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Ice Flow


With the range of flavors and mealtime options available in the frozen aisle, countless opportunities exist for cross-department merchandising in grocery stores.

“Fresh salads round out frozen dinners. Dairy aisle milks and juices complement frozen breakfasts. Frozen desserts add a sweet ending to any meal,” notes Skip Shaw, CEO of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA).

To capitalize on the opportunities, grocers can get creative with store layouts, according to Shaw, who offers the example of placing portable freezer display cases in other areas of the store, from the produce section and the dairy aisle to the wine department. “Grocers have seen success already [with] this tactic, using [St. Louis-based Hussmann Corp.’s] LifeLine cases, which allow the retailer to cross-merchandise dry next to frozen foods,” he points out. “Innovations like these will continue to emerge alongside the exciting evolution of the frozen aisle.”

Chilling Effect

Building upon strategies like this will be essential as retailers push their category management activities into the next generation. And with overall supermarket sales of frozen foods slipping for the past three years, according to Nielsen data reported in PG’s 68th Annual Consumer Expenditures Study last July, a jump-start would be welcome.

In an age when shoppers are looking for solutions that draw upon the whole store, not just products that dwell in a single aisle, grocers will need to leverage the assets of all products, and the inherent synergies that exist among them.

The frozen aisle can play a key role in these solutions.

“As the Millennial generation continues to evolve and their importance to retailers grows, their lifestyles and demands have a great impact on how the food chain manufactures, merchandises and ultimately delivers its food through grocery retailers,” Shaw asserts.

Words like “wholesome” and “quality” are becoming just as vital to Millennials as “convenient” and “affordable” when it comes to the frozen aisle, Shaw says. “Frozen food brands are reacting and delivering easy-to-prepare foods with a variety of audacious tastes and fresh ingredients, which allows grocery retailers the opportunity to connect with this generation on both the emotional and rational level,” he notes.

Reaffirming the importance of the Millennial shopper, Todd Hale, of the Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen Co., explains in the NFRA’s soon-to-be-released “State of the Industry Report”, that the demographic will account for 57 percent of the U.S. population in 2020, up 50 percent from 2014, and will represent significant consumer buying power.

Reversing the Thaw

Selling frozen food to this group, whose affections lean toward fresh but who’ve shown affinity for convenience, will be essential in the future.

Overall supermarket sales of frozen foods approached $30.2 billion in 2014, a dip of 0.6 percent from 2013, with decreases dating back at least three years, according to Nielsen data reported in PG’s most recent annual Consumer Expenditures Study.

An accelerating, overarching concern for wellness derived through informed dietary choices could play a role in reversing frozen’s fortunes and carving out a secure place for frozen foods in whole-store shopper solutions.

“Outside of the obvious positive effects in-store sampling and trading out underperforming items can have, the growing movement of retail dietitians staffed in grocery stores can have a positive impact on the frozen foods aisle, if utilized well,” Shaw contends. “Grocers can make sure these knowledgeable experts are educating customers on the many benefits of frozen foods and their ability to expand usage to other meal occasions and categories.”

Moreover, enlightening customers as to culinary trends and health aspects within the category, Shaw adds, will enable them “to promote frozen foods to shoppers in the grocery aisles who are at the purchasing moment of truth.”

Weekly Needs

Manufacturers of frozen foods can forge strategic partnerships with retailers to grow the category and overall basket ring.

Brand managers at Omaha, Neb.-based CPG giant ConAgra Foods say grocers can more effectively merchandise the frozen aisle by providing solutions for consumers’ weekend and weekday needs.

“During the weekend, when time is more plentiful, shoppers are looking for more involved options that they can prepare ‘homemade,’” asserts David Koehler, associate brand manager for ConAgra’s Healthy Choice brand. “For the fast-paced weekday meal occasion, consumers want the same convenience and taste they are accustomed to, but are searching for cleaner ingredient statements and less fat, carbohydrates and sodium.”

Protein-heavy foods, known for their appetite satiety, are also growing rapidly, Koehler notes, “as consumers move away from large weekday meals towards a frequent small meal or snacking routine. Consumers are also demanding simplified product sourcing and nutritional statements.”

The top trends influencing the category are quality, freshness and convenience.

“Consumers are looking for high-quality meals with homemade touches, real ingredients, and fresh fruits and vegetables that were picked at their peak before freezing to lock in the nutrients and taste,” says Matthew Giese, associate brand manager for ConAgra’s Marie Callender’s brand, which includes entreés and pot pies. “As the consumer cooks one of our single- or multiserve Marie Callender’s meals, or desserts like our apple pie, they are able to savor the tasty aromas that come from cooking a homemade meal and serve it fresh for themselves or their family and friends.”

According to Koehler, shopper insights data indicate that consumers are seeking fresher food options and variety that goes beyond flavor: “They want more options that don’t include your typical ‘protein, vegetables, sauce and starch.’” They also want improved nutritional profiles and simplified ingredient statements; many are looking to cut back on carbs without compromising on other nutritionals.

ConAgra is driving growth in the “healthy premium” frozen category with its Simply Café Steamers, meals that top out at 310 calories and contain more than 19 grams of natural protein and fewer carbs than competitors’ meals

Additionally, time-saving options that are packed with protein are a real bonus for consumers as they’re left feeling fuller longer Koehler notes “When you look at the Boomer consumer they are looking for more protein and less carbs in their diets for overall good health,” he says. “Unfortunately, few options currently exist that offer all these benefits and sensible nutrition.”

ConAgra and its grocery partners have done a lot of cross-merch work around dinner and other eating occasions to help deliver whole-store solutions that shoppers want.

“Our goal is to help our customers create solutions for consumers,” Giese explains – for example, putting together Marie Callender’s lasagna and Alexia garlic bread, or a salad. “They are then buying solutions, not items.”

ConAgra recently paired Marie Callender’s frozen pies with Reddiwip. “It’s a great example of us reaching across different departments in 10 states to create a customer solution that wouldn’t have existed in solely one department or the other,” he says.

Solutions Equal Sales

Retailers and CPG companies must join forces to clearly communicate the value of frozen foods in delivering on shopper need states, from convenience and taste to on-trend flavor profiles and good nutrition. When strategically merchandised with complementary products from across the store, frozen foods can be a solution provider and a sales driver.

“It’s important to stay on top of consumers’ interests, trends and conversations,” ConAgra’s Giese and Koehler agree, “as well as evolve consumers’ mindsets on the quality of categories, like frozen meals.”

Meanwhile, trade groups like NFRA have “led the way in assuring that consumers understand the versatility, wholesome meal ideas, fresh flavors and creative possibilities in the frozen aisle,” Shaw says. “Through its well-trafficked Easy Home Meals website and its Cool Food Panel of foodie and chef bloggers, NFRA promotes frozen foods by themselves and as part of cross-category meal solutions, reaching consumers across multiple media platforms where they live, work and play.”

“Frozen food brands are reacting and delivering easy-to-prepare foods with a variety of audacious tastes and fresh ingredients, which allows grocery retailers the opportunity to connect with [the Millennial] generation on both the emotional and rational level.”
—Skip Shaw, NFRA

“The growing movement of retail dietitians staffed in grocery stores can have a positive impact on the frozen foods aisle, if utilized well.”
—Skip Shaw, NFRA

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