If the grocery store is a family, does the middle child get less attention? How do products merchandised in the center of the store, particularly in the frozen food section, fit into customer-focused solutions, interstore connectivity and profitability?
While the freezer aisle may not get the attention of the “siblings” in this analogy, such as the buzzworthy fresh perimeter or prepared food department, there are ways for retailers to make frozen foods a destination by focusing on frozen entrées, snacks and desserts as important components of meal solutions that solve in-demand daypart needs.
Grocers can connect their customers with solutions by encouraging them to take a new look at frozen foods for innovative products, consumer-friendly packaging, and items that can be paired with other fresh and center store items.
“I think there’s an opportunity for retailers, in partnership with the frozen food and beverage industry, to think about dynamic new retail strategies featuring these exciting, innovative food options as a method to drive people down the frozen food aisle,” agrees Adrienne Seiling, VP of communications at the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), based in McLean, Va.
- Encourage customers to reconsider frozen foods for innovative products, consumer-friendly packaging, and items that can be paired with other fresh and center store items.
- Promote hot segments in the category, such as breakfast foods and restaurant-style products.
- Meet consumers’ health-and-wellness needs with items that are better-for-you, convenient and budget-friendly.
- Engage shoppers via social media.
In a category that has experienced flat sales in recent years, some excitement is needed, in promotions as well as offerings.
“When I think about innovation and new food options in the frozen food aisle, I also think of a quote I read from Conagra Brands President and CEO Sean Connolly: ‘A Millennial does not know what a Salisbury steak is.’ That’s so true! That’s why you’re seeing some legacy brands offering new items like Buffalo-style chicken mac ’n’ cheese,” notes Seiling.
AFFI is doing its part. The organization is hosting AFFI-CON in early March, a networking convention that presents trends and invites collaboration among processors, suppliers, retailers and foodservice operators from all sectors of the frozen industry.
March is a particularly good time to focus on frozen foods and how they relate to customer daypart needs and overall store connectivity, given that it’s National Frozen Food Month. The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA), based in Harrisburg, Pa., is focusing its national Frozen Food Month promotion this year on “Savor the Taste of Real Food … Just Frozen.” Sponsoring brands are running digital coupons and offers on Coupons.com, and an integrated partnership shares frozen food messages across a variety of traditional media, digital media and social media channels. Stores have ordered and received POP materials to remind consumers that frozen food is, indeed, “real” food.
NFRA provides other tools to help retailers maximize interest in frozen foods and, with that, their own sales. As part of its public relations outreach, the association has refreshed the dedicated Easy Home Meals website that provides interactive recipes and enhanced search capabilities to show people how to incorporate frozen foods into their eating occasions. A recipe for Cherry Coke Meatballs, for example, calls for a branded gluten-free meatball product, along with other ingredients commonly found in supermarkets, including brown sugar, cherry cola, pineapple bits and jalapeños.
Go Where it’s Trending
Beyond taking advantage of national programs and events, grocers can highlight frozen foods as a key component of meal solutions by promoting products that are already piquing consumer interest.
An example of a hotspot in frozen meal solutions is breakfast. According to the “NFRA 2017 State of the Industry” report, the top 10 fastest-growing categories in supermarkets include frozen breakfast entrées. Breakfasts like frozen pancakes, waffles and French toast do especially well among younger consumers, including Millennials, the report notes.
New product introductions reflect the buzz around frozen breakfast. Kraft Heinz, based in Pittsburgh, recently rolled out a line of Nancy’s Petite Stuffed Bagels, designed for quick and portable consumption, while Sheboygan Falls, Wis.-based Johnsonville introduced a Premium Breakfast Sandwich Collection in late 2017.
Other brands that have gotten into frozen morning meals include Wellesley, Mass.-based Good Food Made Simple, which introduced a line of four organic burritos last fall, and St. Louis-based Start Right Foods, which recently debuted lean beef-sausage-and-egg and turkey-sausage-and-egg-white waffle sliders.
“Traditional breakfast sandwiches typically only meet the convenience factor, but lack any sort of good nutrition,” says Start Right co-founder Clint Matthews. “That’s why we thought breakfast sandwiches were the logical next product for us.”
Grocers can also encourage their shoppers to recreate restaurant breakfast experiences at home with co-branded breakfast items like a line of frozen IHOP breakfast foods (available at Walmart stores) and frozen breakfasts sold under the Moe’s Southwest Grill brand, which teamed with Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. to produce Southwestern-style favorites for a retail audience in addition to its restaurant patrons.
According to NFRA’s “State of the Industry” report, other top frozen categories are, in order, entrées, ice cream, novelties, seafood, pizza, vegetables, sandwiches, appetizers, potatoes and onion rings.
Here, too, new product innovation and category expansion fuel the perception that the frozen section is a dynamic one reflecting modern eating trends. In the entrée arena, bowls are big, mirroring foodservice trends.