Middle class prejudice against frozen food is based on ignorance, argues Malcolm Walker
Last time I promised to explain how Iceland leads the way in healthy eating. The answer is really simple: freezing is God’s own way of keeping food fresh.
Freezing is a natural process that doesn’t involve pumping products full of artificial preservatives or flushing their packs with gas. It locks in vitamins and flavours.
If you don’t believe me, tonight make yourself a chicken casserole with the finest fresh ingredients. Then put half of it in the fridge and half in the freezer, and see which of them you would prefer to eat in 10 days’ time.
The crazy thing is the way that the supposedly educated middle classes have allowed themselves to be persuaded that ‘fresh is best’ and are prepared to pay a hefty premium for ‘fresh’ food that has actually been in the supply chain for as long as that casserole. How often do you buy a fresh ready meal, fail to eat it, then bung it in the freezer when it reaches its use by date? We’ve all done it. But what is the psychological block that stops us buying a frozen ready meal in the first place?
Like most ideas, ‘fresh is best’ contains a grain of truth. Nothing tastes better, or is better for you, than the vegetables you pick from your own garden or the fish you catch and cook yourself.
But if those options are not available, why would anyone pay extra for ‘fresh’ fish that could have been hanging around on the trawler, dockside, wholesaler and supermarket counter for a full 12 days? The fish frozen as soon as it comes aboard the good old factory trawler is much fresher in any meaningful sense of the word.
And any exotic fish or other seafood sold to you as ‘fresh’ will almost certainly have been frozen and defrosted before sale.
It’s the same with ‘fresh’ turkeys and hot cross buns. Can consumers really believe that they are all killed or baked the day before to meet these massive seasonal peaks in demand? Of course they aren’t.
Your hot cross buns will have been made in January and frozen, your turkey killed in October and put to rot gently in deep chill for three months.
I am incensed by the way the media always pick on the chicken nugget as the supreme example of junk food. At Iceland we are proud of our chicken nuggets, which contain chicken breast, breadcrumbs and, er, that’s it.
Yes, if you shop around I’m sure you can find retailers who sell rubbish, but we took every single artificial colour and flavour out of all our products more than 10 years ago - and every artificial preservative that could go without compromising customer safety.
Supposedly more upmarket retailers preen themselves now on taking out hydrogenated fats from their products: we did it by 2005. We were also in the lead in getting rid of nasties like mechanically recovered meat, just as we were the first national retailer to eliminate all GM ingredients (which the experts all told us could not be done).
I love food - it is one of my passions - and if I’m honest I’m highly unlikely to choose a plate of chicken nuggets for my supper. But if parents want to serve them to their kids, I will do my utmost to ensure that they can choose ones that are wholesome and nutritious as well as great value for money.
And if I can’t shoot, catch or pick the ingredients for my own meals, I’ll choose frozen every time.
Malcolm Walker is chief executive of Iceland
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