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A Slice of the Action


“Customers are looking for three [main] things when it comes to frozen baked foods: quality and freshness, convenience, and selection,” along with “unique and new items that don’t sacrifice that homemade quality,” says Sean Maurer, portfolio lead — frozen at Carlisle, Pa.-based Ahold USA. “Our customers are busier than ever before and sometimes do not have the time to make something homemade for their special occasion. It’s a convenience for them to know that they have quality options that just need to be baked or thawed.”

The company’s banners consequently “carry a wide variety of types and flavors of baked goods available every day, so customers can purchase for their special occasions throughout the year,” notes Maurer, adding that the grocer has “had success in working with our vendors on bundling dessert options, i.e. cakes with ice cream in the summer months. Promotions have also included bundling frozen desserts with another category. For example, a customer can purchase several selections and receive a free dessert: Buy a dinner, get dessert.”

Certain periods call for a stepped-up approach, however. “Merchandising pie is critical in the big holidays, as is offering the traditional seasonal flavors: pumpkin, pecan and apple,” Maurer points out. “Sufficient display space is dedicated to both fruit and crème pies in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Crème pie is also a favorite for barbecues and summer events, and should be featured in the display case during those months as well.”

Pie With Wine

The Chicago-based Sara Lee brand, part of Tyson Foods Inc., knows a lot about capitalizing on the seasonal appeal of frozen baked goods. “Last holiday season, we partnered with Pacific Rim Riesling wine for a ‘Riesling to Feast’ cross-marketing promotion,” observes Angie Dobrofsky, assistant brand manager at Sara Lee Desserts. “The promotion was offered to select retailers across the country and provided consumers with valuable rebates when they purchased both Pacific Rim wine and Sara Lee dessert products.”

Continues Dobrofsky: This program worked well because Sara Lee dessert products, especially pies, are synonymous with holiday traditions and pair wonderfully with the Pacific Rim Riesling wine portfolio. Retailers liked the natural connection between the two products, and consumers benefited from fun wine-and-dessert pairing ideas that were delivered via POS materials as well as shared online by popular food and lifestyle bloggers.”

The result was “a win for both retailers and consumers,” she recounts.

Beyond the festive season, Dobrofsky notes that “smaller portions for individual snacking and enjoyment, as well as more convenient and timesaving options, remain a trend in the frozen baked goods category. In response to these trends, we added our frozen Sara Lee Original and Double Chocolate Pound Cake Slices to the iconic pound cake portfolio to allow consumers — especially those with children, boomers, and one-person households — to be able to enjoy this classic treat whenever they choose. The individual packaging ensures every slice stays fresh.”

New flavor varieties from the brand include Blueberry Pound Cake, introduced last October and marketed as a whenever treat. “We know consumers enjoy our pound cake for breakfast, afternoon snacks and when creating unique dessert dishes; the fresh blueberry flavor is great any time of day, and it’s perfect for spring and summer,” says Dobrofsky.

The More the Merrier

How about when company drops by in time for dessert? “Multiserve frozen baked goods offer something that tastes homemade, but in frozen format, so it can be enjoyed anytime for those special times with family and friends,” asserts Amy Morgan, manager, public relations and social media at Marie Callender’s, a brand of Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, which also offers “perfectly portioned” single-serve items. “The convenience allows you to enjoy time with loved ones, rather than spending time making your own [baked goods], and without sacrificing taste or quality.”

Further, such ease for consumers comes with the psychological satisfaction of preparing the closest thing to homemade. “Marie Callender’s provides consumers with the feeling that they are baking themselves, due to the quality and freshness of the fruits that were picked at the height of the season and locked in the frozen dessert,” says Morgan. “As the pie bakes, consumers are still able to savor the delicious aromas that come from an apple pie baking in the oven.”

But to get shoppers to buy frozen dessert cakes and pies, both of which, for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 15, 2015, saw sales dollar and unit declines at food stores with sales higher than $2 million, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen, a little prompting is often necessary. “Given the infrequent purchase nature of the frozen dessert category, it’s important to constantly remind the consumer of the benefits of frozen baked goods,” notes Morgan. “To keep it top of mind, you do have to rely on things such as FSIs, ad features, consumer rewards mailings and in-store displays. More so than many other types of products, this really requires a tight partnership with all of our individual retailers. For example, [thanks to] a partnership with a natural complement like Reddi-wip, Marie Callender’s is able to offer consumers more incentive to purchase.”

Educating shoppers about the products’ unique points of difference is a good idea as well. “It is important to insert the brand into trending conversation topics,” affirms Morgan. “For example, real, fresh ingredients are important to consumers, and many are unaware that real Key lime juice from Florida is in our Key Lime Pie, or that our Apple Pie is made with 100 percent Fuji apples.”

Keeping it Real

For Chicago-based Eli’s Cheesecake Co., whose products can be merchandised either refrigerated or frozen, authenticity is of particular significance, since “the consumer is more educated about food and has expectations of how the product should look and taste,” according to VP of Marketing Debbie Marchok. Eli’s commitment goes much deeper than just sourcing the best ingredients, however.

For example, in the case of the company’s Honey Mediterranean Cheesecake, a honey-sweetened item topped with honey-glazed pistachios and almonds that was introduced last year, when honey as a natural sweetener started to gain real traction among consumers, “the honey … is harvested by student beekeepers from the Chicago High School for Agricultural sciences (CHSAS), one of the only agricultural high schools in the country,” notes Marchok. “Proceeds from honey sales go toward college scholarships for deserving high school seniors. … This product is made with an authentic ingredient, honey; made locally by a school, CHSAS; [and] supported by a business, Eli’s Cheesecake Co., which not only purchases honey from the school, but [also] supports the school with job shadowing, mentor programs, scholarships and internships.”

Additionally, the company is a member of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Slow Food USA, which Marchok describes as “an organization devoted to preserving traditional foodways and educating people about food as a center of community. Eli’s prefers using regional ingredients from local farms and producers who share Eli’s commitment to quality.”

As its Honey Mediterranean Cheesecake illustrates, Eli’s isn’t afraid of product innovation. Among its latest products are a new flavor in its GMO-free, 1.5-ounce mini pie line, Dulce de Leche, described by Marchok as “a_caramelized, sweetened condensedmilk confection baked in an all-butter shortbread pie crust”; a 7-inch mousse-topped Tres Leches Cake; and, most novel of all, a Vegan Cheesecake.

Of this last item, Marchok admits: “We know it’s an oxymoron, but Eli’s Cheesecake has created a vegan dessert so rich and creamy, we couldn’t resist calling it ‘cheesecake,’ drawing a parallel to the Chicago-style cheesecake for which Eli’s is known. Certified vegan by the Vegan Awareness Foundation, Eli’s Vegan Cheesecake contains no animal products or byproducts, has not been tested on animals, and is dairy-, egg- and cholesterol-free. Tofu and vegan dairy-free cream cheese replace cream cheese and sour cream, making Eli’s Vegan Cheesecake zero cholesterol and lower in fat than traditional cheesecake.” Introduced last May in Belgian Chocolate and Carrot Cake varieties, the product is slated to roll out nationally this June.

Why create a vegan option? Marchok cites “the country’s growing awareness of healthier eating, the fact that the vegan market has doubled over the past five years, and over 100 million people, vegans and non-vegans, are choosing more plant-based foods.” In keeping with its passion for the authentic, the company carefully chose such ingredients as tofu from Phoenix Bean, in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago; single-source Madagascar Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract; Callebaut Belgian semi-sweet chocolate, which contains no milk; fresh carrots; pecans; ginger; and Saigon cinnamon.

When asked about how to get cold confections selling like hotcakes, Marchok similarly spotlights the seasonal opportunity: “Integrated promotions with the retailer’s promotional themes work well in this category. This may be a seasonal feature or a local theme executed in-store. For example, a heart-shaped cheesecake rather than a traditional round cheesecake for Valentine’s Day draws consumer attention to the product in a seasonal display.”

Eli’s also relies on in-store demos to initiate product trial, with handout coupons to encourage purchase. “The personal interaction enables the consumer to ask questions and enables our demo team to engage in conversation about the brand and the product,” explains Marchok. “For example, we have conducted demos for several of our new flavors, [which] invited a lot of discussion with the consumer because of their unique profiles and attributes.”

Perhaps due in part to the company’s efforts, cheesecake is one of the bright spots in the frozen baked goods case, with Nielsen reporting, for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 15, 2015, sales dollars and units up 1.8 percent and 6 percent, respectively, at food stores with sales higher than $2 million.

As frozen baked goods continue to evolve in step with shifting shopper demand, a blizzard of ever more inventive products like Eli’s should hit retail. As Marchok notes, “We expect to see continued growth in artisanal products and mashup desserts as consumers continue to look for locally sourced, handcrafted and unique desserts.”

“It’s a convenience for consumers to know that they have quality options that just need to be baked or thawed.”
—Sean Maurer, Ahold USA

“It’s an oxymoron, but Eli’s Cheesecake has created a vegan dessert so rich and creamy, we couldn’t resist calling it ‘cheesecake.’”
—Debbie Marchok, Eli’s Cheesecake Co.

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