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Here’s How To Fire Up Frozens

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By Bob Anderson

Specific ideas you can use to cut duplication, jazz up private label and innovate with the newest packaging trends.

Frozen food manufacturers, in my opinion, have a great opportunity to take market share away from the center store and even the fresh areas.

Have you ever walked down the frozen food aisle and gotten excited? When was the last time you saw something really new, really innovative, and had an “I’m going to try that!” moment?

GRAB MORE SHARE

Frozen food manufacturers, in my opinion, have a great opportunity to take market share away from the center store and even the fresh areas. How, you ask? For starters, whether it’s a national brand or store brand item, usually it’s the same old basic product. How many pizzas, meatloaf, spaghetti, glazed chicken dinners and entrees do we need? Especially since many, like meatloaf, never taste like Mom’s? The duplications of the same item with only price and quality separating them is all over the frozen department.

It’s time to go back to the R&D kitchen and do some cutting of your own brand against the others out there. Ask yourself — or better yet — take the product home and have your family try it and tell you what they think.

Is it something they would buy? Is the quality of the product the best in class or does it just hit a price point? As an example, take pot pies. Does the gravy have a good rich taste, are the vegetables in the right proportion, can you find the chicken? No kidding. This week I had a national brand Salisbury Steak/Mac & Cheese entree and there was no mac — only cheese sauce in the tray. Really, we can and must do better than that.

Have your team sit down and reflect back on items they loved as kids that their moms or grandmothers made. I’m sure all of us have several that we wish we had the recipe differences and a lot of ethnic customers that are looking for home-cooked meals instead of meatloaf or pizzas.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Seems lately most new items are the same old thing, but with some new sauce added to it, or somebody’s new flavor idea. Don’t get me wrong — there is a place for the same old, same old, but this too needs help. Take frozen vegetables. Almost all have some type of sauce or cheese added to them. Not everyone likes that, and the lack of variety is taking away this choice — as well as the healthier option. Frozen, with its relative lack of un-sauced varieties, is just leaving money on the table for other departments.

Let’s talk about package size. I would suggest taking a deep dive here, too. Ask yourself, do my customers want a single- or small-portion size? Is a “value/family” size needed? What works for your shoppers? Is your category over-SKU’d, does it need a store brand, or better yet a regional brand to help complete it and add profit to it as well?

Have you addressed the ease of cooking? A great example is steamed microwave vegetables. But has anyone brought in the folks who make cooking trays and looked at the new dual-temperature trays? Trays that could maybe heat soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at the same time.

How about offering a twice-baked potato with chicken or sliced beef? BBQ pork or beef on a bun with pork and beans? Chicken and a waffle? Items that are simple, quick and can be taken to work, or can be a great weekend lunch.

All of these, or ideas like these, are possible if you get all the players around the table and get out of the same old same old box. Dual-temperature cooking trays are out there. Trust me, you can have some real fun by putting on the thinking cap, asking others what they would like to see that are missing, and challenging your whole team to come up with the best product… something you would serve to your family!

With everyone now having a pressure cooker or air fryer, this has opened up a huge door of opportunities as well. Think of items that now can be cooked in half the time. Look at item combinations that would go with popular items that are now being put in air fryers.

An example would be to put pork chops in the air fryer and have frozen au gratin potatoes as a side dish. Think of fried chicken and greens as a side dish. Offer your customer a combo of mashed potatoes and a vegetable side that can be ready in minutes while the main dish is cooking in the air fryer. Once again, think of items that are not in the frozen aisle, like rice side dishes, scalloped potatoes, au gratin potatoes, greens or squash (you can’t even find this in the produce department most of the time).

QUALITY & VARIETY

We need to make the frozen department the centerpiece of the store — the quick-and-easy aisle to help make life easier and simpler. Keep in mind that quality and variety (not duplication) will keep them coming back for more. While you’re adding these new items, and new items do create sales, you will be increasing your category profit and making your customer happy at the same time. ■

Bob Anderson is the retired vice president/general merchandise manager at Walmart, where he worked for 17 years. He also spent 20 years at Vons Grocery Company in Southern California and worked for five years at Pace Membership Warehouse of Colorado in its Southern California office. He can be reached at [email protected].

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