Supermarket retailers and local frozen food associations are planning for a lucrative National Frozen Food Month this March.
Retailers and other industry sources contacted by SN said, for the most part, they expect respectable sales gains this year, spurred by in-store display contests, special advertising emphasis and other elements in the annual program.
Jim Blackwell, director of pharmacy, frozen food and dairy for Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., and vice president of the Virginia Frozen Food Association, said he thinks this will be the best National Frozen Food Month yet in his state.
"The Virginia association has hired an ad agency and we're going all out this year," Blackwell said. "The association is running two full-page ads, two weeks of television and one week of radio promotion. Ukrop's is running a full-page ad for a month and one week of television ads.
"We can't wait to start," he added. "We're having a meeting on Feb. 9, where we'll finalize all the details. Our job is to excite our people."
Johnny Harris, manager of dairy and frozen food for Harris-Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., said the coming monthlong promotion should be as successful as last year's event had promised, before Mother Nature had her say.
"If we make it through March without snow, we'll have a solid month. The weather hurt us last year. We were up last year before the blizzard hit us. When that hit, people were only interested in getting bread and milk," Harris said.
Dan Lescoe, vice president of sales and marketing for Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Mass., said his goal for March is simple -- increased sales this time around. Big Y and many other retailers, he said, are using the promotion opportunity to spread what he called a "stock-up mentality" among consumers.
"There will be a lot of different items on sale and every category will be represented," Lescoe said. "There will also be contests on displays to get store personnel heavily involved."
That emphasis on display competitions was echoed by Jim Pomfret, president of the Arizona Frozen Food Council, who said, "The real fun part is that sales organizations and store employees are excited about it through the contests."
Pomfret added that more manufacturers and retailers have committed to participate in his market this year than ever before.
Store-level involvement was a recurring theme as the key to success this year. "We've had great participation from our frozen food managers," said Darrell Jensen, advertising and buying coordinator for Harmons City, West Valley City, Utah.
Harmons, with seven stores, was the winner of NFFA's 1993 Golden Penguin Award for retail chains with less than 10 stores. The awards are presented to retailers and suppliers doing the best job of promoting National Frozen Food Month.
Jensen said Harmons will be having contests similar to last year, in which prizes were awarded for the top three displays. In preparation for this March, "We've had our planning meetings and one of our brokers helped us put together a kickoff breakfast for our managers," Jensen said. "We got them all sweatshirts and got them excited about the whole idea."
The National Frozen Food Association, the national coordinating agency for the event, has scheduled a kickoff celebration of its own on March 4 in Minneapolis.
"We're all set. Plans have been made. Right now everyone's implementing those plans so they're ready in plenty of time," said Nevin Montgomery, NFFA president. The association has sponsored National Frozen Food Month since its inception in 1984.
In addition, regional associations have put together kickoff events. Lescoe of Big Y was the keynote speaker Jan. 18 in Springfield for the first of three such functions put on by the Frozen Food Association of New England. He said he not only spoke about ways to get the most out of that month, but addressed other industry concerns as well.
"I asked what brokers are doing to help train frozen food personnel," Lescoe said. "I spoke about demos and their effect on sales. They seem to do better with frozen food products. I said we wanted more demos because they do so well.
"I also talked about staying in business over the weekend," he added. "Someone may want us to take on six flavors of brand X. They know only the top two will sell. By the weekend only the four less popular flavors are left and they don't move. We're asking manufacturers to rethink a little bit. Maybe if we had two facings of each of the two popular flavors, there would be more sales."
Lescoe and other retailers are hoping events this year such as National Frozen Food Month will help bring retailers, brokers and manufacturers together to accomplish their common goals.
Within days, store-level frozen food managers across the country will be hearing about the specific incentive programs for displays designed to bring more people into their aisles.
Retailers and local association officers said prizes for department and store managers include cash bonuses, televisions, VCRs and other premiums, primarily offered through food brokers.
Robert King, director of frozen food and dairy for Richfood, Mechanicsville, Va., said Richfood, a silver award winner last year, is going for the gold this year.
"Last week we distributed a Frozen Food Month booklet to all our retailers. It's crammed with statistics, facts and figures, and listings of all companies supporting the month. We'll be doing some heavy promoting of our controlled labels and we're working closely with the Virginia association. They're having travel sweepstakes, mystery penguin visits and giveaways of freezers full of food."