Frozen foods are hot now - Part 2

Restaurants ride the refrigeration wave

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at how frozen foods in retail were back in favor with consumers, driven primarily by convenience and price benefits, and supported by improved quality and better freezing methods. This week, we’re continuing to explore the world of frozen food but from the perspective of food service channels. 

Chef-created frozen dishes

One particularly popular selling point for frozen meal brands has been to compare it to restaurant-style meals that can just be heated and consumed in the comfort of your own home. To highlight these links, some brands have either partnered with celebrity chefs or celebrity chefs have themselves launched their own brands. This is a move that we’ve seen across markets and is often linked to showing high product quality through celebrity endorsements.

  • In August 2023, Gordon Ramsay introduced a range of 13 frozen meals, his first foray into the frozen foods space. They are available in Walmart for under US$6 each and can be heated up in a microwave in a few minutes. 

Source: BigBasket

  • Back in Japan, the @Frozen stores also had a fairly strong presence of chef-created dishes for different courses of a meal, from appetizers to dessert.

Image source: GourmetPro

Image source: GourmetPro

Restaurants flash freeze foods

During the pandemic, restaurants in Japan started flash freezing dishes to cater to takeaway orders. Flash freezing techniques helped them maintain the integrity of the dish and allowed consumers to enjoy restaurant meals by just heating up these frozen options. Some restaurants in Japan even experimented with freezing sushi. Freezing also helped preserve the dishes for longer, thus cutting down waste during off-peak periods and ensuring that they didn’t get soggy or lose taste. 

This technique has really taken off in the country, where a lot of restaurants have continued this trend. In fact, at the @Frozen stores, a number of restaurants have their frozen specialties for consumers to take home. And there’s a fairly wide variety of options too. 


Image source: GourmetPro

Image source: GourmetPro

Image source: GourmetPro

Image source: GourmetPro

Image source: GourmetPro

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Addressing challenges in food service

I talked once again to Hugo Delforge, who is part of the GourmetPro collective and an expert on frozen foods, to help us understand how restaurants can leverage frozen foods to improve their own operations.

Flash freezing dishes for the takeaway segment isn’t the only way that frozen foods can help the food service industry. In fact, the use of frozen ingredients and prepped foods is nothing new in fast food outlets – from frozen and portioned dough for pizza or bread and hamburger patties to frozen fries or vegetables and fruits. But prepared ingredients can be frozen and used not just in fast food restaurants, but across professional kitchens.

Frozen foods for restaurants can address another major concern for the industry – the severe shortage of manpower. For a variety of reasons, the restaurant industry continues to face labor shortages, particularly post-pandemic. Workers are reluctant to come back to an industry known for long work hours, low wages, and a lack of job security. While there has been some improvement in restaurant employment, levels are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

According to the National Restaurant Association, full-service restaurants in the US experienced the most job losses during the initial months of the pandemic and it still has a long way to go to fully recover. As of January 2024, full-service restaurant employment levels were still 4% (252,000 jobs) below pre-pandemic levels as of February 2020. 

Employment counts in the cafeterias/grill buffets/buffets segment also remained below their February 2020 levels, at 31% lower.

According to Hugo, “The culinary world is grappling with a severe shortage of skilled manpower. This shortage extends to chefs and kitchen staff who are increasingly turning to ready-to-use and consistent products to streamline their operations. Frozen food manufacturers have recognized this need and are responding with innovative, high-quality products that chefs can rely on for consistency and convenience. This trend is driving the growth of the frozen food market as it aligns with the evolving requirements of the food industry.”

Frozen foods also help cut waste in restaurants. Estimates suggest that restaurants waste around 4%-10% of overall food bought. A lot of this waste is linked to food going bad before it gets used up as well as to trimmings from meat and produce. Frozen foods can be stored longer and come pre-trimmed. This not only cuts down what a restaurant throws away, but also offers significantly more flexibility in purchasing and inventory management. They also can help ensure product availability when there are supply chain disruptions.  

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Frozen food tech is improving 

According to Hugo, the trend toward offering products with extended shelf life is advantageous for consumers and food service outlets, but it poses challenges for warehousing and environmental sustainability. Warehouses are tasked with storing a growing inventory of frozen goods for extended periods. Cold storage facilities must operate efficiently to minimize the environmental footprint associated with refrigeration systems and energy consumption. Balancing the need for extended shelf life with eco-friendly practices is a complex challenge. Manufacturers and logistics providers must explore energy-efficient storage solutions, improved insulation, and the use of renewable energy sources to mitigate the environmental impact while managing the increased cost of long-term storage.

And in light of these challenges, there are ongoing improvements in the technologies being used to freeze foods. Newer techniques like quick freezing and cryogenic freezing help lock in the flavor and texture, while aiding faster production cycles. Individually quick frozen (IQF) technology helps preserve nutrition of the food while also cutting down on food waste. Many of the new technologies are also more sustainable than older processes. They are more energy efficient and minimize food waste, for the manufacturers and the consumers, which ultimately brings down the carbon footprint of the frozen foods landscape. 

As sustainability becomes an increasingly important aspect of food production, there are some minor improvements to the freezing process itself that could have a significant positive impact on the environment. A study headed by the University of Birmingham has found that frozen food temperatures can be reduced by just 3 degrees and that could significantly reduce carbon emissions – specifically, 17.7 million metric tons of CO2 annually or the equivalent emissions of 3.8 million cars.

The researchers said that the standard temperature used is -18°C, set nearly a century ago with no change. With greater strides in storage technologies today, reducing this temperature to -15°C would make a significant difference to the environment without compromising the quality of food. For every degree below zero that food is stored, around 2%-3% more energy is needed. This shift of three degrees could also cut costs in the supply chain by 5%-12%, the study indicated.


Want to leverage Hugo’s expertise and explore opportunities within frozen foods?

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