What’s keeping shoppers away from the frozen aisle?

Discussion
Apr 14, 2017
Denise Leathers

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

A recent Concentric survey of primary shoppers who spent at least $100 during a given trip to the supermarket found that only 46 percent visited the frozen section. What’s keeping the rest away?

For starters, answers Bob Shaw, president of Concentric Marketing, the department is cold, both literally and figuratively. While retailers can’t do much about the temperature, they sure don’t need to emphasize it with penguins and snowflakes either.

“It’s like hanging a big can above center store,” he remarks. “The goal is for consumers to look at products in the section as just food, not frozen food.”

As for the ambience, well, there is none. With all the products tucked behind glass doors, “It’s very sterile and aseptic, a problem made inherently worse by the clean store movement,” reports Mr. Shaw.

As a result, says Diane Harper, VP of consumer insights and analytics for The Schwan Food Co., most consumers don’t linger any longer than they have to. She says, “Because they aren’t spending any time in the aisle, they may not realize what else is there, including new products, international flavors, better-for you options, etc.”

Among the suggestions to make the department more hospitable is adding a little “theater”, such as Lunds & Byerlys’ full-size chandelier or mixing in different types of freezers.

Signage is critical — perhaps more so than in any other part of the store — because consumers can’t always see what’s behind the glass.

Highlighting specialty items like gluten-free, paleo-friendly, ethnic fare and organics can go a long way toward overcoming the misconception that frozen food is unhealthy. A frozen meal solutions endcap that combines products into a single display, even if it includes non-frozen items, not only promotes impulse purchases but draws consumers into the section.

While you’re at it, how about communicating to shoppers that frozen fruits and veggies, for example, are just as nutritious as fresh?

“Understand why customers in your store are going to the frozen aisle and why shoppers that never go there aren’t and then run with that,” says Brittany Sutton, Cadent’s manager of business analytics.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why do you think many shoppers avoid the frozen aisle? What suggestions would you have to increase traffic to the department?

Braintrust
"The fresh aisles feature full meals with every ingredient needed — the frozen aisle can do the same thing."
"Tweaking the location of the frozen aisle and the display would be a good place for retailers to start."
"In a focus group that I was conducting, a shopper described this part of the store as “cold, white, dull, boring metal.”"

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17 Comments on "What’s keeping shoppers away from the frozen aisle?"

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Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

When nothing says “boring” louder than the frozen food section, it is indeed time to increase the appeal of the category. Images can include meal combinations featuring the frozen product, information on nutritional value and other benefits (convenience, quality, etc.) and putting the frozen products into a lifestyle context relative to the season and key calendar events. The frozen category has to win appeal and promotional tools such as dynamic signage will increase traffic and conversion. Frozen deserves to be brought to life in-store.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Frozen is not perceived as being fresh and consumers are all about fresh. Also, frozen foods are perceived as being processed with ingredients that consumers don’t want. I like the idea of making the frozen food aisles more welcoming and attractive, but there are higher hurdles than window dressing that the frozen food industry needs to address.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

They’re not avoiding the frozen aisle, they are just more attracted to the perimeter. It really comes down to the price-value-convenience-health equation. Sure shoppers have the perception that fresh food is better, but the suppliers of fresh produce, proteins, baked goods, juices — everything that’s found in the frozen aisle — have been working hard at the first parts of the price-value-convenience-health equation. They have been sensitive to price increases and delivering the perception of value, and they have been working hard to make fresh product offerings that are quick to prepare (think potato packages that can go straight into the microwave and chicken that’s all prepared for stir-fry).

To increase traffic, suppliers and retailers need to use the price-value-convenience-health equation to their advantage. Teach shoppers how they can use select frozen sub-categories to healthfully, conveniently and cost-effectively feed their families. For instance, the fresh aisles feature full meals with every ingredient needed — the frozen aisle can do the same thing.

J. Peter Deeb
BrainTrust

Frozen needs to be emphasized more in consumer communications of all types. With the current emphasis on fresh, natural and organics today’s consumer has forgotten that frozen fruits and vegetables, in particular, are very nutritious and in many cases better quality than products that are in the fresh area but are off-season or imported from the other side of the world. Another benefit is portion control for smaller families or single households. You only need as many peas as one or two people can eat and then the bag goes back in the freezer. Manufacturers and retailers should be communicating the features and benefits that this highly-profitable department offers.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

The long and hard-to-understand ingredient list keeps me out of the frozen aisle in general. For health-focused label readers, it’s just too time-consuming to find what works. Better merchandising by shopper criteria is a solution that, combined with truthful and educating signage, would be a great start. But, that said, it would still leave a lot of CPG products out in the cold!

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

I’m not sure if consumers are consciously avoiding the frozen aisle. But switching up the layout of grocery stores and the way frozen food is displayed should help. For example, many chain grocery stores have the frozen aisles all the way at the far end of the store. The freezers are tall and foggy with big doors. I usually shop at Trader Joe’s. After reading this question I realized that their frozen section looks a lot different than other grocery stores. First of all, it’s in the middle of the store, not hidden in the back corner. Second, there are no foggy glass doors. Almost everything is displayed in open freezers. As a shopper, you have to walk past these open freezer aisles to get from produce to bread or meat. Tweaking the location of the frozen aisle and the display would be a good place for retailers to start.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Excellent insight Meaghan. One of the best today.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Guest
Patricia Vekich Waldron
3 months 6 days ago

Love the idea of switching the layout and embedding freezers into the perimeter. I personally hate the frozen aisle because it’s COLD. I’m more inclined to browse the offerings if they are placed where I spend most of my time in the store.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Frozen foods have a bad reputation for being boring, unappealing and not healthy. While this is somewhat true, there are some myths that grocers need to debunk, as some frozen foods are actually very tasty and healthy. Another potential challenge frozen foods face is their short hold time for transporting home. Some shoppers may need to run several errands after the grocery store and may avoid buying frozen items because they may thaw or melt before they get home. We don’t want our ice cream to turn into soup! In addition to making the frozen foods area more appealing visually and easier to find items quickly before you freeze yourself, I think grocers should go back to the traditional practice of sampling. Offering free samples of some of the best frozen goods might help change shoppers’ perceptions and get them to browse the frozen food aisles more frequently. The reality is that it is cold in the frozen food aisles! When I was working for Stop & Shop (which is now a division of Ahold) we tested velocity in frozen foods by both a digital and customer interview perspective before adding doors to the frozen food aisles. We determined that… Read more »
Tom Redd
Guest

I am a total expert at avoiding the freezer section. I could run the store and not get near it. But why Tom? First — it is just too cold — especially in the Arizona area. They keep the stuff really cold so it will last longer on the drive home. Next — most of the food is trashy, not healthy, etc. Last, I am trying to lose some weight so I am avoiding ice cream. If I ran the store, ice cream would be away from my section called Fresh Frozen and the other called Fast Frozen (quick dinners, frozen and who cares about the fat?). Redesign frozen – have shorter aisles and create a hip naming style. I can help with the hip part!

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

This is as simple as “out-of-sight, out-of-mind.” I agree that product that is hidden is at a disadvantage versus the rest of the product in the store. Has that 46 percent number increased in recent years? I would guess so, since the other critical factor is “fresh” food desires, even if they’re guilt-driven desires.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Frozen food does not convey fresh, quality, healthy and tasty — the attributes that today’s shoppers value. Between that and limited visual merchandising “curb appeal” make this category unappealing and lifeless in a grocery environment. Grocers and brands should revitalize the tasting stations. Costco does this with great success, informing shoppers that flash frozen seafood and fruit can be every bit as tasty, healthy and “fresh.” It is counter intuitive, but informing and educating the shopper can stimulate interest. Another challenge is freezer storage space in the home. Where do we put all the frozen pizzas to make room for the healthy stuff?!

Richard Layman
Guest
3 months 6 days ago
If it’s “counter intuitive” that “informing and educating the shopper can stimulate interest” then it should be no surprise that over the past 30 years many supermarket chains have gone out of business. Cf. Farmers Markets and as mentioned, Costco’s extensive sampling program. (Harris-Teeter does a fair amount of sampling in deli, bakery, cheese, and produce, but not any of the other departments.) I’ve always wondered why supermarkets don’t have a sampling program for own label goods. With regard to TJ’s, I don’t think their packaging is necessarily any better than the FF products in the cases in “regular” supermarkets. Most of the branding and package design is fine. Relatedly, lots of people don’t know how to cook so there always needs to be demonstrations. Showing the creation of complete meals that include frozen foods can help this. Another problem with frozen comes down to the cases serving as “warehouse space.” The point about Trader Joe’s is apt. Maybe cramming the cases less and using the freed up space for other types of marketing can help to increase sales. It will require more regular stocking (and labor) but increased cost should come back in increased sales. Some supermarkets are now… Read more »
Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust
This article is right on about the frozen aisle. In a focus group that I was conducting, a shopper described this part of the store as “cold, white, dull, boring metal.” Unfortunately, for the reasons noted shoppers don’t shop the frozen food aisle, instead they buy the selected items on their shopping list, no browsing here. The idea of romancing the aisle is one approach. How about moving some of the items into other parts of the store? For example, a small freezer with Texas Toast could be placed in the pasta/pasta sauce aisle or another small freezer with selected frozen breakfast items (bacon and egg sandwiches, pancakes, and waffles) next to coffee and tea might generate incremental, unplanned sales. Now, I know what you are thinking. What about the electric mechanicals? Or who is going to stock the freezer? Or perhaps who is going to get the ring? Based on the previously noted focus group session, I worked with a retailer who placed a small refrigerated case, containing flavored dairy creamers, in the coffee aisle. As a professor at a Jesuit University, I must disclose that it almost failed. Why? They couldn’t keep it stocked, resulting in incremental sales… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Unfortunately, this snippet was woefully short of any context, compared to other categories … compared to the past … (some of which appears in the actual article: sales were down 0.6% last year), but back to the basic question(s).

I don’t think people “avoid” the frozen aisle any more than they “avoid” produce, or cereal or dairy just because they don’t visit it on that particular trip. Of course they may indeed avoid a certain section, like frozen meals, which I imagine are being overtaken by pre-prepared fresh meals (either from the same store or elsewhere), but as for the rest … I dunno … changing tastes? If people are buying less ice cream or pizza, then it’s probably for a good reason and I’m skeptical superficial changes, like rearranging the merchandise, are going to do much.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

It’s cold, unattractive, hard to discover products, and suffers from a perception that most of the items are unhealthy and full of undesirable ingredients — what better formula for avoidance could you come up with? Reasons abound for why shoppers are buying less frozen in the grocery store. It will take a combination of merchandising skills and consumer education to make a difference here.

I suggest starting with rearranging the frozen section. Break it up into different parts of the store by product category. Forcing the shopper to get all of their cold, frozen products at once is just too uncomfortable for most people. Make it easier to discover new products with better signage. Use different types of freezer cases to make it visually appealing and easier to shop. It’s all about the experience and grocery stores have plenty of room for improvement in this area.

Marko Kovac
Guest
3 months 3 days ago

It seems that the problem for the frozen aisle is happening on two fronts.

First, there is an external push on consumers to shop for fresh ingredients. Grocery chains are pushing this by having produce displayed by the entrance and keeping the frozen section in the middle/back of most stores.

Second, merchandising and displaying sales and new items is inherently more difficult in the frozen section. A glass door separates the consumer from easily picking up and looking at new products or alternative brands, and the shelf structure means that products are limited in size/shape, so having eye-catching displays is difficult as well.

The only way that frozen food will see a revival is increasing traffic to the aisle and coupling that with promotional displays to signal new products or promotions.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The fresh aisles feature full meals with every ingredient needed — the frozen aisle can do the same thing."
"Tweaking the location of the frozen aisle and the display would be a good place for retailers to start."
"In a focus group that I was conducting, a shopper described this part of the store as “cold, white, dull, boring metal.”"

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