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Coming in from the cold

In a fresh-food world, can frozen offer decent sales growth?

Hands up if you think frozen food is on fire. No takers? No wonder.

Frozen seems to be under a chill alert. Sales in Canada are down 1% in dollars and 2% in units in the last year, according to Nielsen.

Stateside, the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) has embarked on a three-year, US$90-million ad blitz to counter the perception that frozen food is oversalted and overprocessed. The tag line: “Frozen: How Fresh Stays Fresh.”

Frozen’s travails are not surprising. With supermarkets spot- lighting fresh food, other categories are bound to lose.

The frozen aisle appears to be the primary victim of fresh’s success, says Svetlana Uduslivaia of Euromonitor. “From its back-of- store position to a lack of consumer information about the category’s nutritional benefits, it’s the ‘almost forgotten’ aisle.”

But rest assured, all heat hasn’t escaped from the chilly section.

READ: McCain heats up freezer aisle with new campaign

Frozen fruit, vegetables and seafood are drawing consumers to pick up frozen goods, says Euromonitor.

Proactive retailers are also seeing some good numbers in frozen, says Todd Field at Snowcrest, a B.C.-based supplier of frozen produce, including berries and rhubarb.

“We see particularly good results with retailers who evaluate the performance of each segment and make the decision to reduce space to those that are not performing well, such as frozen concentrate; and dedicate more shelf and display space to frozen fruit.”

Indeed the latter has seen 16% sales growth in the last year, says Nielsen.

Recent research from AFFI found some retailers enjoyed sales hikes of 10% by simply changing the sequence of frozen products in the aisle. One idea: group foods by country, such as Italian and Mexican.

READ: Giving frozen food a high-end makeover

Giancarlo Trimarchi, store supervisor at Vince’s Market, can attest to the benefits of merchandise tinkering. At the independent grocer’s store north of Toronto in Newmarket, frozen store space was reduced by 60%.

“We took out non- performing lines, such as ready-meals,” he says. “Our customers were only buying from the category when it was on promotion, so we re-evaluated our lines and replaced them with higher- quality and better-priced products.” The result is 20% sales growth in the category.

Jason Dubroy, of shopper marketing agency ShopperDDB, wishes retailers would take more risks in the frozen aisle.

“It would be interesting to see a solution- set oriented merchandising approach, as taken by many European grocery stores, with cross-merchandising and with fresh lines right in the frozen section.”

An example: In the U.K. Marks & Spencer and Tesco include a frozen item, such as pizza, in their weekly meal deals. Such items are placed in single freezers near the fresh aisle.

READ: In defence of frozen food

Understanding shopper behaviour in frozen can also help. Consumers, for instance, don’t like shopping in the first foot or the last three to six feet of a frozen aisle, according to VideoMining, a U.S. provider of in-store behaviour analytics. To boost visibility of frozen food, VideoMining suggests installing LED lights in freezers. Better organization of meal solutions, such as grouping entrees, vegetables and desserts together, can also enhance the shopping experience in frozen.

Grocers may also appreciate that CPG brands are thinking of how to grow the category, too.

This fall, McCain is launching an advertising campaign to promote its line of frozen potatoes. The line sports sunny new packaging and several new products meant for snacking, including lattice- cut fries and onion rings. The goal, says McCain’s VP of sales, Tom Szostok, is to give frozen food a warmer halo around mealtimes.

Snowcrest is replacing whole strawberries in its products with slices.

“Consumers were finding it messy to mix the whole strawberries so this is the easiest solution,” says Field. The company’s in-store demos incorporate other products viewed as healthy, such as almond milk. “We are showing the nutritional benefits of frozen foods.”

READ: In frozen treats, a shift to the stick

Pizza sales are down 2% in the last year, says Nielsen, but the category still drives significant volume in frozen. But buying habits are changing.

Consumers are moving away from traditional toppings, says Dr. Oetker’s associate brand manager, Samantha Nakano, and are keen to try something new.

“This may be attributed to the trending ‘foodie’ culture or the exploration of various cuisines,” explains Nakano. Dr. Oetker’s new Casa di Mama Inferno line taps into the popularity of spicy foods, for instance.

Dr. Oetker also targets younger audiences through social media, including Facebook. But retailers and CPGs can help generate interest in frozen in other ways, says Dubroy.

“You never see a cooking show or lifestyle article glorifying the amazing benefits of cooking with frozen. Simple tactics will go a long way, such as promotions though flyers and information on the benefits of frozen.”

If nothing else, frozen is getting some glitz in the form of Eugenie Bouchard. The rising tennis star from Montreal, who made it to Wimbledon’s finals last month, is the face of Pinty’s Delicious Foods’ Live Well, Eat Well, Be Well line of pre- cooked chicken. The sponsorship deal aims primarily at the younger female consumer set.

With Bouchard serving, perhaps now is the time for frozen to finally win a grand slam with shoppers.

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