The Story of Chilled Food

Chilled foods have been available since the 1960s and are one of the food industry’s great success stories. Chilled foods are stored at temperatures at or below 8ºC. They fit our busy lifestyles and our increasing demand for safe fresh foods, which are easy to prepare.

One of the largest sectors is the chilled recipe dish sector which has grown from an estimated £173 million in 1988 to about £1,467 million in 2015. The total UK chilled prepared food market was an estimated £12.3 billion in 2014 and continues to evolve, reflecting consumers changing needs and lifestyles. (Source Kantar WorldPanel 2015).

Initially market growth was due to the dramatic increase in the number of households with fridges and the emergence of supermarkets, whose shorter lines of supply and faster turnovers allowed for the handling of shorter shelf life prepared foods. Over the past 25+ years, however, the market has been driven by the huge social, economic and demographic changes that have influenced our eating habits. Time pressures and higher disposable incomes combined with a rise in the number of working women and people living alone has meant an increased demand for delicious nutritious foods that are great value and quick and easy to prepare.

Chilled Through the Decades

1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
sliced meats dressed salads recipe dishes non-dairy desserts accompaniments
pies dairy desserts quiches dips speciality breads
flans salad dressings sushi
sandwiches sauces luxury meal kits
pizzas stocks stir fry kits
ethnic snacks prepared fruit
pastas prepared veg
soups leafy salads
sandwich fillings

Today, the UK’s chilled prepared food sector provides a choice of over 12,000 high quality chilled foods with recipes prepared by chefs and gathered from all over the world. These include reduced fat options for the more health conscious to indulgent treats for special occasions. Small wonder that already in 2004, over 80% of UK households bought a ready meal with over 40% buying one within any given month (Source TNS 2005).

The chilled food sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the food industry and chilled foods currently represent about 10% of all UK retail foods by value. Our members employ over 50,000 people (including over 1,000 scientists) equivalent to 11% of the UK’s total food industry workforce.

In line with rising demand a key feature in the development of chilled foods in the UK has been the industry’s approach to food safety and quality the success of which is recognised around the world. These high standards together with the huge choice of products available help to explain why we choose to buy chilled foods again and again and again.