Is frozen food cheaper? Or is fresh food better? Which? finally settles the debate

Last modified on Tuesday 7 March 2023

Can stocking your freezer really help save you money or does it end up costing more in the long run? Independent experts Which? did the test

We all know the benefits of buying fresh but we also know that keeping your freezer stocked, for those times you've not been able to get to the shops is a godsend, right?

And with food prices continuing to soar, the independent experts at Which? say shoppers are increasingly heading to the freezer aisles at supermarkets in search of savings.

In fact, one in five households are buying more frozen food to help cut their grocery bills, a recent survey found

But is buying frozen actually cheaper? Is buying fresh better? Here's everything you need to know, according to the experts.

Table of results of frozen versus fresh food item prices

Is frozen food cheaper than fresh food?

Researchers at Which? checked the price of fresh foods versus frozen alternatives, and gathered research about which option is better for nutrition, taste, texture and more.

They calculated the prices of own-brand fresh and frozen products across eight popular food categories from Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado (including M&S own-label) and Waitrose in February 2023.

They then worked out the price per 100g for each item to determine a price range of what you could expect to pay for the fresh version of the product compared to the frozen version.

The results might surprise you...

For the majority of food items, buying frozen was cheaper, with breaded cod, raspberries, pork sausages, meat feast pizzas, chips and broccoli all working out as cheaper than fresh.

However, the results showed for certain items, like pain au chocolat or cottage pie ready meals, buying fresh is better.

Frozen v fresh: What the experts say...

Which? spoke to dieticians and nutritionists to clarify which option is better for your health, which also is a consideration for many when shopping for your family.

Fruits and vegetables

'The vitamins in fruit and veg start to deteriorate once they’re harvested, and it can sometimes be weeks until they reach the supermarket shelves,' commented nutritionist Shefalee Loth.

Dietitian Kiri Pointon-Bell added: ‘Commercial practices mean there’s very little delay between harvest and freezing of many varieties of fruit, so nutritional losses are negligible.’

Fruit and vegetables
Is fresh better for you than frozen?

She explained frozen vegetables like peas, broccoli, spinach and carrots usually have higher content of vitamin C than fresh vegetables, revealing:

‘Fresh vegetables are often stored for prolonged periods before consumption, and during this time at warmer temperatures the vitamin C is oxidised and lost.

‘Whereas frozen vegetables lock in nutrients, as they’re picked at their peak in terms of freshness.’

Verdict: Buy frozen

Fish, meat and poultry

Whether frozen or fresh, fish is a great source of vitamins and minerals.

Oily fish especially is high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, which can help to keep your heart healthy – and it's particularly important for pregnant and breast-feeding women, say the NHS.

Kiri Pointon-Bell told Which? that there ‘may be some additional nutritional benefits with frozen fish compared to fresh, as some fresh fish may not be consumed for many days after it’s caught, so frozen fish can end up being a superior choice in terms of overall quality.’

But it's not the same situation with meat...

‘Fresh meat is almost always better nutritionally speaking as it has the highest nutrient count, [although it] can lose minerals and vitamins as time passes,' advised Pointon-Bell.

You could get more of a variety when buying frozen fish compared to fresh, however, you might have to bear in mind that the texture of the fish can taste better from fresh. For ideas for recipes for cooking with fish, check these family favourites out.

Verdict: Buy fish frozen and meat fresh.

Ready meals, chips and pizza

'When it comes to ready meals the quality of ingredients are important,' states Which?'

Shoppers are advised that 'looking at the nutritional labelling and traffic light label on food packaging (a colour-coded system in which green is low in a particular nutrient, amber means medium and red is high) is the best way to make comparisons between a frozen and fresh pizza in terms of nutritional benefits.'

But remember, ready meals can be high in salt and fat and low in other nutrients, and the NHS states too much salt has negative effects for your family's health including ' raised blood pressure' , while too much fat in your diet, especially saturated fats, can 'raise cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease.'

Verdict: It depends, so check the label for nutritional info. Buy frozen if you want ease of cooking (ie cooking straight from frozen) but if you're short on time the cooking time is often shorter for fresh ready meals.

Desserts and pastries

There doesn’t tend to be a great deal of difference between these, according to Pointon-Bell.

But if taste and texture are important to you, the lack of water in pastries means once they are defrosted, they can retain their flavour and texture, but the crust might not be as good after defrosting than fresh ones.

So this probably comes down to personal preference.

Verdict: Buy fresh.

If you're having these items as an occasional treat, you might as well enjoy it at its best (and if it's a pan au chocolat, it is probably cheaper too!).

Be money-savvy with your shop

What is clear, is that it pays to arm yourself with as much information as possible when it comes to food shopping.

If you've got any great ideas for saving money for other Netmums, you can share your tips here . Plus for the common mistake to avoid when grocery shopping that could save you £800 a year, read this.

Do you find you're buying more frozen foods to cut costs at the moment? What are your freezer essentials for when things are tight? Join the conversation in the Forum below.

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