Upper Crust

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Upper Crust

By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ - 01/01/2016

Given that Americans eat 60 percent of the world’s pizza, according to Albuquerque, N.M.-based Lavu POS — enough to blanket the city of Denver, apparently — it’s in retailers’ and manufacturers’ interest to capture as much of that action as they can. But how can supermarket frozen pizza, sales dollars of which have edged up by less than 2 percent over the past two years, per Nielsen, hope to compete with pizzeria fare?

“Frozen pizza is a staple in many households, and often a convenient meal solution for our busy customers,” notes Jannah Jablonowski, spokeswoman for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, which operates nearly 400 retail locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. “At Giant Eagle, we continually strive to meet the evolving needs of our customers by offering a wide variety of high-quality products at a great overall value.”

To that end, the item “is often included in various promotions, highlighted in our weekly circular and displayed in end cap freezers,” she explains. “In October, we executed a frozen pizza promotion in which an assortment of frozen pizza offerings was available at $1, $2, $3 or $4 price points for a limited time. By including frozen pizza offerings across multiple brands and segments in this promotion, we were able to reach a number of Giant Eagle and Market District households.”

Asked about emerging trends, Jablonowski addresses the need to keep consumer interest high through exciting new products: “Looking forward, we expect to see innovation across the category with more global ingredient profiles, like Cuban or diavolo, and interesting crust types, like ancient grain and pencil-thin,” she says. “This restaurant-style type of selection will become a key factor in keeping households engaged with frozen pizza.”

‘Strong Contender’

Despite the overall category’s modest growth, Schwan Consumer Brands Inc.’s pizza offerings, led by Red Baron and the newly introduced Bon Appetit, are doing well at retail. Observes President Kevin McAdams: “Our pizza portfolio had a very strong 2014 in terms of share growth. This has helped us re-establish ourselves in 2015 as a strong contender within the frozen pizza category.” Accordingly, Marshall, Minn.-based Schwan’s “plan[s] to continue the momentum in 2016, with several new brand platforms, including the launch of Red Baron pizza’s new Timeless brand campaign,” he adds.

Kicking of Red Baron’s 40th anniversary, Timeless “speaks to an active, hectic family that craves simplicity and a time-tested answer to bring everyone together around a great-tasting pizza,” explains McAdams. “Similarly, with the Freschetta brand platform’s The Best Things in Life Are Real campaign, we are addressing consumers wanting the brands they know and love to be authentic, relatable and understand that life is unperfected. These two brand campaigns will be the cornerstones for our growth in 2016.”

The company is also paying close attention to what eateries are serving, and formulating products in response. “The top trend in restaurant pizza continues to be brick-oven crust,” asserts McAdams. “Brick oven has been an untapped opportunity in the premium segment, with very few offerings that do not deliver on taste or quality.

To tap into this opportunity, we launched a new, authentic Red Baron Brick Oven pizza in February 2015 [featuring] a unique crispy, bubbly texture with a perfectly imperfect golden-brown crust.”

Product innovations coming to retail this February include a revitalized Red Baron Thin & Crispy offering, with both a packaging refresh and new restaurant-quality BBQ Style Chicken and Bacon Lovers varieties, and a Freschetta Artisan Crust pizza line, leveraging technology from the company’s Schwan’s Food Service Inc. division. “The [Freschetta] line … features a differentiated, 51 percent multigrain crust made with a unique blend of three whole grains kneaded into the dough, delivering a slightly sweet flavor, hearty texture and all the benefits of whole grain,” notes McAdams, adding that the product “delivers on current food trends, with 75 percent of shoppers looking to buy more whole grains, and Millennials’ emphasis on real food, transparency and authenticity.”

Schwan’s puts comparable thought into its merchandising strategy for frozen pizza. “We know that we compete in the segments of the category that are the traffic drivers for the total frozen category,” says McAdams. “We look to execute tactics that will not only help sell a Red Baron pizza, for example, but will also increase household penetration, drive traffic and buy rate for our brand, the pizza category and beyond. We have a team of merchandising experts on staff who are focused on working with stores to optimize the placement of every pizza SKU in such a way that makes the most sense to the consumer and guides them down the pizza aisle.”

Getting Better

Pizza may be an indulgence for many, but it hasn’t been immune from the general trend toward healthier foods. Giant Eagle, for one, has seen “increased customer interest in better-for-you frozen pizza options, and as a result, [we] have made these products more visible in our supermarkets,” according to Jablonowski, who adds that, along with artisan offerings, the grocer has noted growth among items positioned as healthier.

At Schwan’s, “we continue to see consumers interested in innovative flavor combinations, gluten-free offerings and better-for-you options,” affirms McAdams. Last October, the company revealed its commitment to eliminate four ingredient groups — partially hydrogenated oils and artificial trans fats, artificial dyes, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavors — from its portfolio of foods, including pizzas, and there’s also the aforementioned multigrain Freschetta Artisan Crust launch in the offing. “In addition to our ingredient simplicity work, we have been reformulating our Freschetta and Red Baron pizza brands to reduce sodium in both lines while maintaining the same great flavor,” he continues.

Another player in the artisan, BFY and gluten-free segments, Pittsfield, N.H.-based American Flatbread, recently introduced a line of meattopped pizzas. “Our premium pizza has continued to show great growth,” says Brad Sterl, CEO of Rustic Crust, maker of American Flatbread pizza. “Sales are up over 35 percent year-over-year. He cites “[c]lean ingredients and limited processing” as keys to the brand’s momentum, further noting, “Gluten-free has also been a successful product for us.” The company’s first offerings of this kind rolled out last February.

“The gluten-free pizza category continues to grow,” notes McAdams, “as gluten-free offerings have been found to be highly incremental — 64 percent incremental to the pizza category, 24 percent incremental to stores and 75 percent incremental to our Freschetta brand,” the leader in the segment, which introduced two single-serve gluten-free varieties last year to complement its multiserve gluten-free pizzas.

For gluten-free do-it-yourselfers, there’s Wholly Wholesome’s Gluten Free Pizza Dough Balls, whose sales, according to founder and CEO Doon Wintz, “have excelled at over 300 percent.” One reason for this, he believes, is the Chester Township, N.J.-based company’s decision to change the product’s packaging to feature “clearly marked allergen information, from the ingredients used in the pizza dough to the additional products housed in our facility, that might be of concern to allergen-sensitive consumers.”

As can be gathered from the information included on the Pizza Dough Balls packaging, Wholly Wholesome has its eye on the larger free-from market. “To be Certified Gluten Free is no longer enough,” asserts Wintz. “Our packaging draws health-conscious shoppers to our product with its transparency and convenience.”

“Restaurant-style type of selection will become a key factor in keeping households engaged with frozen pizza.”
—Jannah Jablonowski, Giant Eagle

“Brick oven has been an untapped opportunity in the premium segment, with very few offerings that do not deliver on taste or quality.”
—Kevin McAdams, Schwan’s Consumer Brands