I will admit that I was quite surprised when I read that frozen food had outperformed fresh and ambient food for the second year running in the year up to 17th March.

Value sales of 4.5% on volumes up 1.8%

This was despite the sector having experienced a torrid in the press since January’s ‘Horsegate’ scandal.

But those figures only really record a months worth of impact – with the full scale of the fallout still to come.

The reason for my surprise (naively perhaps) is that many shops & supermarkets have invested heavily in their front of store displays, where fresh fruit and vegetables are increasingly displayed with a greengrocer’s vigour.

On top of that, consumers have been made increasingly aware through the various media channels of the benefits of fresh produce and how consuming more will undoubtedly extend our mortal lifespans beyond that of which we currently enjoy.

But if we delve into the numbers, the problem areas are quite isolated. It is frozen ready meals that seem to be hit the hardest. Sales of this category have fallen 13.6% with a similar percentage drop in volumes.

Frozen burgers are in a league of their own however – sales and volume slumps of over 30%

Yet frozen vegetables, poultry savoury bakery and stuffing have apparently grown well.

Of course frozen goods have always represented value. Mum may have gone to Iceland, but she is unlikely to have gone for the memorable in-store experience. The frozen food shelves are stocked to the rafters with products that represent value.

In fact, the number of half price deals have risen sharply from 2,310 to 3,135 in the year to March.

Quite an increase – and once again, battles are being fought incentivising consumers to purchase by offering eye-wateringly good deals in order to tempt consumers into trial.

But the fact remains that many consumers have had their confidence in the frozen food sector knocked about a bit.

Since Horsegate however, brands have been working to win back consumer trust. Birds eye have introduced a ‘Triple lock’ DNA testing programme in which it promises no minced beef meat can reach the shelves without being cleared by three separate DNA tests.

Without doing too much research, I am working on the assumption that most of the frozen food brands are taking similar steps.

But are consumers really aware of this and what it actually means? Whilst it certainly demonstrates a commitment to clearing up the mess left by Horsegate – Does this type of rigorous testing have an impact from a consumer’s perspective?

Charlie Douglas, Brand Marketing controller from Bernard Matthews mentions that “The key to moving on from this is regaining consumers trust by ‘doing the right thing’.”

Doing the ‘right thing’ and being seen to be doing the ‘right thing’ are not quite the same. Delivering a clear communication to consumers which in effect is implementing safeguards that many of us had hoped already existed prior to ‘Horsegate’ should be communicated across all channels. But Experiential is the channel that allows brands to talk with an audience and regain some (much needed) consumer confidence.

If consumers regained confidence in frozen food brands, to a point where we held a common, positive opinion of the quality of product, perhaps even on a par with fresh or ambient, perhaps frozen food brands would not have to spend their time working out how best to ‘out-promote’ each other.

Frozen brands could do so much more with their marketing budgets and look at how they can communicate more effectively with a live audience. Consumers will listen to brands if they take the time to engage with them properly. But they need to feel that they are being spoken to in an uncynical, authentic fashion.

Experiential marketing is about communicating and engaging with an audience in order to create positive, 2 way conversations that have impact far beyond the event or campaign itself. Just because a frozen food brand sells food – it doesn’t mean that they are limited to using live marketing to drive consumer trial.

If trust is still a major stumbling block for the Frozen Food sector – perhaps they should concentrate more of their resources at tackling this issue. If they choose to rely on consumers whose shopping basket revolves around the best value promotion, the frozen food industry will likely remain chilly.

Hotcow is a multi-award winning, Experiential Marketing agency that deliver 50% more ROI, than clients would receive from any other brand experience agency. We accomplish this through our ‘R.A.R.E Advantage’ platform. For more information about R.A.R.E and how it can transform your marketing impact, contact us.