The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) in the US has celebrated March as the Frozen Food Month. In this interview with Julie Henderson, vice president Communications with NFRA, Frozen Food Europe magazine provides information, details and insight into this initiative, which started over 30 years ago.
What was the idea behind this initiative?
Sales of frozen foods had been historically low in the month of March, so Murray Lender of Lender’s Bagel Bakery and Ron Lunde of SuperValu Stores rallied support for the first March Frozen Food Month in 1984. As co-chairmen of the March planning committee, they organized the promotion and gained regional support, which led to increased frozen food unit sales by 6.7% and dollar sales by 8.6% over the prior year. Since then, NFRA has developed initiatives and partnerships to encourage sales in the frozen aisles, and leading frozen manufacturer brands have backed the promotion as well to support the overall category.
There still can be a perception issue with consumers about frozen foods. That’s what NFRA is addressing with our Real Food. Frozen PR campaign. Our frozen food efforts focus on changing the current conversation and perceptions about what people can find in the frozen aisles – and that’s REAL food that just happens to be frozen. The campaign promotes the real ingredients, culturally-inspired recipes, fresh flavors and smart packaging that make our category of foods unique. One of the biggest challenges for frozen foods is limited retail space. For retailers and manufacturers it is a matter of finding the right balance between trusted brands vs. newcomers and variety in the same brand line vs. adding new product lines.
What do you consider to be the main advantages of frozen food and what are the best promo and marketing strategies targeting the consumer?
There is no argument that frozen foods are convenient. They are also economical in that consumers are able to use only what they need and return the rest to the freezer. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness locking in nutrients ensuring consumers get the freshest foods and don’t have to leave any to waste since it can be stored for much longer. The frozen aisles also offer so many options to assemble well-balanced meals in single and family-sized servings. NFRA is promoting these benefits to consumers by sharing new product innovations, recipes and cooking tips through various traditional and digital vehicles. More and more, consumers are finding their information online and through social media channels. NFRA’s consumer website, EasyHomeMeals.com, and Easy Home Meals social properties are communicating these benefits to consumers every day.
What are the best-selling frozen food products in the US and what are your predictions for the near future?
Frozen entrees are still the largest category in the frozen department with USD10.7 billion in sales – significantly larger than the next highest selling category of ice cream at USD6.3 billion in sales. Brands like Luvo and Evol are new to the scene and serve as examples of the direction we are seeing the freezer aisle headed, and brands such as Kellogg’s continue to explore and implement new sustainable processes, packaging and more. Tried-and-true frozen brands and companies such as Tyson and ConAgra are leading the charge in product development. For instance, Tyson has responded to consumer demand for healthy and nutritious options and introduced one of its fastest growing product lines, Grilled & Ready chicken. ConAgra is bringing more value to the table with updates and enhancements to their Banquet frozen meals, including 25 percent more food, better protein as well as improved ingredients. In addition, some of the ethnic meals categories are seeing growth – the Mintel Group estimates that between 2012 and 2017 sales of ethnic foods in grocery stores will grow more than 20 percent.
What would you say are the three most important advances and breakthroughs?
Product innovation and development in the freezer aisle over the past decades has been truly unprecedented, and consumers have taken notice. The popularity, great taste and extreme diversity of choices now available in the frozen food section drive consumers there, knowing they’ll be able to find wholesome, delicious and impressively creative options that fit their dietary preferences, cravings for ethnic cuisines and on-the-go lifestyles. The re-positioning of product lines to have simpler ingredient lists, the increase in ethnic-inspired foods and flavors and innovation in packaging to offer new cooking options as well as to be more sustainable are a few of the trends impacting frozen foods today.
Please detail the initiatives revolving around the Frozen Food Month, which your organization initiated this year.
NFRA continues to expand its PR and promotional efforts in promoting March Frozen Food Month this year through partnerships with Coupons.com, CBS Media, the Mr. Food Test Kitchen, various online media outlets and a panel of food bloggers, all of which promote frozen products, recipes, tips and relevant messaging. In addition, NFRA’s retailer members support the promotion in-store. March Frozen Food Month sponsoring brand coupons were distributed to consumers while CBS local radio, web and social media outlets shared recipes, content and stories through relevant messaging. Media outlets including Tasting Table, the Daily Meal and Food Republic shared recipes and content promoting frozen foods, and NFRA’s partner bloggers created recipes using frozen products and promoted the recipes on their social media properties.
The Golden Penguin Awards were created to recognize outstanding marketing and promotional efforts focused on NFRA’s annual promotions including March Frozen Food Month. The awards honor individuals and their companies for creating excellent point-of-sale displays, marketing campaigns and in-store and community events that promote March Frozen Food Month and many frozen products and brands. This year NFRA has revamped the entire Golden Penguin Awards program by creating new categories more relevant to today’s marketing and merchandising tactics, redesigning the physical award and offering a streamlined online entry and judging system. In addition, winners will be recognized at the Networking Reception, which is a new event for the NFRA Convention to beA held in Washington, DC in October this year.