Tate & Lyle
Carst and Walker
Frozen aisle

US: Frozen-food rivals plot campaign to halt sales slump in freezer case

You know you have a health-perception problem when a fast-food marketer takes a shot at you. So when Wendy’s – hardly the standard for health food – makes a point of marketing its beef as “fresh, never frozen,” the $70-billion frozen-food industry decided it had to do something.

The American Frozen Food Institute and the Frozen Food Roundtable, a coalition of freezer-case heavyweights including ConAgra, General Mills, HJ Heinz, Kellogg Co and Nestlé USA, along with retail behemoth Walmart, are pooling their might to launch a campaign that could reach up to $50-million in spending, according to industry executives.

McCann Erickson is tipped to win the agency review for the push, whose goal is to warm consumers to the frozen-food aisle.

According to proprietary research from the organizations, 98% of products in the frozen aisle are experiencing flat or declining sales in the US, across nearly all categories. Driving these declines are more health-conscious consumers and their association of frozen foods with high sodium, sugar, fat, calories and preservatives.

In a document dated Feb 15, the groups said they were seeking “proposals for the development of a consumer-facing campaign designed to change the way consumers think and feel about frozen food by promoting positive messaging regarding the benefits and attributes of frozen foods.”

Trends affecting perceptions
& sales

Changing purchasing behaviours as more deal-conscious consumers shop around

Shifting household profiles with the rising importance of millenials and the evolution of the ethnic makeup of families

Changing meal patterns that go beyond the traditional three meals a day

Increasing confusion about which foods are healthy

A major challenge, the group added in the document, will be to overcome taglines like Wendy’s “fresh, never frozen,” which capitalise on consumers’ negative perceptions of frozen food.

A representative for the industry groups declined to comment.

In recent months, individual frozen-food producers have taken on the issue. ConAgra launched a campaign for its Healthy Choice and Marie Callender’s brands to help consumers “better understand the benefits of frozen meals and experience frozen foods in a new way,” according to a press release the company sent in March. Still, marketers have steadily decreased pricing on frozen entrees, according to a chart by Bernstein Research.

But changing consumer perceptions is not a one-company job and dropping prices to maintain volume is not necessarily a sustainable practice. The Bernstein research noted that while taking down pricing has helped better sales in the frozen-entree category, volume and sales remain in negative territory.

The group’s industry conducted research beginning late last year and found that although the perception of frozen vegetables surpassed those of other frozen subcategories, frozen-food penetration rates are down across all age groups, with the highest losses among 35-to-44-year-olds. There are “significant concerns with the nutritional value and a general feeling that frozen foods are not as good as fresh,” according to the findings. These concerns were often linked to the frozen-entree category.

Moreover, the longevity and convenience of frozen foods were once selling points, but they are no longer changing a general apathy toward the category…..

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