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Why is the frozen aisle so slow to capitalize on these new appliances that can do so much to build profitable growth and — well, new respect.

When was the last time you walked down a frozen food aisle? Or better yet, walked down all of them? And, why? To see if there are new items? To grab a pizza to have while watching the game? Perhaps some ice cream for that sweet tooth?


Or did you even go down them at all? This is the question I’m asking not only shoppers, but buyers and manufacturers as well. Stop and think about it. There is a special place in the store set out for the meat department, the produce department, the bakery — even milk gets its own wall with the name spelled out: Dairy.

But frozen gets just a few aisles mixed in with the grocery aisles in a section that is called Center Store. Wow! Why? Is it because nobody sees the difference between a can of beans and a frozen bag of them? Is it the only place we could find to display and sell pizzas and ice cream?

Some folk have labeled frozen as “the convenience aisle” — the aisle you run down for that last-minute quick “meal,” as if pizza or ice cream were a meal.

The frozen aisle was left without a home a few years back when folks divided the stores into “territories.” Labels such as Fresh and Center Store became the new buzz words. “Fresh” was given meat, deli, produce, dairy and bakery to make up its team. “Center Store” got dry grocery, DSD and frozen as its team.

I guess on a percent of total sales it makes sense. It seems fair on a square-footage basis as well. Heck, most chains aligned the buying teams that way. But I’ve got to admit that Fresh sure sounds more fun and sexy than “dry” or DSD, which has to be explained to most folks.

Frozen has such potential, with good margins and minimal shrink. It’s sad to see it get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield.

And then there’s Frozen. No, not the movie, but the aisles that seem to be the last ones picked for the team. The section where items like frozen fish get tossed in and either counted as part of the Center Store/Dry team or poached by the meat guys to help with the gross.

But before feeling too sad for the Frozen team, all of us need to walk down those aisles that I’m betting are not part of most consumers’ planned shopping. If the aisle is part of the shopping plan, it’s to buy that pizza or ice cream — or waffles for the kids’ breakfasts.

To prove my point, all you need to do is count the doors each of those categories get! Oh, we try to add new categories such as “ethnic” and “healthy,” and give them the same amount of space as they have in “dry.” We even find room to put in items that dry doesn’t have, like rolls, desserts and potatoes that have been cut, crinkled and shredded.

Frozen is the only department that has been placed in so many areas of the store. You can find it in the back of the store, or up front so it won’t defrost while customers shop. Or over by the meat department because… well, that’s where the refrigeration equipment is closest.

I say all this to point out that frozen doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It’s seen as neither sexy nor a merchandising draw (except perhaps for ice cream) to pull you down the aisle. It has no real sign of its own — just rows of doors to open and close. It’s been this way as far back as I can remember.

Oh, retailers have added a few new categories. They’ve also added door clingers and floor stickers, but that just seems like lipstick on a pig. For their part, manufacturers still focus on SKU proliferation to keep their doors.

Frozen has such potential, with good margins and minimal shrink. It’s sad to see it get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. I hope you agree. I’d love to see retailers, buyers and manufacturers step out of the box and stop just doing business as usual. It’s shameful every frozen aisle I walk down in the country looks like all the others.

But there’s one huge, neglected opportunity that can bring about dramatic change. Its name is AIRFRY. It would be a great callout on a lot more packages and store signs. Airfry promises real convenience, and many thousands of air fryers were sold this past holiday season. Air fryers are still new enough to be exciting, with many consumers trying them out for the first time and looking for new ways to use them. Air fryers are even being added to new home ovens.

Why aren’t we rethinking our products, and re-examining what items need this callout? How much time can these new appliances save shoppers? How can they improve the quality of frozen foods prepared at home?

Air fryers are a shot in the arm, the soon-to-be hero that will allow better-tasting items. Folks can use multiple frozen items to make real dinners from the frozen aisle — including pizza, LOL. The fresh team has to do nothing to capture the potential of this new trend, but frozen needs to stop sitting on its hands and get with the program.

Don’t let this be like the yogurt category, where many waited too long to jump in — especially private label. By the time some retailers and manufacturers got on board, the early adopters already had the market share.


How about an air fryer section? How about more signage, more packaging callouts and more demos to show off how frozen foods can benefit from these new appliances? What are you waiting for, my friend? It’ll be hard (and expensive) playing catch-up when the air fryer segment blossoms.

Just sayin’. n

Bob Anderson is the retired vp/general merchandise manager at Walmart, where he worked for 17 years. He can be reached at bob.sue@sbcglobal.com.

Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson

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