Fresh vs frozen food – which is cheaper?

Is frozen food cheaper than fresh? We compare the buying, cooking and nutritional costs of switching to frozen food.

With rising prices squeezing household budgets, can you make savings by switching from fresh to frozen food in the supermarket? 
Households are switching from buying fresh food to cheaper frozen foods as rising food prices bite into budgets, the boss of the UK’s largest supermarket Tesco has said.
According to data from Kantar, the demand for frozen prepared foods such as pizza, chips and ready meals rose by 2.6% and demand for frozen chicken increased by  5.9% in the 12 weeks to 20 March. 
In an interview with the BBC, Ken Murphy, chief executive of Tesco, said shoppers were “managing their budgets much more tightly” and had changed their behaviour by “trading down” to cheaper food and own brand products.
Can you really make big savings buying frozen food? Let’s find out.

Fresh vs frozen food

Food prices are rising at their fastest rate for 45 years. The latest official figures revealed food price inflation hit 18.2%, up from 16.8% in January 2023. 
Every penny you can save counts and, if as Tesco claims, households are switching to frozen food  – can you really make a saving? We looked at the prices of 10 popular food types* – frozen vs fresh.  
*Most popular frozen food types, according to Birds Eye research, 2018. Prices were checked on 17/04/23 using the Tesco website. 
Total savings buying frozen food (per kg): £29.52 (71.5% saving), an average saving of £2.95 per item.

Is frozen food more expensive to cook?

There is usually just a difference of a few pence between the cost of cooking fresh food versus frozen food. But cooking time is king. The longer the cooking time, the more it will cost to cook. If you’re cooking a frozen pizza, for example, a cheese meltdown pizza from Tesco, it requires around 16 minutes in the oven at 200 °C (180°C fan assisted).
Uswitch has told The Money Edit that 17 minutes of cooking a frozen pizza costs around 19.3p to use the oven. Fresh pizza requires around 15 minutes of cooking time and costs around 17p to cook in the oven.  With some foods, you might also want to take into account the defrost time, which could reduce oven time. 

Is frozen food less healthy than fresh?

But just focusing on the price of food might come at a cost for your health, depending on the food you are freezing. Frozen foods are known to be easy and quick, which is why a lot of people opt for them, but are often more unhealthy. 
Nutritionist and head of Diets Debunked, Kate Hilton said: “I think the idea that frozen food is more unhealthy is a misconception; it really depends on what food it is that you are purchasing which will dictate whether it is more unhealthy or not. 
“In fact, fruits and vegetables are often considered more nutritious when bought frozen rather than fresh, as they are picked at peak ripeness and that quality is preserved once it is flash frozen. 
“But, I understand the majority of foods in the frozen aisle are convenience foods, meaning foods which are quick, cheap and easy to cook. These foods do tend to be higher in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and often have little in the way of vitamins and minerals, meaning they would be considered more unhealthy.”
“Choosing minimally processed meats (such as plain frozen chicken breast or mince) will be a better choice nutritionally than breaded options.” 
“Equally, certain plant-based alternatives such as Quorn or seitan can be a nutritious choice too; Just double check the label to ensure there isn’t lots of added sugar, salt or saturated fat,” Kate adds.

The verdict

It’s clear you can make big savings by switching to buying frozen food at the supermarket, with an average saving of £2.95 per kg for the 10 popular items that we checked.
While most of the frozen food we found is sold in larger portions it will also keep a lot longer in the freezer, meaning you can use what you need and leave the rest in the freezer reducing food waste. 
And with the majority of frozen food, the few pence more it might cost to cook is more than offset by the savings you make buying it in the first place.
Plus if you’re worried about the nutritional value of what you eat the good news is that lots of frozen fruit and veg are frozen within a few hours of being picked, meaning they can keep more of the nutritional good stuff like essential vitamins and minerals than some fresh foods which can take days to get to supermarket shelves.