adelie, emphasises the importance of the convenience channel to vegetarians and vegans.
“A high proportion of them are aged 16 to 24, of which 71% buy food on the move at least once a week, so it’s a vital market for convenience retailers to cater for,” she says.
Ice-cold for the on-trade
Wholesalers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of frozen food to on-trade and foodservice customers, according to Jo Holborn, category controller at McCain Foods. “For busy caterers, frozen food is always available, whatever the season, and can be cooked to order, making it easy to manage unexpected increases in custom with freshly cooked, appetising food,” she explains. This makes budget and wastage issues easier to control, helping caterers to manage their operations more efficiently.
New McCain products that can meet this demand include Staycrisp Thin Cut Skin-on and Skin-off Fries, which are gluten-free, helping caterers appeal to as broad a range of customers as possible. Their design also helps them retain crispiness, a benefit when used in what Holborn predicts will be one of the biggest on-trade trends this year: topped fries. “Topped fries can have a big impact on the menu and the bottom line, with very little additional outlay or operational requirement,” she says.
The importance of frozen food to the on-trade also holds true for desserts, explains Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier: “Frozen food is the backbone of the food operators’ trade. Many outlets don’t have specialist pastry chefs, and so providing a high quality, on-trend dessert is time consuming and difficult. Making premium French pâtisserie, in particular, is a very technical skill.”
Brioche Pasquier has a range of items to meet these needs, such as macarons and individual tartlettes.
Brioche Pasquier top tips
1. Traditionally, wholesalers have not always made the most of premium frozen food. If everything is stacked together in freezers, it is hard for customers to pick out the best quality and the most innovative products. We recommend that desserts and patisserie in particular are treated as a separate section of the freezer.
2. Where possible, offer tastings. If you are selling really great-quality food, then let people try it so they can taste it for themselves.
3. Combine tastings with simple serving ideas. For example, display petit fours and macarons on a sweet sharing platter or on a cake stand as for afternoon tea. This way you are helping your customers visualise how they would serve the products.
“I can see comfort food leading the way this year. More traders are experimenting with hearty, feel-good food. Topped fries were big last year and I think they will be again: poutine, chilli cheese, bacon and so on. I also like adding flavour to chips using dry, herby rubs, as that stops them going soggy.”
Teejay Asick, Cheeky Italian, Essex
“We’re increasingly having to introduce vegan alternatives, so the sweet section uses lots more coconut products, like coconut oil. People are going off dairy, but we noticed it isn’t enough to have soya milk as the only alternative to cow’s milk. We trialled almond, cashew and oat milk, and oat came out top.”
Kate Hayter, E5 Bakery, London
“We’ve worked on our chilled range and brought in more premium stuff from our symbol group, Premier, such as olives, scotch eggs, packs of sausage rolls, pork pies, salads and coleslaw. It’s a case of educating people on what independent stores like ours can offer.”
Ranjit Singh, Parans Minimarket, Rothwell, Yorkshire
“As a convenience store, it’s important for us to have all bases covered in our frozen section – products there can be a distress purchase and customers can be disappointed if you don’t have them. It’s also a varied category, so you’ve got to keep it clearly categorised.”
Sandeep Bains, Simply Fresh, Faversham, Kent