European Freeze Dry targets two markets with its meals offering: the outdoor segment – people on ‘expeditions’ – and people who can’t get out of the house. To cater to the latter, the company is innovating around its ‘fuel your prep’ platform.
“At the moment, with the current [COVID-19] crisis, we are seeing a huge uptake in the meals side of the business,” Nicola Trafford, R&D lead at European Freeze Dry explained. “Meals are [currently] our biggest selling segment and that is driven by Brexit and COVID-19.”
COVID-19 – and concerns over food supply due to Brexit before it – have seen consumers increasingly turn to the ambient category. A core appeal is the long shelf-life of products in this segment as it enables people to stock up their pantries. European Freeze Dry’s meal pouches have a seven year shelf life and the company’s tins will last for 25 years.
Since the onset of the pandemic, European Freeze Dry has invested in increasing its capacity from five-to-six cooks daily to around 22 cooks a day.
While European Freeze Dry has been boosted by the stockpiling effect, Trafford is confident that the taste, texture and convenience of its products will enable it to stay in favour when the crisis passes.
“Once they have seen, eaten and compared our products to standard meals… people see how easy it is to rehydrate and the taste and texture comes back. There is an element of panic buying, and demand will steady over time. But once people have used these products we will continue to see repeat purchase.”
Healthy, tasty and convenient
Trafford told FoodNavigator that the freeze-drying process removes the moisture from ingredients – but they retain their structure. When the moisture is added back, she claimed the taste, texture and mouthfeel are comparable to fresh.
“With freeze drying, you are taking out the moisture. All we do is take out the water…It is a very simple process.”
The company’s products cover a wide range of freeze dry ingredients – from the fruit typically associated with the breakfast category to meat and seafood.
Demand for chicken in items like noodle recipes and instant snacking is particularly strong. And, again, Trafford stresses the quality of the finished product once rehydrated. “In our chicken products you wouldn’t be able to see a difference [from fresh chicken]. It retains its mouthfeel.”
Where European Freeze Dry believes it has an advantage over the competition is its culinary approach. Rather than freeze drying individual ingredients, the company’s ready meals are cooked complete before being freeze dried. “When you re-hydrate some of the meals you can see them on the plate, its almost like eating fresh. We make it as a meal and freeze dry it as a meal.”
Importantly, the process also retains all the nutrients in an ingredient at the time it is dried. This therefore avoids any nutrient degradation or quality issues that can be seen in fresh products that are stored for long periods. “From a nutrient point of view, when you hydrate a product, it still has the same nutritional value.”
Convenience is another core selling point for the category, Trafford continued. “We are seeing an increased in demand for the convenience of adding water.”
Forward focus: Innovation spotlight
Chicken and beef casseroles are some of European Freeze Dry’s popular products. But the company’s innovation efforts are lead by trends in the broader market.
“We are very much driven by the market and what is coming through in chilled and fresh,” the R&D expert revealed.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the company has been working on extending its plant-based and vegan options. “We’re developing meals moving towards a vegan range… We are constantly looking at new meals or our range.”
Moving beyond mains, the company is also working on breakfast and dessert offerings.
And it would seem that the possibilities for future innovation are wide open: “There’s not a lot you can’t freeze dry. And there’s not a lot we won’t try.”