TEXAS CHILLY

DALLAS -- Texas has a reputation for being larger than life, and in Dallas, frozens are no exception. The market here supports several chains, as well as some strong independents.The popularity of frozen food in the Dallas market is fueled by the city's well-educated and professional consumer base, retailers told SN during a market visit.Of the major retailers in the market -- Albertson's, Boise,

DALLAS -- Texas has a reputation for being larger than life, and in Dallas, frozens are no exception. The market here supports several chains, as well as some strong independents.

The popularity of frozen food in the Dallas market is fueled by the city's well-educated and professional consumer base, retailers told SN during a market visit.

Of the major retailers in the market -- Albertson's, Boise, Idaho; Brookshire Grocery Co., Tyler, Texas; Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C.; Kroger Co., Cincinnati; Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas; Tom Thumb, based here; and Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla. -- only Brookshire agreed to comment.

The ease and convenience of frozen foods, especially pizza, make easy meal solutions for the city's busy residents. For the 52 weeks ended July 14, frozen pizza in the Dallas metropolitan area generated $30.5 million in sales, up 4.4% from the previous year, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

"This is an area where both the husband and wife work," said Terry Stanton, store director for an area Brookshire unit. "They're into fast foods."

Pizza is the biggest category at this Brookshire's location, said Stanton.

"Shoppers still patronize the outside competitors, but we sell a lot of pizza. Red Baron, Tombstone and Tony's are the big sellers," said Stanton.

Pizza is equally as important for other area retailers. Most stores carry at least 10 to 15 different brands, featuring several stockkeeping units within those brands, SN observed.

Large chains, such as Albertson's and Kroger, typically offer about 15 to 20 doors of pizza and promote the category in endcap displays. At one Kroger location SN visited, demos for DiGiorno rising-crust pizza were conducted during a high-traffic Saturday.

Some chains stock private-label pizza, but the majority of SKUs are familiar and popular brands, such as Tony's, Red Baron, Tombstone and Totino's. The private-label pizzas tend to be price brands.

"It's definitely a cheap pizza," Brookshire's Stanton said, describing Brookshire's Hy-Top private-label pizza. "If you want something quick, you've got it. Ours is designed to compete with Jeno's and Totino's."

Among Dallas chains that carry private-label frozen pizza, most, such as Brookshire, Kroger and Minyard, only stock about three or four SKUs. Most private-label pizza is inexpensive and offers only basic toppings, SN found.

Frozen dinners and entrees, like pizza, also perform well in the busy Dallas market. Though the category increased just 0.7%, it still accounted for more than $104 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended July 14, according to IRI.

"Dinners, entrees and frozen potatoes -- anything you can put in the microwave -- do well," said Stanton of Brookshire's.

Dallas retailers devote large amounts of space to frozen dinners and entrees. While most chains stock the standard national brands in both regular and diet varieties, they also dedicate anywhere from three to six doors of Mexican-style entrees and dinners, as well as dinners from Nighthawk, a Texas-made brand.

At Tom Thumb, El Charrito and Patio Mexican dinners and entrees are merchandised separately from regular dinners and entrees. Nighthawk has a similar, albeit smaller, presentation. Comparable merchandising programs are found at the chain's upscale Simon David units.

SN found the largest selection of dinners and entrees at the "Dr Pepper" Kroger, a former Dr Pepper bottling plant that was converted into a Kroger unit. The frozen-food department at this unit has about 22 doors of frozen dinners and entrees, five of which are dedicated to Mexican, including selections from Patio, El Charrito, Lean Ole, Fiesta Cafe, El Monterey and Albertos. Club-size packages of burritos are merchandised along the bottom of the doors.

At one Minyard location visited, SN noted 11 doors of dinners and entrees, three of which were from Patio and El Charrito. Frozen potatoes at Minyard are merchandised along the bottom shelf of the doors. At Minyard's Sack 'n Save warehouse format, dinners and entrees comprise about 10 doors, with a standard branded mix. However, some lower priced brands, such as Banquet, are included in the selection. Again, there is a large selection of dinners and entrees from Patio, El Charrito and Lean Ole.

At Food Lion and Winn-Dixie, Freezer Queen brand is present in the mix of dinners and entrees. These chains also stock the same mix of Mexican-style products that is carried at Dallas' other chains.

Another big category for Dallas is ice cream. Most chains SN visited carry a large selection of regular, low-fat and no-fat branded ice cream. However, Blue Bell, a popular Texas brand, dominates the case.

Both Albertson's and Kroger carry a large selection of Blue Bell, Texas Gold and national brands such as Dreyer's, but both chains devote large amounts of space to their own private-label ice cream.

Private-label ice cream accounts for most of Kroger's ice cream business: roughly 17 doors. Low-fat, no-fat, yogurt, no-sugar, sorbet, sherbet are carried in half gallons under the Kroger Healthy Indulgence or Kroger Deluxe labels. Five-quart pails of regular ice cream and yogurt are also available in private label.

Private-label novelties, also available in healthy alternatives, account for about seven to nine doors at Kroger units.

At Albertson's, private-label ice cream also dominates the category. While Albertson's stocks half gallons of regular and low-fat ice cream and yogurt under its own name, it also carries Janet Lee private-label regular ice cream.

Brookshire's is in the process of converting its private-label ice cream selections from Hy-Top to Dairy Pride, Stanton told SN. The chain, Stanton explained, has acquired its own processing plant and will soon replace all its current private label as well as SKUs of Blue Bunny with Dairy Pride, he said.

"The plant's being completed in Tyler, Texas, so all this will be changed. We'll start manufacturing our own ice cream," Stanton told SN.

At Sack 'n Save, branded ice cream is dominant, and although the section is small compared to Albertson's and Kroger, the store stocks a full selection of low-fat, no-fat squares and rounded containers from Blue Bell, Borden, Breyer's, Dreyer's and Healthy Choice.

Frozen vegetables, also a big category for Dallas, are most popular in mixtures or blends. SN found that most chains stock large 5-pound bags of frozen vegetable mixtures along with their regular 16-ounce sizes. Frozen mixed vegetables accounted for $8.5 million in sales, a 1.1% increase over last year, according to IRI.

"The econo-packs do very well for people with large families," said Stanton of Brookshire. Though large sizes are usually placed in a separate section, the vegetable econo-packs are merchandised with vegetables.

Nearly all Dallas retailers have a large selection of frozen okra -- cut, breaded and whole -- as well as plenty of frozen legumes, such as black-eyed peas. Winn-Dixie and Food Lion units are especially heavy on traditional Southern selections such as black-eyed peas, okra, chopped turnip greens, collard greens, white acre cream peas and purple hull peas.