What a waste

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March 03, 2016

by Vicki Hamilton


I read a piece this week in the Grocer; ‘Can frozen tap into breakfast?’ and it was a bit of a facepalm moment for me. Why isn't breakfast in the freezer? My daughter's breakfast is usually toasted direct from the freezer, but it wasn't sold that way.

In recent months, it’s become very clear how much fresh food my household wastes, so I’ve started freezing bread and pittas, and cooking with frozen ingredients - chopped onions, garlic, chilli and vegetables. It’s revolutionised my life – I can use as much or as little as I want, it cooks in the same time and I don’t have to spend 10 minutes weeping over a chopped onion.   Result!

The freezer has potential to resolve a lot of consumer anxieties – freshness, vitality and health, waste, preparation time – so brands should be focusing on making the decision to choose frozen easier. It doesn’t have to be about new-to-market products, it can be as simple as making existing ones perfect and easy to use.

Highly focussed and articulate consumer groups can be invaluable for just such an exercise, especially when consideration of brand fit is brought to the table. I’ve been observing a project where MMR’s proprietary EROS approach (a unique blend of sensory and qualitative moderation) was applied to packaging development, and a number of well established ideas about the brand and category were turned on their heads, simply by probing the functionality of the suggested pack routes. It was a valuable reminder that consumers don’t always know what would be right, but they certainly know what is wrong.

I don’t quite qualify as a group, but I’ve got a couple of ‘sample-of-one’ freezer insights that I’m going to throw out there.

Portioning and partitioning
Toasting a crumpet for my daughter almost always necessitates a cold and slippery wrestle with the butter knife. Bread has to be stashed very carefully to avoid the creases that will stick it together in perpetuity. Burgers have to be separated using dangerous force. And why do salmon fillets have to come in those horrible shrink-wrap bags that are difficult to remove and smelly to dispose of? I find it hard to believe that these things haven’t come up in a focus group before, so why do they persist? Make it easier to get the product out of the pack and into the oven or pan, and consumers will delight at the convenience.

Packaging
Crumbs, all in my freezer drawer. Loose chips and peas. Boxes that you have to rip open and can’t close again. Slippery bags that you have to cut open and reseal with a peg (is that just me?). When you’ve got cold fingers, the last thing you want is to be vexed further by difficult packaging. With so many excellent pack innovations in other categories, it’s just not good enough. The pack should make handling frozen goods easier. It should make it desirable. It should hammer home the message that frozen = convenient, easy, clean and responsible. Brands are missing a trick here.  

The Grocer piece mentions Birds Eye’s foray into bakery breakfast items – something I hadn’t seen or been aware of – so excitedly (as breakfast is my favourite meal), I googled ‘Hello Morning’. And instantly I understood why I hadn’t seen them anywhere.  At a glance (and let’s be honest, people don’t linger in the freezer aisle – it’s COLD), they could have been any of Birds Eye’s products. The basic cardboard box and on-pack graphics are identical to their savoury range. I felt genuinely disappointed. Breakfast pastries are a treat - they’re something that should inspire and delight! I’m sorry to say delight does not come in a rectangular beige box, and I'd wager that any qual group worth their salt would say the same.

What a waste

It seems to me that the freezer is a pretty good place to innovate if you want to corner the moral high ground on tackling food waste. Brands are wasting the opportunity to leverage that message and deliver that promise by continuing with the status quo. With own-label making such inroads, brand value needs to mean more than a similar product in a more colourful pack - it should mean a more useful pack, a more convenient pack with a stand-out structure and innovative closure that delivers brand equity and delights consumers every time they use it.

Vicki Hamilton is Associate Director, Marketing Communications at MMR