THE global frozen food market, which was worth $218.4 billion in 2010, is expected to grow to $261.5 billion by 2015, with a compound annual growth rate of 3.7 per cent.
The growth is significant and is driven by two factors: first the necessary pressures which have forced consumers to eat more at home, and second frozen foods brands offer ‘more wholesome and nutrient rich options.’
The frozen food industry requires related developments and facilities for transporting, storing, and marketing its products from the processing plant to consumer. Thus, a large amount of capital investment is needed for these types of facilities. In developing countries, especially in rural or semi-rural areas, the frozen food industry has therefore not developed significantly.
The growth of frozen food industry in Pakistani market seems to have closely mimicked that of the global market. According to Data Monitor, the local frozen foods market grew at an annual rate of 6.6 per cent between 2004 and 2009. However, it slowed down to roughly 3.4 per cent in 2010 and 2011. Frozen meat products specifically poultry account for 47 per cent of the market (of which chicken burgers and nuggets account for a staggering 60 per cent of all consumer purchases).
Part of the reason why frozen food wasn’t on the shelves before the late 90s was because of the common Pakistani perception (which exists in some circles to this day) that frozen food is not fresh and therefore inherently unhealthy. In recent decades, however, awareness has been created by different companies dealing with frozen food about the difference between domestic and commercial freezing – the latter uses the ‘quick freeze’ process to freeze freshly prepared food within 20 minutes of cooking, at a temperature of minus 20 degrees. In contrast, domestic freezers have a minimum temperature of minus 13 degrees.
In spite of the many positive developments, growth is slowing down, although the reasons locally are completely different from those impacting the international market, according to the owners of many frozen food industries. The reason is the power crisis.
Prolonged power outages have forced manufacturers to invest huge amounts of money in their cold chain, in better freezers for retailers, backup generators and improved packaging, all of which have reduced profitability.
A manufacturer complains that many retailers and their shop assistants have little knowledge of how to handle frozen products, often leaving products out of the freezer for an hour or so, on the pretext of ‘cleaning the freezer’. Others will overload branded freezers with cheaper brands in order to make a quick buck. And worst of all, Pakistan is the only country where retailers will accept ‘returns’ of frozen foods, a loss that must ultimately be borne by the manufacturer.
Most manufacturers have mitigated the extent of the problem by thoroughly vetting each retailer before giving him a branded freezer. Although retailers are generally vetted to ensure that they attract the kind of consumer who will buy frozen products, manufacturers also tend to go for larger, modern trade outlets which are more likely to ensure that the merchandise is handled with care.
With local markets not growing fast enough for many, manufacturers are focusing a large part of their energy on their export business. Others say that while the short-term forecast appears not so bright, once the power crisis is sorted, things will start to look up again.
However, one thing is certain: the growing consumer demand for frozen food products. That in itself is reason enough for optimism.