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Photograph of shoppers at Hornchurch Freezer Centre on opening day, 1978

Frozen Through Time

Sainsbury's has a long history of supplying the British public with high quality, affordable, frozen produce. From traditional in-store frozen shopping experiences to perusing frozen goods online,  customers have access to a wonderful variety of foods. From frankfurters and latka to goose and king prawns, it’s hard to imagine a time when freezing wasn’t considered an option but when Sainsbury's first started out, things were a little different.

Join us on a journey through history, revealing how bygone generations were first able to enjoy various frozen delights with a little help from Sainsbury's. 

When Sainsbury’s was founded in 1869, domestic and commercial refrigeration and freezing methods were very basic. Iceboxes could be found in many homes and were, as the name suggests, simple wooden cabinets with a block of ice positioned at the top which would circulate cold air, cooling the contents of the box. The problem was that the ice block had to be replaced as soon as it melted, making the systems very inefficient. From the 1890s all Sainsbury’s stores were built with huge icebox basements supplied with ice twice weekly by the North Pole Company but even this didn’t allow for food to be kept frozen, only chilled. 

By 1949, Sainsbury’s had developed refrigerated bins know as “coffins” that were capable of storing a small range of frozen foods such as peas and ice cream – the first time frozen goods were available to the British public. But these “coffins” would be inadequate for the demands of a self-service store – the likes of which Sainsbury’s would pioneer about five years later. So Ralph Hall, Sainsbury’s chief engineer was tasked with developing more efficient units which were piloted in the Chelsea branch in 1950. 

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"Buy it fresh…keep it fresh. Some information on home freezers and frozen foods" leaflet, 1980s

Opening Freezer Centres

By the 1970s technology and processes had advanced enough to allow Sainsbury’s to store and sell large quantities of frozen food. Home freezers were also common by then, allowing customers to purchase frozen items and keep them frozen once they were home.

Sainsbury's opened a chain of “freezer centres” – specialist frozen food stores  that operated independently from the main supermarket business. The first freezer centre was opened in Southbourne near Bournemouth on 25th June 1974.

 

To begin with, most of the products sold by these shops were large pack sizes which offered price savings over conventional frozen foods such as peas, beans and crinkle-cut chips. There was also bulk packs of meat, fish portions and a huge range of frozen desserts like banana dream pie, Danish pastries, jam doughnuts and the Arctic roll. For the more adventurous customer, “continental specialities” such as lasagne, pizzas and “chicken espagnole” were stocked. Customers could even purchase bulk packs of uncooked 'Dinnodog' meat for the family pet.

  • Photograph of East Grinstead Freezer Centre interior, 1970s

  • Photograph of Maidenhead Freezer Centre, [1975-1985]

  • Interior of Petts Wood Freezer Centre, 1977

  • Photograph of interior of Goodmayes Freezer Centre shortly after opening, Jul 1978

  • "Sainsbury's brand new Freezer Centre - now open in Bridge Street", 1980

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Interior of East Grinstead Freezer Centre, 1974

Interior of East Grinstead Freezer Centre

In 1975 Sainsburys decided that the growing popularity of frozen foods meant that it was now essential to integrate the specialist frozen food stores into new supermarkets rather than keep them separate. The first integrated freezer centre was incorporated into Sainsbury's Chippenham branch in October 1975 and although Sainsbury’s continued to operate independent freezer centres for a further 11 years, they were finally sold to Bejam in 1986.

From 1986 to the present day, Sainsbury’s has continued to innovate in order to meet the needs of customers. In fact in 2012, Sainsbury's was the first retailer to change labelling guidance to encourage people to freeze products up to ‘use-by’ dates, resulting in less food being wasted.

To this day Sainsburys continues to help families make the most from their shop, inspiring them by providing freezer ingredients to tips on how to get the most out of their frozen food. Sainsbury’s has recently launched the ‘Love Your Freezer’ campaign to encourage customers to reappraise their freezer. Find out more by visiting the Homemade website.