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The frozen pizza category continues to expand and become increasingly competitive as more varieties make their appearance.In Houston and Los Angeles, Kraft has introduced three varieties of frozen pizza targeted to Hispanics, with both Spanish and English wording on the package, including bilingual directions. Frozen pizza sales are increasing about twice as fast among Hispanics as in the general

The frozen pizza category continues to expand and become increasingly competitive as more varieties make their appearance.

In Houston and Los Angeles, Kraft has introduced three varieties of frozen pizza targeted to Hispanics, with both Spanish and English wording on the package, including bilingual directions. Frozen pizza sales are increasing about twice as fast among Hispanics as in the general market, Kraft said.

Many manufacturers are cutting down on oven time and introducing microwavable versions to make pizzas not only more kid-friendly, but summer-friendly as well.

The frozen pizza category is roughly divided into adult and kid pizzas, with the traditional ones still sought after as after-school snacks, and Freschetta duking it out with DiGiorno for the adult market. Both segments are seeing more competition from retailers' own brands. More restaurant-style pizza, including private label, is a trend.

Nate Fisher, frozen food director/category manager for Ingles Markets, Black Mountain, N.C., said he's looking toward the fall set. What he might do differently depends on what new items are launched. "Right now, the Freschetta's Brick Oven is out. It's too early to tell, but you know everybody will follow," he said last month.

"Pizza is a growing category, and we are constantly looking for new space to increase pizza growth," he added. "People's buying habits change every six months to a year, so it's something you have to stay on top of all the time."

Category management is continuous, he said, and frozen pizza is a difficult category to manage. "We do a space-to-sales index -- however much room it's taking up compared to the unit sales and dollar sales and what percentage of those items, using an in-house formula based on scan data," he said. Ingles sells "a lot of warehouse pizza, and as the economy slows down, we sell more and more of the economy-sized pizza. Quite honestly, people buy what's on sale. That makes the pricing and promotions from manufacturers very important," Fisher said.

For example, there has been an enhanced level of support for the Stouffer's French Bread pizza, an oldie but goodie that was launched in 1974, according to the manufacturer.

The Top 10 frozen pizza brands, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, for the 52 weeks ended April 20, are DiGiorno, with sales up 17% to $475 million; Tombstone, down 6.3% to $336 million; Red Baron, up 7.4% to $241 million; Freschetta, down 7.6% to $182 million; Tony's, down 7.2% to $177 million; Totino's Party Pizza, up 3.7% to $174 million; private label, up 8% to $166 million; Stouffer's, flat, at $104 million; and Jack's Original, down 1.3% to $95.5 million. Celeste Pizza For One was 10th, with sales down 4.6% to $80.9 million. Figures were for the supermarket channel only.

IRI recently mentioned California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizza (No. 14 in brand sales ranking) as an innovative product that exemplifies the restaurant-to-home trend, which Wolfgang Puck (at No. 32) also exemplifies.

Private-label pizza showed growth of almost 10% in units sold. Among the Top 10 brands, this was second only to DiGiorno, the leader, which had a 12% increase in units.

Ingles has seven stockkeeping units of private-label pizza -- packaged in a black box -- including self-rising and a basic kind with pepperoni and sausage. All the private-label pizza is doing well, Fisher said.

In the Whole Foods in Manhattan's Chelsea section, three frozen doors were devoted to pizza seen during a recent visit by SN. Its own 365 brand was prominently displayed, with pizza boxes facing front and standing up, in three varieties: four-cheese, 14 ounces; Spinach and Feta, 16.5 ounces; and Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese, 15 ounces. All were priced at $3.69.

In a visit to Austin, Texas, SN counted 13 SKUs of H-E-B's own brand of frozen pizza, "Classic Selections," in a purple box, and 13 doors of frozen pizza altogether in that store. Pizza cutters, of stainless steel with a wooden handle, were merchandised in clear plastic holders that adhere to the freezer doors. H-E-B's brand of grated parmesan cheese was in another of the stick-on merchandisers. The Classic Selections carried prices of $3.49 to $3.99. The 29-ounce Deep Dish Pepperoni, for example, was $3.99. H-E-B could not be reached for comment.

Jim Wilsky, senior vice president, category development, for Marketing Man agement Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, which works with supermarkets on private-label development, told SN that in the frozen pizza category, in the past, retailers looked at what their direct competitors were doing in terms of price and quality of product. Nowadays, retailers have ramped that up to measuring themselves against other regions of the country. "H-E-B would say, 'Who does it best?' They are talking about over the whole country," he said. The frozen pizza category garnered $2.66 billion in sales for the supermarket channel for the year ended April 20, according to IRI. Overall performance was up only 1% in sales and down slightly in units, but, still, supermarkets find the category extremely viable, agreed Rich Savner, a spokesman for Pathmark, Carteret, N.J.

Hot markets are mostly in the Midwest. Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Des Moines, Chicago, Omaha and Indianapolis are the top seven cities in terms of most frozen pizza bought per capita, in supermarkets, according to ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill. The index uses 100 as the national per-capita average. Milwaukee, at the top of the list, buys 2.7 times the national per capita average; Chicago buys 1.65 times the national per capita average. But because of Chicago's large population, dollar sales of frozen pizza there are the highest in the nation, at $128 million for the 52 weeks ended April 19, ACNielsen said.

The next one is Seattle, where frozen pizza tends to be upscale, and Baltimore, the only East Coast city until Charlotte, three spots lower on the list. The New York metro area is next to the bottom, with an index of 53, and the only one lower is West Texas, index 39.

In New York, although it's a huge city, "what we're up against is the inconvenience factor," said Freschetta's Bierbaum. "You don't have a lot of big grocery stores in the city, and they have small frozen sections." Urban marketing of frozen pizza brings up a host of challenges, he said.

Consumers living in apartments have smaller refrigerators, and usually no stand-alone freezers. People without cars have to hurry to get their frozen product home on the bus or subway before it defrosts, a problem in the summer. Many live in one-person households and don't need a large pie. "We have an eight-inch product that fits the lifestyle of the urban dwellers," he said, adding that they are mainly younger couples with two incomes.

New York's frozen pizza sales in grocery stores were $91 million, actually second to Chicago's, although New York had a much lesser index. New York frozen pizza sales were slightly above Los Angeles, which immediately precedes it on the list, with an index of 63.

There's also the prevalence of pizzerias, seemingly on every corner in urban areas of New York and New Jersey, and in every strip mall in the suburbs. To combat that, Savner said Pathmark concentrates on category management and price points as a part of the merchandising effort.

"The main thing we are working on now is the recision of the standard of identity for frozen pizza, which has been around for 30 years," said Bob Garfield, executive director, National Frozen Pizza Institute, affiliated with the American Frozen Food Institute, McLean, Va. "Probably in the next month or so, the final rule will be out."

A change in the standard of identity would allow pizza manufacturers to be more creative, and bring out some new items that they currently cannot do, he said.


The competitive nature of the frozen pizza realm is very evident, and manufacturers are constantly adding new items to the playing field.

For example, a spokeswoman for Nestle in Solon, Ohio, parent company of Stouffer's, said its new Lean Cuisine item -- four round pizzas, mini-sized -- will start shipping at the end of this month. "They'll be crispy out of the microwave. Ready in three minutes or less," said Roz O'Hearn, the spokeswoman.

Other new pizza products include Red Baron Deep Dish Mini Pizza, about 2.5 inches in diameter and eight to a package. Introduced in January, they can be prepared in three to six minutes in a microwave oven, and they are doing very well, said Darci Eckermann, director of marketing services for Schwan's Consumer Brands North America, Minneapolis. Stuffed pizza slices were introduced in January, too, she said, positioned as upscale, with toppings like roasted garlic/chicken; they are microwavable in two minutes also.

"Stuffed pizza slices were developed because we were looking for solutions for people and families on the go," Eckermann said. Tony's, also a Schwan's brand, is expanding beyond pizza into handheld pouches, said Laura Daly, brand manager. They, too, are microwavable and have "kid-inspired flavors and packaging," she said. Tony's is aimed at the tween market of ages 8 to 14, and come two to a package for about $1.99. They came out in March and have been exceeding expectations, Daly told SN, including some "great growth in Albertsons." As to the future, stay tuned, she said.

Yet the market is not only for the younger set. Freschetta came out with a square pizza that can be cut up and served as hors d'ouvres, and it's best when heated in a conventional oven, baking in 12 to 14 minutes.

Freschetta, also a Schwan's brand, is not looking to add soy cheese anytime soon, said brand manager Tom Bierbaum, but he said all manufacturers understand the implications of an aging population concerned with cholesterol and salt. "There are a host of issues we need to address as our population ages," he said.

Recently in Whole Foods Market in Manhattan, a chain that caters to the health-conscious, Boca Rising Crust Pizza had a "NEW!" variety, made with organic wheat, cheese and vegetables. Bravissimo was all on special, priced from $2.49 to $5.99. Some were dairy-free. Amy's was $4.99 to $5.99, some with no cheese, some with soy cheese. Nature's Hilights had a rice crust, soy cheese style, $5.29 for 11 ounces, and another kind had a brown rice pizza crust. Below the Nature's Hilights were rounds of frozen pizza dough in plastic bags. The organic white pizza dough was $1.49. One from Gillian's Foods was gluten-free and lactose-free.