Freeze YOUR FOOD 

Bindu Gopal Rao
Sunday, 14 October 2018

According to the India Frozen Food Market Outlook 2021, the frozen food market of India has grown at the rate of 15-20 per cent in the last four years

In the current scenario where both members of the family are working, more nuclear families are being established, real estate is getting more expensive and kitchens are becoming smaller, the rise in convenience foods is at an all-time high. Frozen foods are among the top order as stocking them is much more convenient and usage also is varied.

Demand drivers
The Indian frozen food industry started with frozen vegetables and fries. Today, it delivers a wide variety of products, ranging from fruits and vegetables to frozen meat and ready-to-cook, snacking and full meal options. Among these, frozen snacks and vegetables are the largest categories in terms of sales volume (65 per cent) whereas frozen poultry, seafood and red meat are increasingly becoming popular among Indian retail consumers. Sunil Nair, CEO, Snowman Logistics explains, “Owing to urbanisation and increased income of people, western India has the largest share in the frozen food market. North India will show a steady growth in the forecast period and the southern market will increase as a result of the growing popularity of frozen food such as ready-to-eat Idli Sambar.” 

Frozen vegetables and frozen snacks are anticipated to remain the most popular product categories capturing a majority of the market share across India. Being the new category in India, earlier there were misconceptions in the consumer’s mind about frozen food and its health benefits, but with growing awareness about freezing as the best way to preserve food, consumers now know that frozen foods have some real benefits that go beyond convenience.
 
“Freezing means less waste, which is a sad fate of a large percentage of all food produced in India. And concerns about preservatives and other ingredients have been lessened by the assumption that if products are natural or organic, they must be more nutritious,” says Chandrakant K, Head of Sales and Marketing, Chevon Agrotech Pvt Ltd.

Health matters
A tag attached to frozen foods is that it is unhealthy, however this is not really true for all the categories. “There is a large fresh frozen food category in which vegetables, meats, fish or seafood are individually quick frozen (IQF) from their freshest source at a temperature shift from 4 degrees to -18 degrees in less than 5 minutes and then transported around the world. That makes it completely hygienic and safe to consume for long periods of time, provided the cold chain isn’t broken. The need for frozen foods is primarily convenience and it does come with certain ‘don’ts’. If there is frozen food supplied where industrial freezing units aren’t deployed, then the food quality definitely deteriorates, also logistics play a vital role in this game and can make or break a brand if their cold chain logistics are not sorted,” says chef Ajay Chopra, founder, Zion Hospitality Pvt Ltd.
 
Fresh vegetables may lose up to 45 per cent of their nutrients from the time they are harvested to the time they are purchased at a grocery store. Mithun Appaiah, CEO, Sumeru Foods, explains, “As consumers become more aware, they are exploring other categories in this segment, which are not necessarily calorie rich and are more wholesome and healthier than snacks like the combo meals that are nutritious and far less calorie intensive. Furthermore, there is a lack of awareness on the consumer front about the fact that freezing as a process eliminates the need for a lot of preservatives. There are healthier options available to the consumer today, like our quick meals range which includes Parathas in turmeric, beetroot, methi and ajwain variants that retain the goodness of these traditional Indian health foods.””

Non-vegetarian angle
The retail market used to be largely frozen vegetables like peas and sweet corn till five-six years ago. Now, snacks such as Chicken Sausages, French Fries and other potato products, Kebabs, breaded products like Burger Patties and Pops are becoming very popular. It is a myth that non-vegetarian food is not as healthy as the vegetarian counterparts. 

Seshu Kumar Tirumala, head — buying and merchandising, bigbasket, adds, “It is important to consider the ingredients used in various products before labelling them as healthy or otherwise. Avoid foods that are high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium, or carry little nutritional value. Indian consumers are starting to live in an internet-based world, which is enabling them to have an online shopping experience across categories. The same is also happening for food and grocery, which is yet to realise its true potential with Indian consumers. Today, the category stands at Rs 3,900 crore and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 45-50 per cent till 2020.”

Debunking myths
Frozen food could sometimes lose out on some nutritional value but the reality is that they are generally more nutritious than fresh food that is available at the grocery store. Microbes cannot grow on any food that is at a temperature less than 0°F. While grocery freezers are packed with unhealthy frozen dinners, there are some great healthy choices one can make.
 
Generally, frozen food is less expensive than fresh food. For example, most fruits and vegetables that are not seasonal are priced very high but stocking up frozen fruits and vegetables can actually save money on your grocery bills.

While there are plenty of foods that can be frozen and yet retain the original texture and flavour, this is not the case with all foods. There are certain foods that tend to lose their flavour when frozen and these include cream-based sauces and fruits and vegetables that contain high water content.

Frozen foods have a longer lifespan but it can lose taste and quality when stored for too long. However, there are some ways in which the storage life of frozen food can be extended and this is done by blanching vegetables before freezing and covering the food in moisture-proof packaging.

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