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EEC harmonization makes 'quick frozen' and best before date legal pack parlance.

EEC Harmonization Makes |Quick Frozen' And Best Before Date Legal Pack Parlance

This writer's eyes really opened upon reading the following headline in a UK retail trade magazine: QFF Makes a Return to the Market Place Via Brussels. Is it possible to have just awakened from a deep and lengthy slumber?

Well the article that followed was fascinating because it appears, quite unbeknown to at least this keen industry watcher, that the description "quick frozen foods" was abandoned by the European industry 20 years ago. Now about to emerge again, QFF will not mean the same as frozen food in accordance with EEC legislation! It seems that many European countries, regarding quick frozen food as being of a higher quality than ordinary frozen food, have been operating a two-tier system unheard of in Britain.

New EEC legislation requires harmonization and evidently the UK industry will have to embrace the proposals even though, as Alf Carr, director general of the British Frozen Food Federation, says, "It is not because we need them." It really is all about the -- 18 [degrees] C temperature barrier. The legislation defines QFF as products subject to a rapid freezing process and subsequently kept at a temperature of - 18 [degrees] C or colder at all stages of distribution. Frozen foods (not QFF) may be frozen more slowly and even kept at temperatures above -- 18 [degrees] C.

What must Clarence Birdseye be thinking? Incidentally, this reporter was glad to see that the father of the frozen food industry was not overlooked when it came to the induction of the first four members into the newly established Frozen Food Hall of Fame in the USA. Maybe a certain Ed Williams will soon be remembered!

But back to this new EEC legislation which took effect on Jan. 10. From that date all companies using the description "quick frozen" must also carry a "best before date," as well as an indication of the maximum period during which it is advisable to store the product. The words indication and advisable do imply a degree of judgment. As Alf Carr says, "The methods to enforce the regulations should be practical, clear and should embrace suitable tolerances."

What fun for the judiciary! Anyway, and just to add to the confusion, it seems that very few items are currently labeled as QFF; but from July 1992 all frozen products -- whether marked frozen or not -- will have to carry the best-before date. So there!

Of course, you all knew this already, right? This reporter must have been sleeping! And he admits to being a died-in-the-wool QFF advocate who has always believed that these three letters did imply products of the highest quality that would remain that way provided they were stored at the correct temperature -- and that it is temperature and not time that matters.

Quite honestly, I have not been concentrating too much lately on the year 1992 and all that it entails. Perhaps Operation Desert Shield-turned Storm took up more of my attention. Nevertheless, there are signs that others are making their plans for the great EEC takeover. And this is especially obvious on the European mainland. Here in Britain there is the opinion that even after the Thatcherite years UK manufacturers remain uncompetitive chiefly because of low labor productivity. Old habits die slowly. But there is still time for the necessary actions to be taken to improve this competitiveness because recent research suggests that the European food and drink industry is very nationally focused and insular, with 80% of food still produced in the country of its consumption. Evidently only half of 46 major EEC-based companies are active in more than two countries, and only five have a presence in all the five largest EEC markets.

Certainly the UK retail industry is getting some competition from Europe, with Aldi of Germany and Netto of Denmark in the vanguard. These two experienced discounters have been attracted by the above-average profit margins achieved by UK retailers, but they deny that price will be the only factor in their strategy. This should be some consolation for food manufacturers in the UK who must operate in one of the most retailer-dominated markets in the world.

Centralizing Production

Meanwhile some of the very few truly worldwide manufacturers continue to look for rationalization and centralization of their food manufacturing facilities. The Unilever frozen products companies are very well placed in this respect because they have practiced varying degrees of consultation and cooperation for several years -- notably in the ice cream sector where products originating in Italy or Germany or the UK have been fairly easily made into globaleuro successes. There's a new description for you, and one for the EEC legislators to attempt to define.

But it is not going to be a question as to where products are going to be produced. It is going to be even more interesting to try and keep up with who owns the brand. In the UK food groups are quietly adding to their frozen product portfolios. For instance, following its recent acquisition of Fitch Lovell, Booker has formed a new fish division which will be involved with every sector of the UK seafood trade. Twelve member companies are all operating independently -- including already established brands such as Bluecrest and Rossfish. The division is being headed up by Frank Flear, a very experienced fish marketing entrepreneur. Ross-fish is not to be confused with Ross Foods, which is still in the UB stable.

Staying with the seafood sector, it has been claimed that smoked fish sales are climbing in the UK. In fact one recent headline read: Smoked Fish Sales Spiral Amid Recession Gloom! MacFish, part of the Geest organization (did you know that!) boasts a 75% share of the frozen fish market under the Macrae brand. It says that the market size is about 40 million [pounds] for frozen smoked, with chilled lagging behind at 10 million [pounds]. The company is also planning to relaunch the famous ex-Unilever brand, MacFish, in an undisclosed new market sector.

|Whitefish' Wave

The previously mentioned Bluecrest has introduced a sub-brand, Ocean Catch, with five budget priced breaded and battered white fish products. Note the term "white fish," as more and more frozen fish products move away from full cod or haddock because of the shortage of supplies of these two pricey species. In fact, as some of the new fish items come under the mindful scrutiny of trading standards officers, manufacturers will have to be very careful about labeling descriptions.

Of course, when company purchases are made these days there is always a degree of unloading. For example, when Bookers bought Fitch Lovell it spun off the leading frozen pastry brand, Jus-rol, to Grand Metropolitan which already owned the Pillsbury brand. It sold two meat product companies, Millers and Robirch, to Kerry Holdings, an outfit already engaged in the meat product sector but perhaps not too well known as yet.

Perkins Foods recently purchased a Dutch manufacturer of frozen convenience foods and a frozen sausage company, Fellside Foods. The Dutch concern, Enkco, will be combined with another company from the Netherlands, Bakker, which was acquired by Perkins last year. Meanwhile, Albert Fisher gained the frozen vegetable and seafood businesses from Campbell. They will be combined with already operating Fisher companies, Frank Idiens in vegetables. Then UB and Lyons Maid have been denying that they are rationalizing. Nonetheless, just that has been suggested even though UB is certainly proposing to manufacture in fewer locations. Yes, 1991 is going to be a good year for industry watchers -- almost on a weekly basis.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:News from the United Kingdom; European Economic Community
Author:Webb, Kenneth J.B.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:1264
Previous Article:New wave changing the old order in British frozen food marketplace.
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