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Destination: Frozen

Innovations in the freezer case invite shoppers to discover solutions.

How can retailers get shoppers to warm up to the frozen food department?

Despite a few bright spots like breakfast foods and baked goods, overall sales of frozen foods have been stagnant for the past several years. Total frozen department sales were up less than 1 percent for the year ending June 9 at food stores with at least $2 million in annual sales, according to data from Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen, and up only 0.8 percent for the same period a year earlier.

This has sent frozen food manufacturers and marketers in search of answers, among them Omaha, Neb.-based CPG giant ConAgra Foods. ConAgra tapped into extensive consumer research to determine shopper sentiment regarding the frozen department in developing an aisle redesign solution, currently in testing.

ConAgra concludes that shoppers' complaints about the frozen department can be boiled down to three issues: poor aisle flow, confusing signage and an uninviting environment. The company's redesign plan aims to address these issues by reflowing the department according to consumer occasions, using "captivating signage to communicate the new arrangement," and upgrading the appearance of the frozen aisle "to move from sterile to themes evoking kitchens, restaurants, food or family dining."

As such, ConAgra's concept delivers more effective solutions for shoppers and better communicates options that exist for consumers across multiple categories in the frozen department. It aims to create "a simpler, more intuitive shopping experience supported by proper visual merchandising in an appealing environment."

Liz Mohr, ConAgra's director of shopper insights, elaborates: "We've known for years that shoppers find the frozen department difficult to shop, but the consumer insights around what's happening in the home with meal prep and trip planning — along with recent product innovation across different dayparts — lead us to a new strategy. The consumer really comes to the forefront in this work."

Something for Everyone

Taking a department-level view, rather than focusing strictly on categories, was the first step in bringing this idea to life, explains Andrew Carnazzo, director of category leadership. "We then tailored the solutions and recommendations for each retailer according to how near or far they were from the end goal," he says. "Gaining agreement on higher-level pre-shop behavior and consumer decision hierarchy has been key to acceptance of the strategy."

In addressing aisle flow, the ConAgra team notes that consumers' needs align to three areas:

  1. Items for One: The single-serve meal category expanded to include single-serve offerings from other categories, including pizza, breakfast, snacks and desserts.
  2. Items for Many: The remaining categories are arranged to optimize cross-purchasing and basket building. The macros segments include pizza and snacks (quick meals), breakfast, IQF and prepared proteins and vegetables, complete multiserve meals, and desserts. Desserts are adjacent to other IFM categories to complement meals, rather than positioned as a substitute for ice cream.
  3. Ice Cream and Novelties: Treated as a stand-alone segment.

A SymphonyIRI category and segment cross-purchase analysis was created to understand interaction among Items for One/Many within and across categories.

Taking on signage, the redesign employs three levels of communication: high-level aisle navigation, category-level descriptors and segment-/door-level inspirations — not just what the food is, but also what need it solves. When using display merchandising, the ConAgra team notes, signage needs to tell shoppers what's new, what's on sale and provide meal solution ideas.

Finally, changes are made to the department's physical environment. Just as perimeter sections have been upgraded (for example, produce as a farmers' market), "frozen needs to create imagery that evokes meal solutions rather than medicine cabinets," the ConAgra team asserts. "This effort will vary by chain to keep with overall store aesthetics. Due to expense and disruption, it's likely the last element to be implemented and would coincide with new store construction or major remodels."

ConAgra's in-store experience team worked with Dublin, Ohio-based retail design experts WD Partners to develop visual merchandising and navigational signage solutions to support the initiative. Virtual store research from Chicago-based InContext was used with thousands of consumers to test various aisle flow options, which ultimately helped determine size of prize before engaging retail partners for in-store testing.

By focusing aisle flow on consumer-oriented solutions supported with relevant signage, the redesign concept creates a destination for meal solutions that more efficiently satisfies shopper needs that may have otherwise been sourced from perimeter offerings.

ConAgra's frozen aisle redesign is currently undergoing in-store testing at several retailers, with others expected to join, to validate the concept in various iterations under live, real-world conditions. Following successful testing, based on volumetric performance and shopper interviews, the concept will continue to evolve on a chain-by-chain basis during its rollout.

Testing Yields Results

In virtual store testing, ConAgra reports, total frozen aisle sales have increased, driven by contributions from both Items for One and Items for Many. "We have seen total frozen department sales increases ranging from mid-single digits to low double digits, with those levels sustained for more than a year," Carnazzo adds.

Items for One outside of single-serve meals saw the biggest increase without negatively impacting sales in single-serve meals or their parent categories. Items for Many increased as shoppers were able to quickly create complete meal solutions with better-organized categories and optimal adjacencies.

In retail testing, ConAgra says, stores employing the new aisle concept are producing higher department sales than their traditional counterparts more than a year after implementation.

"Retailers have appreciated that we are bringing a department solution that can be activated in stepwise fashion depending on their needs," says John Kastenholz, VP of category leadership. "A number of them have already successfully adopted pieces of the strategy, and some are testing the work in its entirety."

"The consumer insights around what's happening in the home with meal prep and trip planning — along with recent product innovation across different dayparts — lead us to a new strategy."

—Liz Mohr, director of shopper insights, ConAgra Foods

"We have seen total frozen department sales increases ranging from mid-single digits to low double digits, with those levels sustained for more than a year."

—Andrew Carnazzo, director of category leadership, ConAgra Foods

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