FDBuyer: Isn’t it time that frozen food came out of the Ice Age?

Apr 16, 2010

Commentary by Bob Anderson, President of Store Brand Consulting

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

Okay, here is one thing I never got: Unlike the rest of the food departments,
frozen has the ability to be a total store within itself. By this I mean you
can choose an appetizer, side dish, bread, vegetable, potato, entrée,
and dessert all inside the same department. But few if any retailers lay out
the department this way.

Frozen food is a key piece of real estate that’s
not paying its way. Instead of ice cream, dinners, vegetables and so on, you
might as well name the frozen categories what they really are: “quick/easy,” “belly-filler,” “don’t
want to cook,” “can’t afford to eat out,” and “don’t
have taste buds.” No wonder many people don’t even go down the
aisle anymore.

Isn’t it time that frozen food came out of the Ice Age?
I get that improving the quality will raise the retails. But then again, I’ve
found that you can only sell poor quality once — unless you’re
selling to people who accept items from the “categories” I just

Quality drives sales. Just look at the red box guy (Stouffer) who is the best that frozen has. Last I looked, his sales were better than
the rest.

There are tons of ways to improve frozen food and bring new customers,
sales and profit into this category. For me the question is when and by whom?
betting on Al Gore, since if he is right with global warming, then change can’t
be too far off.

Discussion Questions: Is the quality of frozen food on par with products
in other departments in the store? What can frozen food manufacturers and
retailers do to improve the department’s sales and profits?

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9 Comments on "FDBuyer: Isn’t it time that frozen food came out of the Ice Age?"

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Joan Treistman
11 years 23 days ago
The copy line “frozen food coming out of the ice age” set me up for a discussion of how to display frozen food. That’s where I see the opportunity for frozen food. Consumers don’t have the opportunity to engage with the coffins and stand up freezer compartments the way they do with shelf stable products…or refrigerated products that are not at an arm’s distance behind a glass shield. As far as I can recall innovation in this huge section of the store…hmmm has there been any marketing innovation? The taste and quality of frozen food varies greatly. But not necessarily any more than what is found in the rest of the store. The advantage for the frozen food marketers is that they can use packaging to cover their inadequacies and within the freezer compartments there is an even playing field. Retailers have an opportunity to raise the bar on how they present frozen food products to their shoppers. They can make that walk through the section more inviting, involving and influential. Right now it’s simply… Read more »
Richard J. George, Ph.D.
11 years 23 days ago

Unfortunately, food retailers still think in terms of aisles or categories as opposed to thinking of “what’s for dinner tonight?” Ironically, while the restaurant business has suffered from the current economic woes, especially the impact of unemployment, food retail meals have not grown significantly. If food retail thought more in terms of meals, the opportunity to bundle frozen, with fresh products–including produce and bakery, would give consumers a reason to visit the frozen aisle.

While I applaud efforts to improve what’s in the frozen package, I believe we are missing a real opportunity by treating frozen simply as a department or aisle.

Anne Howe
11 years 23 days ago

Frozen landscapes in grocery stores are aisles many people I know avoid, including me. The endless amount of choice is almost frightening. As an incentive to shop frozen, is any big grocery retailer brave enough to sort frozen foods by health benefit? If there was a case of just the lower sodium products, I’d open that door. Shopper research opportunity? Perhaps it’s time.

Reaching into countless freezer cases and pulling out boxes to examine nutrition labels just doesn’t fit my shopping pattern. Not to mention the “I am now freezing” factor we all must put up with in order to do that.

My default brand in frozen is Kashi. The brand delivers on health, flavor and satiety. (not a client by the way). For the one or two days a week I eat a frozen lunch option at my desk, my pattern is to buy my favorite Kashi items at a small market with a very edited selection. It takes me about 5 seconds to get that done.

Dan Raftery
11 years 23 days ago

The freezer case is the most complex space in the store. It requires the most energy and is often a big focus for engineering departments. Merchandising is not the prime concern in this space. Temperature/humidity control and energy efficiency are. I don’t see that changing.

Simply put, the merchandising strategy needs to be different than what draws shoppers to other parts of the store.

Browsing is not much of an option–shoppers need to be prepared when they enter this space. Sampling works well–as those who do it will tell you–exposing shoppers to both the quality and ease of preparation of frozen products. Education seems to be needed on a regular basis.

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
11 years 23 days ago

What can done for frozen food? Change its name and create a new contemporary lifestyle paradigm in the store. How? Well, that’s something I’m working on.

Jonathan Marek
11 years 23 days ago

Trader Joe’s is a leader here. Their range, innovation, and product quality are outstanding. Further, the actual layout of the section (non-frozen items like cookies above) and engaging open freezer units stand out from the rest.

Oh, and their frozen bake-at-home chocolate croissants are the best frozen food item in history!

Herb Sorensen
11 years 22 days ago
It’s a little noted fact that traffic is often extra heavy in frozen food aisles, probably because they are wider than other aisles – to accommodate opening of doors. But the shoppers passing through are mostly not interested in opening doors, just the easier navigation from the back of the store to the front. This points up the fact that an aisle’s primary purpose (for the shopper) is to get from one place to another – often from the back of the store to checkout. Retailers and brands are so obsessed with the secondary role of the aisle – to display merchandise – that they simply ignore the primary role. Another point about frozen food aisles is the issue of just what point they occur in the shopping trip. There are two ways to look at this. In general, shoppers prefer to enter on the right side of the store, which means aisles nearest the right will be visited first and those nearest the left will be visited last. Thus, the average point of shopping… Read more »
Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
11 years 20 days ago

Unless you are looking for weight watchers or ice cream for the kids, there is not a lot of pull for this section.

The Americans (fake) focus on health and wellness makes this section less of interest than of times in the past.

Shilpa Rao
11 years 20 days ago

Well, one of the retailers that we worked for in the UK had managed this category well by answering “What’s for dinner tonight?” questions.

The dinners were all kept together with vertical brand blocks and divided with the type of food. For example there were vertical blocks for Mexican, Italian, American, Chinese, Thai, and Indian, within which there were brand blocks. These blocks also took into account how customers shopped in that category. Was it a meal for one, meal for two, or meal for a family? The flow of starters and entrees was maintained in a horizontal block. The veggies and desserts had a separate block

What is important here is to understand the customer decision process in the category and then to arrange the shelf in way that makes decisions easy.


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