Keep your cool in chilled food category

Keep your cool in chilled food category
Available since the 1960s, chilled foods are one of the industry’s great success stories, fitting in around consumers’ busy lifestyles and the ever-increasing demand for safe, fresh foods.

Retailers continue to keep their cool in providing extensive chilled food ranges for consumers.

Northern Ireland companies have played their part in the rapid growth and development of the chilled food sector, with businesses such as Mash Direct marking two decades of delivering fresh, farm-to-fork vegetable accompaniments to families nationwide.

With the increase in time pressures and more working women, as well as people living alone, there has been an increased demand for tasty foods which are quick and easy to prepare and easy to store.

Consumers in Northern Ireland are continuing to spend more on chilled foods, with the market growing by 7.6% and shoppers spending £120 million more across total fresh and chilled foods. On average, consumers bought 196 times over the year, up versus last year’s 2.6 trips.

The total take home grocery market in Northern Ireland is £4.2bn, and is seeing value growth of 9.7% or shoppers spending an additional £373m year-on-year, Kantar figures suggest.

Total dairy products grew 10.7% year-on-year with shoppers spending nearly £42 million more than last year (Kantar). Shoppers have purchased dairy more frequently, up nearly three trips compared to last year. The average shopper in Northern Ireland spent £572 in 2024, which is up £54.

A breakdown of value spend shows:

  • Butter +1.5% / +578k
  • Cheese +12.8% or 11.2m
  • Milk +4.4% or 5.1m – bought most often on average 64.5 times a year up 1.6 trips.
  • Yoghurt +24.5% or 14.9m – saw the strongest boost in frequency up 12.3% an additional 4 trips a year.

Indeed, symbol groups here are realising they too must meet the demands of the consumer and have begun introducing their own ranges of chilled products.

Musgrave NI announced a £14 million investment in local produce with the launch of a new own-label range, Good Food Locally Sourced.

Comprising a range of almost 150 products, it offers a variety of everyday tasty food including meat, poultry, dairy and meal solutions.

Many butchers and independent retailers are also keen to make their mark and increase the product availability in chilled foods. Businesses such as McKay Family Butchers from Ballycastle have significantly grown their wholesale arm, now supplying 12 retail stores, after an investment in new packing machinery and equipment allowed them to keep up with demand, along with staff investment.

Independent stores, including The Milestone in Rathfriland and Hughes Food Hall in Camlough have their own butcheries and varieties of chilled, pre-packed products, continually innovating and creating exciting foods for their customers.

Choice is key now for consumers seeking chilled foods, with convenience the driving force behind the demand and supply. The sector has been driven by significant social, economic and demographic changes, which have influenced our eating habits. As the Chilled Food Association (CFA) notes, the chilled food sector is one of the fastest growing in the food industry, with the chilled recipe dish sector growing from an estimated £173 million in 1988 to around £1,467 million in 2015.

In 1989, when CFA was formed, the market was worth £550m. By January 2017 that figure was £12.6bn (including cooked sliced meat). The total value of the UK chilled prepared food market for 2022 was £10.5 bn, excluding cooked sliced meat.

As the organisation reports, the UK chilled foods sector is unique because the foods are unpreserved, meaning hygiene and safety are critical; they are generally multicomponent (eg pizzas, sandwiches, ready meals); prepared – ready to eat, ready to reheat and ready to cook.

Additionally, they are made to order – just-in-time systems and often made on the day of delivery to retailers; they are made of seasonal raw materials and more than 95% retailer own-label foods, meaning manufacturers have exceptionally close partnerships with retailers.