5 Ways to Get Consumers to Warm Up to Frozens
In the frozen food category, there are various ups and downs that may warrant a different tack to entice and engage shoppers.
On the one hand, sales have largely remained flat. In its 2017 report on frozen foods, Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts estimated that sales were almost identical in 2016 and 2012. According to research from Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen, sales of frozen foods were down by a scant 0.1 percent in the past year. Chicago-based SPINS reports that overall sales of frozen foods edged up a slight 0.3 percent in the past year, another indication of the generally fixed nature of the category.
Other research has found a silver lining in the freezer case, such as Acosta’s “The Future of Frozen” report, which notes that more than 26 percent of U.S. grocery shoppers say that they’re shopping the frozen food department more frequently this year, including Millennials and households with children. Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta also found that frozen foods is one of the few categories with more purchases in-store than online.
With such trends in mind, frozen food companies, retailers and analysts alike say that there are things that can be done to bolster traffic and sales in the frozen food aisle, to capitalize on areas of growth and stanch any erosion.
1. Make navigation easier
It’s not enough to stack freezer cases with products — no matter how attractive they may be — and hope that shoppers come down the aisle. “Retailers should ensure the frozen section is easily navigable, and should keep end cap freezers stocked with a variety of teaser items as to what else is available down the aisles,” advises Acosta SVP Colin Stewart.
If necessity is the mother of invention, there are other inventive ways to bring needed traffic and sales to the frozen section. “Improved lighting and case design can help, but the big change that needs to be made is for the frozen case to be easier to shop — to make it even easy to browse, so shoppers can discover products that are new to them,” points out industry analyst Bill Bishop, chief architect at Brick Meets Click, in Barrington, Ill.
Grocers can also bring frozen foods to other areas of the store, and some brands are helping them do just that. Los Angeles-based My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream, for instance, now offers signature self-service bars filled with its colorful, portable frozen snacks. “It’s all about creating an immersive, engaging experience, coupled with a completely Instagrammable moment,” says Russell Barnett, chief marketing officer.
2. Offer a bigger mix and a different mix of products
Frozen food companies continue to roll out innovative products, invigorating the category.
“New product development is critical,” asserts Bishop. “You only have to look at what companies like Aldi are doing to innovate in frozen to get an idea of the upside potential. Last week, we bought some imported Italian frozen-lemon desserts at Aldi that were great-tasting, but I’m sure were also good profit generators for the retailer.”
On that point, many innovations are happening in frozen foods. For example, Green Giant, a brand of Parsippany, N.J.-based B&G Foods, just came out with a new line of sides that includes Veggie Tots and Mashed Cauliflower. Meanwhile, the pace of development of new natural and organic frozen offerings also ramps up choices for consumers.
3. Go with a theme
As grocers seek to influence sales in frozen foods, they can use resources offered by manufacturers and industry organizations such as the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) and the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA).
Harrisburg, Pa.-based NFRA has addressed the perception of fresh versus frozen foods in its ongoing Real Food. Frozen. public relations campaign. The association also puts a lot of muscle behind March Frozen Food Month, which includes digital coupons, an integrated media campaign, social media platforms, sweepstakes and a dedicated website. “Many of the major manufacturers are eager to promote in March. Supermarkets can take advantage of all the national hype just by making the frozen food aisle a focal point and featuring those items that are already being promoted by the manufacturer,” explains Julie Henderson, NFRA spokeswoman, adding that the organization offers point-of-sale materials, artwork and consumer information to help retailers build their promotions.
Many supermarkets are successfully tapping into such efforts. “As we continue to strive to be relevant and engaging in the space, we have found success in focusing on key monthly themes, such as Frozen Food Month and Ice Cream Month, which provide us with opportunities to highlight both national and own-brand offerings,” says Jannah Jablonowski, spokeswoman for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle.
4. Engage consumers with offers and materials
Although special offers and point-of-sale materials aren’t new, grocers can use them in strategic and creative ways to entice shoppers to take a fresh look at frozen.
Gillian Mosher, spokeswoman for Nielsen, offers some advice for reaching consumers before they enter the store. “Compared to other departments, coupons, promotions and the requests made by others in one’s household are all key triggers to entice frozen food purchases before consumers are even in the store,” she points out. “Conversely, product recommendations, advertising and digital influencers are less likely to have impact in this category.”
She continues: “Once in the store, frozen food consumers are more likely to be heavily engaged in selecting their product and, compared to other categories, index above the norm in terms of time spent browsing the aisle. Therefore, a combination of coupons and in-aisle placement/messaging could hone in on the pre- and in-store triggers that matter most to frozen food shoppers.”
From a merchandising perspective, NFRA’s Henderson recommends that grocers improve digital media to attract more Millennials. “Consumers demand quick and easy meal solutions, and may not see how frozen foods can fit into last-minute meal planning,” she says. “Offer ideas for pairing frozen items with other foods and beverages in the store.”
In developing messages for offers and materials, Bishop suggests that grocers take advantage of tools at their disposal. “One way to drive traffic to the frozen case is for retailers to use the purchase data from their loyalty programs to identify those households with a high likelihood to buy certain frozen products, and then team up with manufacturers of those products to offer very high-value coupons targeted just at those customers,” he notes.
5. Give them a taste
Sampling, too, can be taken to another level. Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets recently held a harvest tasting event that featured sampling across many departments, including frozen, where shoppers noshed on Wegmans’ pumpkin pie ice cream.
Sampling is also emphasized by Marjorie Proctor, marketing and design specialist for Hillphoenix, a designer and manufacturer of commercial refrigerated food-display cases and application systems in Conyers, Ga. “Often, consumers are not fully persuaded to buy something, even though it may be a food item they are familiar with, until they actually taste it,” observes Proctor. “With a well-orchestrated demo and sampling area, a store can increase shopper knowledge, boost sales and increase traffic.”
This article also appears in the December 2017 issue of Progressive Grocer.