FD Buyer: ‘Frozen’ Means ‘Cheap,’ Right?

May 13, 2010

Commentary by Warren Thayer

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

even try to get that item into the frozen food department. It’s
a great product, but it’s too pricey and shoppers will never buy it here.
Why don’t you chill it and sell it over in deli or dairy? People aren’t
afraid to spend money over there.”

Basically, that’s what a frozen
food buyer told a vendor pal awhile ago. He’s not upset about it — in
fact he appreciated the candor. It led him to offer the same item in both chilled
and frozen versions, at the same price point. It’s now selling five times
faster in its chilled form than it is in frozen.

“Pocketbooks open up wide for fresh foods along the perimeter, but as
soon as you get to the freezer, shoppers zip up their pocketbooks and want
everything on the cheap,” the vendor said.

For the most part, he’s
right. It’s really hard to get a quality
item with decent (expensive) ingredients into the frozen lineups. It’s
even harder to keep it there. Frozen foods have dug themselves a deep hole
over the years, selling cardboard TV dinners and hockey puck pot pies “at
a value.” Most shoppers grew up with low expectations for frozens, and
those expectations have been met.

We’re getting some truly high quality,
healthy items in there now, but it’s hard to get shoppers to realize
that. “Frozen foods” are
still a synonym for “cheap” and “junk food” to too
many consumers. Both the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association
and the American Frozen Food Institute have been battling this perception for
decades, and with some success.

But perceptions aren’t going to change
until reality changes. Reality will start to change once we get a higher percentage
of quality offerings into the lineups, and make shoppers aware of them.

may not be as risky or as impossible as it seems. Every retailer is out to
differentiate today, but most of the effort gets put against the same low-end,
high-velocity “value” items that everybody sells “at a price.”

changing overnight would be suicide. But if it were my store, I’d
be slowly mixing in more of these higher-quality, unique items that would set
me apart from competition. I’d demo them, promote them and tweak offerings
depending on customer response. Best practice retailers are already doing that.

Discussion Questions:  What should retailers or vendors be doing to overcome
low quality perceptions around frozen foods? Can you name any food retailers
that are successfully merchandising higher-priced frozen offerings?

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6 Comments on "FD Buyer: ‘Frozen’ Means ‘Cheap,’ Right?"

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Dan Raftery
12 years 13 days ago

Warren’s recommendation to work higher quality/price items into the frozen line-up over time could work especially well if the program also specifically targets younger adults. Research has shown us that Gens X & Y don’t really know how to cook in the traditional sense. That’s where frozen comes in for this crowd–moving them up-market for special meal occasions.

I can hear it now … “Would you like our regular pizza tonight dear, or this Extra Special one that I got for when your parents visit?”

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
12 years 13 days ago

Consumers have been trained by the media to believe that when a product is frozen it is to preserve it for a later time in the future. That implies that it isn’t fresh. Today, FRESH is in. And if it is also organic, that’s cool.

Why not insert a fresh section within a frozen food case displaying “higher quality” merchandise in both forms? That could possibly animate the frozen foods section and make it more interesting and compelling.

Some retailers carry fancy and unique products in their frozen foods cases. Target is moving slowly into that direction and Trader Joe’s loves to experiment that way.

Ben Ball
12 years 13 days ago

One place frozen has made an inroad, and I believe could be expanded, is with the convenience/portion control combination. Items like Smart Ones and Lean Cuisine are high on our list of ways to easily calorie-control at lunch time–and they fit the bill perfectly for those “eat at the desk” days.

Identifying and meeting other needs like these could be a path to higher value-added in frozen.

Tom Ryan
12 years 12 days ago

Costco does a great job getting people to buy some pretty upscale frozen foods with their constant sampling. Although their quality is high, Trader Joe’s also seems to benefit by spreading its frozen product throughout the store. In the general supermarkets I visit, it’s pretty much one long row of freezers with deals on Ellio’s Pizza and Hot Pockets getting heavy signage and a lot of the attention.

Craig Sundstrom
12 years 12 days ago

I’m not sure I agree with the (supposed) association, but after reading the $550 pants story, I think the solution is for quality products to raise their prices. If a $49.95 goat cheese and fava bean (frozen) burrito doesn’t just scream “buy me,” I don’t know what does.

Jonathan Marek
12 years 12 days ago

You certainly can buy quality frozen products at Trader Joe’s, Costco, etc. The interesting thing to me, as someone who likes to cook, is that certain products are actually better frozen. Take shrimp: when you see them chilled in a seafood case, they were almost certainly previously frozen and thawed. Buying frozen and defrosting yourself is actually fresher. Safeway is trying to make that argument to consumers right now with their Waterfront Bistro seafood concept and supporting in-store displays. I’m sure the education is difficult, but it seems like it’s worth the effort to try.


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