JUICE WAR

Frosty concentrated juice, once a staple in American freezers, is now battling to keep its place against a dizzying array of nonfrozen juice options, from boxes and bottles to containers and big cans.Shoppers, increasingly pressed for time and accustomed to instant gratification, find it less convenient to mix frozen juice than to open a chilled or shelf-stable container."Juice is like candy," said

Frosty concentrated juice, once a staple in American freezers, is now battling to keep its place against a dizzying array of nonfrozen juice options, from boxes and bottles to containers and big cans.

Shoppers, increasingly pressed for time and accustomed to instant gratification, find it less convenient to mix frozen juice than to open a chilled or shelf-stable container.

"Juice is like candy," said Bryan Ryckeley, category manager for H.G. Hill Stores, Nashville, Tenn. "If it's in the house, they'll drink it. But with a frozen can, they have to think about it. With chilled juice, it's one less thing to think about."

Frozen-juice sales totaled $1.15 billion for U.S. supermarkets during the 52-week period ended May 24, 1998, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, down 11.1% from the previous year.

Sales in every segment of the category declined. Frozen orange juice, which accounts for nearly half of the frozen drink category, also dropped 11.1%. In contrast, chilled orange-juice sales rose 6.9% during the same period to $2.45 billion. Total chilled-juice sales rose 4.7% to $3.6 billion.

Still, juice remains a significant player in the frozen aisle, and retailers and manufacturers are aggressively working to boost flagging sales. Strategies include cross merchandising, developing new packaging and flavors and, in some cases, repositioning frozen juice as an ingredient for recipes.

"In the recent past, people have been purchasing frozen juice in case they run out of refrigerated juice," said Lori Pohlman, spokeswoman for the National Frozen Food Association, based in Harrisburg, Pa. "But we definitely feel confident that sales will increase."

The association currently is conducting research that evaluates consumers' frozen juice-buying habits. This information will be used to help manufacturers and retailers better target their efforts, Pohlman said.

"It's a huge challenge to stop the free fall of frozen orange juice," said Pat Palmer, merchandising director for orange juice for the Florida Department of Citrus, which promotes orange juice.

But it's not impossible, said Chris Bozman, spokeswoman for Houston-based Minute Maid Co., which has 33.1% of the frozen- juice and juice-drink market.

Nearly 40% of American shoppers made at least one purchase of frozen orange juice in 1997, according to the ACNielsen Consumer Facts Report, published by ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., this year. Families with children and empty nesters are the biggest consumers of frozen juices, the report said.

"For consumers, frozen-juice products continue to provide quality at a good value," Bozman said. "This makes them attractive mostly to larger households with young children. Frozen-juice products also allow consumers to 'stock pile,' making sure juice is always available."

A main selling point of frozen juice is price.

"It's still a formidable category overall," said Mark Capicotto, director of frozen foods for Big V Supermarkets, based in Florida, N.Y. "We need to equate value to frozen juice."

A 16-ounce can of frozen juice, which costs about 99 cents, can make a half-gallon of juice, Capicotto said. A half-gallon of chilled, made-from-concentrate house brand costs about $1.40.

But saving 50 or 60 cents isn't always enough incentive to choose frozen over chilled, he concedes. Because of declining frozen-juice sales over the past four years, Big V has reduced its selection from four freezer doors to two at most stores.

Cross merchandising has been one of the most successful strategies for boosting sales of frozen juices. For example, Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., like many retailers, puts frozen juices next to frozen breakfast items, according to Bob King, category manager of frozen food for Ukrop's.

Minute Maid also has been successfully cross promoting juice with other breakfast items. As reported in SN, brokers from Minute Maid, Eggo and Ore-Ida teamed up with AmeriCold Logistics, Ontario, Calif., and the Southern California Frozen Food Council, Huntington Beach, Calif., to create a "breakfast meal occasion" pallet module for promotions done at 150 targeted Ralphs stores. Ralphs Grocery Co. is based in Compton, Calif.

The February promotion resulted in juice sales five times over the norm, according to Rick Walker, vice president of frozen-food sales for Crossmark Sales & Marketing, based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

Minute Maid used a similar promotion in May which paired frozen punch with pizza. Ralph's saw a 505% increase in juice sales during the promotional period, Walker noted. The success of these programs has prompted the Southern California Frozen Food Council to assemble a task force to implement cross-promotion and bundling programs.

Last fall, Tropicana Season's Best ran a mail-in certificate on its packages that offered a free package of Aunt Jemima pancakes, waffles or French toast with the purchase of three items. The promotion was done in conjunction with the introduction of a new blend of Season's Best frozen and chilled orange juice.

In addition to frozen-food events, Tropicana has used sweepstakes and direct-mail programs to boost sales on a market-by-market basis, said Michael Adams, marketing manager for Tropicana North America, Bradenton, Fla.

The company recently did a cross promotion with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Customers were given passes in exchange for a proof-of-purchase from a Tropicana or Dole frozen or chilled juice item.

Some manufacturers are trying to increase the convenience factor of frozen juice in an attempt to win back customers. For example, Welch's recently came out with a frozen container that can be thawed in a microwave, unlike the traditional metal cans used to package frozen juice.

"You don't have to wait to let it thaw or run it under hot water," Pohlman said.

Frozen juice also is being showcased in recipes, to reposition it as more than a drink. For the fourth year, the Florida Department of Citrus will be publishing "The Best of Florida Cuisine," a cookbook distributed free to supermarkets that uses frozen Florida orange juice to replace sugar, oils and starches in its recipes.

Some companies are coming out with new flavors to stimulate sales. For example, Minute Maid recently introduced two new calcium-fortified frozen juices, including Premium Orange Tangerine, available in 12-ounce cans of frozen concentrate.

"We continue to look at a variety of opportunities to introduce new products in that segment," Bozman said.

But retailers and manufacturers both believe more can be done to invigorate the category. "I don't think manufacturers are promoting frozen juice as much as they have in the past," said Pat Brooks, director of frozen foods at Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif. "Their focus seems to be refrigerated rather than frozen."

Save Mart has seen sales of frozen juice drop 10% last quarter compared with the previous year.

On the other hand, Walker, a broker, noted that retailers could do more to promote frozen juice. For example, he noted, "Retailers used to use frozen juice as a traffic generator. [Now] they're less aggressive about displays."

But retailer display options for frozen juice are somewhat limited. "[Frozen juice is] in a bunker," said King of Ukrop's. "You can't build real big displays. You can't do endcaps. It's hard to get that item to jump out at you at the right prices."

Everyone seems to agree it will be a difficult time ahead for the frozen-juice category.

Palmer of the Florida Citrus Board believes the industry is doing what it can to stem the declines. But with drops in frozen-juice sales and steady increases in chilled juice, it can be easier to put promotional dollars into the dairy case.

"We have to restock our chilled juices throughout the day," said Kathy Schwartz Lussier, spokeswoman for Randalls Food Markets, Houston. "It's becoming a staple for a lot of families."

In addition to the convenience factor of chilled and shelf-stable juices, frozen juice also has to contend with the increasingly popular not-from-concentrate category. A decade ago, NFC accounted for 20% of the orange-juice category. Today, it accounts for 49% of total orange-juice sales, surpassing the from-concentrate category for the first time.