British Frozen Food Federation annual luncheon, 3.00pm, 25 Nov 2021.

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President and Chair of the non-executive Board, Ian Stone.

I would firstly like to welcome our special guests, seated at the top tables. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to be with us.

Last time we were together at this famous event was back in November 2019. For those that attended, the comedian was a gentleman called Ian Stone. Now believe me, I am not today’s after-lunch entertainment or even a warm-up; just the big guy who stands between you and some post-pandemic mirth. So please let me get through this address without the heckling you afforded to the other Ian Stone two years ago!

So here we are again. It is fabulous to see so many members and guests meeting face-to-face over fine food and great wine. Thank you for attending and supporting your Federation today.

Thank you also to our sponsors, to whom we are indebted. Without you, today would be a much more low-key event with me as the main entertainment!

Thank you, Vine Meats as our headline sponsor, Green Yard UK, Freiberger as partner sponsor, GXO for Wellington reception, and finally, a big thank you to JBT for sponsoring my President’s reception.

The last 18 months, with COVID-19 and Brexit, have created a cocktail of issues and challenge for all of us.

The impact of COVID-19 depended on where you sat within the supply chain. Members in the ‘out of home’ market faced massive issues throughout most of 2020 and well into 2021, with major parts of their customer base closed. Conversely, many in retail saw record sales in 2020. Fingers crossed, most of us have now returned to a degree of normality.

As we move into 2022, I believe we are at a pivotal moment for our industry. A true once in a lifetime opportunity.

£900m is the additional value of retail sales of frozen food above that of 2019. Nearly £1bn.

I have been reliably informed by Google that you could buy 10 commercial spacecraft, five elite hotels, a few islands off Thailand, Disneyland Paris and still have money left out of £1bn for a good meal out at a Michelin-starred restaurant with an even more expensive bottle of wine than here!

An average-paid person in the UK would need to work 60 million hours or 7,000 years to earn £1bn.

So, £1bn is a significant amount. The boom in home eating has, I believe, resulted in Britain falling in love with frozen food. Consumers have discovered what we have always known; frozen foods are easy to store and easy to cook, with little wastage. Quality and taste are fantastic and there are a wide range of menu choices. And for consumers now using home delivery services, there is no longer a need to worry about defrosting on the way back from the local supermarket.

We need to seize this pivotal moment. In retail, you must continue to innovate with product; deliver healthier options, further embrace meat-free, plant-based alternatives, continue to deliver brilliant value for money.

We need to address the frozen aisle once and for all. Grab the attention of consumers, excite them, make the frozen aisle a true feature destination.

In foodservice, we need to garner the new enthusiasm for frozen food and celebrate its benefits; particularly quality and value for money. We need to ensure that all caterers – in every sector – see frozen food as a real option, not just a purchase of last resort.

This once in a lifetime opportunity, our pivotal moment, is further cemented by the staggering growth in the importance of sustainability. Who could have imagined an event like COP26 coming to the UK, the demonisation of plastic, or the importance of Greta Thunberg just five years ago?

We are in a unique position – surely frozen food is the most sustainable food option of all?

As a nation we waste 9.5m tonnes of food per year. Of that, nearly 7m tonnes is simply thrown away. By encouraging consumers to buy more frozen food we could dramatically impact this figure. Fresh vegetables and salads are the largest single area of food waste, with 3m carrots and 1m onions alone being thrown away every single day. I think we would all agree this is scandalous.

Manufacturing a frozen product is often undertaken with longer production runs, resulting in less change overs and minimising lost raw materials. It is a more efficient process from start to finish.

So, to consumers and caterers who ask how they can be more sustainable, the answer is very simple: buy more frozen!

But we must do more. We must ensure we grow, harvest, manufacture and distribute our products in an ever more sustainable way. We need to demonstrate that we use resources even more carefully than we do today, that we minimise waste in the processing of products and that we are efficient in the use of energy.

To reinforce the message around food wastage, the Federation is planning to run a Frozen Food Week in September next year. The theme of the event will be the role frozen can play in reducing food waste. Further details will be sent out to members and the wider industry in the next few weeks.

Turning to the other main challenge since we were last together, Brexit finally happened in January of this year.

It was from this date that the challenges of leaving the EU became clear. The friction of moving products into mainland Europe became evident quickly, as did the complexity of supplying the island of Ireland. Members have had to deal with a massively complex process when supplying products into the Republic – from export declarations and Export Health Certificates, to understanding the impact on the rules of origin for taxation purposes. The BFFF, I guarantee, will continue to lobby for a far less complex process that recognises the high-quality production facilities of our members.

Northern Ireland remains a real challenge. Although we are increasingly hopeful a less complex system for supplying goods into the province will emerge, we still fear a significant gap remains between the UK Government and the EU commission on key issues such as a relaxation on rules for foodservice in line with retail.

It has been a challenging couple of years for your Federation. The stopping of all events for 18 months has impacted our income massively. Careful management of costs, combined with ongoing support from our membership, means we have exited the year in reasonable shape – better than we had expected at the outset. We believe we now have a fantastic base to move from, to drive and support the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the frozen food industry.

To this end, our market-leading events programme is now back and open and ready for business.

Tickets for our Business Conference and People Awards on 23 February 2022 are available and it is an unmissable event. You will have a chance to meet industry colleagues and discuss matters relevant to you, all while listening to a top line-up of speakers.

The People Awards are a brilliant opportunity for you to recognise team members in your businesses and say thank you for their contribution, especially in facing the challenges of COVID-19.

Our Product Awards are also now open. Entering products is a great showcase for the industry to demonstrate the amazing breadth of innovation the frozen category generates. But be quick – the deadline for entries is the end of this month.

Before I conclude, it would be remiss of me not to mention the massive pressures all members are under with rising costs. It is clear we will see inflation in the food industry and in frozen. This could play to our strength; frozen always provides great value for money, something consumers and caterers will be looking for in 2022.

At the beginning of my address, I thanked many individuals. To end, it is my privilege to thank Richard and all the team at the BFFF. They have endured many challenges since our last lunch in November 2019 but have come through smiling with a Federation fit to tackle the future post-Brexit and post-pandemic.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for listening to me. My name is Ian Stone, and I am not a comedian – although many of those who work with me would probably dispute that. I am, however, your proud president and chairman and a fantastic believer in all things frozen food.

To sum up, the last 18 months have created a cocktail of issues and challenge for us all. We have come through and are in a great place to move forward, whether you are in retail or foodservice

This is a true-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our industry, our pivotal moment – let’s take It together.

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