Back Into The Future

The credit crunch is having all sorts of unexpected effects on the food industry. One of them is a resurgence of sales in two rather old-fashioned packaging formats, namely canned food (first manufactured in 1822) and frozen food (pioneered by Clarence Birdseye in 1922). I say ‘about time too’ as I have always been a great fan of both. Why ? Four main reasons:

Firstly, food waste. If as WRAP suggests we do really throw away one-third of all the food we buy then canned and frozen are a great way of reducing this. Canned beans sit happily in the  store-cupboard and frozen spinach sits uncomplaining in the freezer until the very moment we need it. Unlike chilled food there are no short sell-by dates so nothing to throw away because the product has gone past its shelf life (of course this is as true for retailers as it is for consumers).

Secondly, quality. Canned organic tomatoes make a better-tasting sauce than fresh, possibly because they are canned at their peak ripeness. Frozen peas have more vitamin C than fresh for the same reason.  A chilled ready-meals manufacturer once confided to me that one of his great frustrations was that consumers bought his chilled products and then froze them at home. Freezing a chilled ready meal in a domestic freezer takes a long time and produces large ice-crystals which tend to adversely affect eating quality when the meal is defrosted and cooked. You are better off buying a frozen product that has been frozen quickly and effectively by the manufacturer (smaller ice crystals).

Thirdly, price. Frozen and canned tend to be cheaper than chilled, partly because they use less energy to produce and less energy to distribute and store. Which also makes them more eco-friendly, talking of which…

Fourthly, packaging recyclability. Cans and frozen food cartons are both eminently recyclable unlike the complicated packaging used by many chilled foods.

So canned and frozen – cooler than chilled!