Giant Food Stores and Martin's Food Markets, headquartered in Carlisle, Pa., ran their first children's story hour linked to National Frozen Food Month this month, with Tony's Pizza and Green's Philly Swirl ice cream offered as treats. At the same time, 11 a.m. to noon on March 8, every Giant and Martin's store participated, attracting an average of 10 to 25 children, some of them with parents listening nearby.
Ukrop's, Richmond, Va., is sponsoring "The Big Freezer Giveaway" -- each time customers purchase frozen food, they will be automatically entered into a contest to win a freezer. Also, Ukrop's consumers who buy Mrs. Smith's frozen pies are entered into a contest to win a shopping spree in the Ukrop's freezer section.
A feather in the cap of the Frozen & Refrigerated Food Council of Northern California this year is that for the first time, Coca-Cola joined its promotion, marketwide, offering a free two-liter bottle of any Coke product with a purchase of a DiGiorno frozen pizza.
Albertsons in that region is offering Penguin Bucks with the purchase of $10 worth of frozen food, and the Penguin buck can be used on a later shopping trip. Also, Albertsons is running a Cruise for Two to Alaska sweepstakes.
Special events like these are always part of the National Frozen Food Month promotions in March. As it enters its 20th year, some industry participants are talking about moving toward a 12-month-a year drive.
That is just what the National Frozen & Refrigerated Food Association is trying to do with its "Bring Us to Your Table" promotions for the frozen aisle.
The organization's point-of-sales material "helps pull the theme throughout the department," said Val Vivenzio, director of frozen foods and dairy, Big Y, Springfield, Mass. "We are always trying to improve over the year before."
"We are trying to raise the category to a new sales level," said Julie Henderson, vice president of communications for the Harrisburg, Pa.-based industry group. There are opportunities throughout the year, she said, which is pointed out in new materials made available to members.
"Obviously it's been working in March for 20 years. Frozen food seems to be one of those categories where promotion really makes a difference in sales. We are doing a national FSI, and there is a consumer sweepstakes on our Web site. We are encouraging our members to participate, offering the point of sale material," Henderson said. She had no figures for how it's been moving, but said it's been selling out and being reordered. Manufacturers often release new items during March, realizing it is a time to lure the consumer with something new and innovative, said Tom Bierbaum, national brand group manager for Freschetta frozen pizza, part of Schwan's Consumer Brands, Minneapolis. Freschetta, for instance, chose March to roll out its new brick oven pizza, a pretty high ring item at $6.79.
The timing is right, Bierbaum said. "There's a couple times a year when retailers are going to have new product windows, to create as little disruption to the category as possible. Typically it's spring and fall, prior to the busy holiday seasons."
Last year the geographical area that had the most frozen food sales during March was the Plains states, with a 20.2% sales increase, according to the NFRA based on data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago.
SN checked in with a former Silver Penguin winner, Lueken's Village Foods in Bemidji, Minn., which got a prize for best retail department display from the NFRA last year. Unfortunately for the two-store independent, on March 1, 2002, two blocks from one of the stores, a Wal-Mart Supercenter opened. Steve Rauvola, the frozen food manager at Lueken's, said they heard from Wal-Mart store associates that this supercenter became profitable the quickest in the company's history. "They are still doing fine, and we are doing all we can to try to break even with last year. And last year we were down substantially," said Rauvola.
Lueken's displays are very low-key this year, he said, because they are concentrating on controlling expenses. "We are still doing some truckload promotions that we have done in the past, but everything is scaled down from where we were. It's a real adjustment. When the pie gets split differently, to be profitable you have to know what is going to be of value."
Asked how suppliers are helping, he said, "not a tremendous amount, other than a pat on the back."
Before the Wal-Mart supercenter opened, Lueken's management had heard how much space it would devote to frozens, and responded by adding 50 doors. Now Lueken's has four and a half aisles of glass and five open bunkers, which all have deal merchandise in them. Rauvola said, "We are doing the best we can. The snag is, Wal-Mart sells so cheap, the people who used to stock up are not buying the case lots like they used to. We're just not getting that mass customer now."
Conversely, nine markets, led by Tulsa, Okla., had dollar sales growth of 14% or greater, the NFRA said. Reasor's, based in nearby Tahlequa, has very large frozen food sections. Tom Terral, sales manager of grocery at Reasor's, told SN that last year they did additional promoting during March, led by freezer giveaways -- paid for by Reasor's -- in each of the 12 stores. "We ran a dollar sale, where everything in the ad was rounded off to the dollar. Most of our front page was frozen food items, like Banquet pot pies and pizza." It all resulted in sales increases in the double digits for March, he said, even though Reasor's competes with Albertsons and Wal-Mart.
Price is one thing that usually gets shoppers' attention, and this month, the frozen food industry tries its best to bring in good deals.
The so-called Sea of Glass, the freezer doors, is the toughest portion of the supermarket to merchandise. You don't see much as you glance down the aisle, and, it's cold. How to get people to start looking through the glass is the challenge. There is a lot of innovation in the section, and better quality food now, but it's hard to get people to stroll down the aisle and take a look at it.
This is why in many parts of the country, retailers use decorations to draw attention to the section, creating scenes of penguins, the symbol of frozen food, everywhere they can during March. It's usually a month without many holidays, one wholesaler pointed out, so it's a good time to make frozen food the theme. One thing everyone can do is advertise the deals in the circular, giving the frozen food price breaks Page 1 play to get the shoppers in that aisle.
But the wholesaler cautioned: "You can't just do it with price. We are trying to emphasize variety." With lessened manpower among the sales agencies, which used to devote much time to decorating the stores, store personnel have to do it themselves more and more, retailers said.
Michael DiGeronimo, the frozen food and dairy director at Victory Supermarkets, Leominster, Mass., a 20-store chain, said when he chooses what to promote, he picks an item, rather than a category. "I think about an item with broad appeal to the customer, what will have the best draw."
Generally, DiGeronimo promotes ice cream items more than any other category, and, in fact, ice cream/sherbet was the top growth category during March last year, according to the NFRA, followed by pizza.
Big Y, Springfield, Mass., has a wide variety of merchandising efforts and incentives to get customers to buy frozen foods this year, as it usually does. Some of the giveaways are two trips to Don Ce Sar Beach Resort and Spa, three freezers with a surprise inside and 100 4-pack tickets to the International Skating Center of Connecticut, according to Vivenzio. For the kids, Big Y is running a coloring contest and will be giving away family 4-pack tickets to the Mystic Aquarium Penguin Exhibit. On the altruistic level, the chain donates $1,000 to the Frozen & Refrigerated Association of the Northeast for its scholarship fund. And that's not all: Big Y runs 100 promotional announcements on major radio stations throughout its marketing area, and will hold three two-hour station events at Big Y locations to build excitement.
Community activity is often a feature of frozen food month promotions, and it is not easy to do.
"We contacted almost 200 libraries in our areas. Some of the store associates did the readings, and some of the librarians," said Shirley Axe, promotions manager for the Giant and Martins chains. Dr. Seuss, Sesame Street and Disney favorites were some of those read to children in three age groups, and it was done in a variety of ways, Axe explained. Some were held in the carryout cafe area, on a carpeted area with the readers in beanbag chairs, others in the front of the store, "wherever the space was available," Axe said.
While it is difficult to measure if this activity increased sales, it is viewed as another way to add value to the shopping experience at Giant, said Denny Hopkins, spokesman for the chains.
"We may expand it for next year, or look to do it once a month in all stores. We got some good feedback on this and some positive information," he said.
"As long as I can remember, we try to take Frozen Food Month and make an event out of it. We get better and better every year, and we do see a benefit out of it," Hopkins said.