Feb 13th, 2022
8 mins

Consumer Behaviour Chapter Champion
Shane Meharg
Group Communications & PR Manager, Magnavale

“Another year has gone by, and we have yet again experienced significant changes in consumer behaviour. There are still glimpses of extreme buying behaviour such as the panic buying experienced for certain products throughout the past two years. However, for the most part, the removal of lockdown restrictions has increased the frequency of shopping occasions and therefore slightly lessened the pressure on supermarkets, at least on the demand side of the supply chain.

Unfortunately, while somewhat lessened, consumers still shop less frequently but buy significantly more, particularly at weekends. This buying behaviour seems to be sticking around into the post-Covid era, posing further complications to the challenges that are already impacting supply chains.

Demand for frozen food has increased significantly; larger volume shopping occasions mean that frozen is replacing fresh as it keeps much longer. Covid has led to a clear shift towards healthier choices. More people are now more health-conscious and willing to change their lifestyle due to the fear of Covid and future illnesses.

Plant-based products are amongst the largest growth categories, as these tend to freeze very well, and are in greater demand from a customer base that is increasing their consumption of meat alternatives. Shoppers have retained several habits from lockdown; one habit in particular is the size of their shops and the period of time in-between visits. Consumers have been buying more and thus visiting the supermarket less often.

One potentially beneficial way that manufacturers and retailers can respond to this is by adjusting size of packaging. Bulk packs and larger volume items give manufacturers and retailers the opportunity to make a substantial saving on packaging costs while catering to the new demand for bulk buying.

Over the past two years, perceptions have changed significantly in favour of frozen food. The vast majority of food waste comes from private households, which makes it more difficult to address but it’s not impossible; it is self-evident that switching to frozen from chilled will have a positive impact.

Indeed, many studies have concluded that greater reliance on frozen food would deliver a significant reduction in the nation’s environmental footprint, despite the energy required to keep products frozen. “Frozen food does not cause more damaging emissions than their [chilled] counterparts,” concluded one German study.

It continued: “In addition to a comparable climate footprint, frozen food has even more to offer. As a matter of principle, the products are fresh, since vitamins are preserved during the process of shock freezing. Moreover, frozen food is easy to handle and allows portioning in the sizes needed, and thus may help to counteract food wastage.”

It stands to reason, very few meals require a whole broccoli, for example; by simply changing to frozen, the remainder can be kept for months, rather than days, before spoiling. Studies have confirmed this. One concluded: “Frozen food can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions for products not produced in the UK year-round.”
What’s more, as use of energy from renewable sources increases, frozen food will see a far greater reduction in carbon emissions relative to that of chilled products, simply because they are stored for longer, and at lower temperatures. Another study found that greenhouse emissions from a typical roast chicken meal comprising frozen ingredients are 3% lower than a comparable meal made with chilled ingredients.

That difference, of course, is not huge. Crucially, emissions arising from waste from the frozen chicken dinner accounted for 31% of the meal’s total emissions, while waste from the chilled meal accounted for 53.3% of its total; emissions from energy made up 67% of the frozen total and 45.6% of the chilled.

Clearly, greater use of renewable energy in the frozen supply chain will widen the emissions gap between frozen and chilled food, in favour of frozen. The development of facilities such as Magnavale’s new cold storage facility in Lincolnshire, which is powered completely by energy from renewable sources, are fuelling the environmental arguments for greater consumption of frozen food.

To convince more people to switch to frozen, the industry must challenge the misconception that frozen food isn’t as fresh or lacks the flavour or nutrient load of chilled foods. Progress is being made as supermarkets and consumers alike increase their freezer space. There are several ways to adapt to the modern requirements of the food supply chain and doing so is crucial. It’s hard to predict what the future holds, but we can be sure that it won’t be a return to the status quo of the pre-covid era.”

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