Retailers are catering to fast-track consumers by offering meal solutions that take shopping to the next level of convenience.
Giant Food, Landover, Md., for example, has developed "Easy Meals," a meal solutions center in its frozens department. The section features several nonrelated frozen items that, when purchased together, can be made into a meal.
"We're putting multiportion packs with other items that can be pulled together as a meal," said Bruce Steadman, category manager. "For example, Stouffer's meat loaf with Birds Eye vegetables, and Mrs. Smith's pie and Cool Whip."
For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Giant featured large-portion Stouffer's vegetable selections -- such as mashed potatoes and green bean casserole -- that shoppers could make part of their holiday dinners, Steadman said.
The retailer is also putting together a Mexican meal, featuring frozen beans, rice, dips, burritos and Bacardi drink mixes.
The in-store promotional items at each of Giant's 110 stores are set up in the center of the dinner/entree aisle. The chain is using five-shelf uprights to display them. Signage includes awnings and hanging signs to draw customers, as well as mailbox signs that jut out of the freezer doors.
Similarly, Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., is providing weekly dinner recipes in its circulars, along with sales on key ingredients that consumers will need for the advertised meal plans. Frozen selections, such as broccoli, are an integral part of the campaign. Albertson's in Boise, Idaho, is also capitalizing on the meal solutions craze. Its "Quick Fixin' Ideas" program, launched in February 1996 as a test in its southern California stores, was completely rolled out to all its stores as of last month, according to Jenny Enochson, media relations coordinator for the chain.
"Quick Fixin' Ideas" features a weekly recipe that uses dry groceries and displays recipe cards and items prominently. In the frozens aisle, a meal solution is featured monthly, along with the requisite frozen items on an endcap.
"We want to reach everybody who wants a quick, nutritious meal that they can prepare in 30 minutes or less," Enochson said.
H.G. Hill Stores, Nashville, Tenn., is beginning to pay more attention to meal solutions, according to Bryan Ryckeley, buyer. "We put our pasta and bread together. Those items are an everyday set," he noted.
"We are planning to do more cross merchandising, in the form of displays, and also to group meal-type ads together," he continued.
Jim Swenson, category adviser at Fleming Cos.' Massillon, Ohio, division, said the level of promotions varies according to location.
"We lay out ad plans and suggest meal solution concepts," he explained. "Some stores will take advantage of it and some will not. Our ads tie complementary items together that will [create] additional sales."
Buckeye Village Market, Alliance, Ohio, one of Fleming's member stores, plans to expand the frozens section to twice its size this year to accommodate new products and item extensions.
Buckeye currently has more than 50 feet of dinners and entrees, said Greg Oyster, dairy and frozen-food manager.
Oyster noted that the new meal solution-oriented frozen soups from companies like Progresso and Campbell's are doing well.
"You can just add meat to it and warm them up," he said. Also popular are value-added mixed vegetables, including the Green Giant brand, which is marketed specifically as a meal solution.
The movement toward meal solutions is also evident in sales of dinners and entrees. Sales for the dinner/entree category were $3.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 17, 1996, up 1.9% from the previous year, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.
Meanwhile, large-pack family meal solutions received mixed reviews from frozens managers.
"Family packs are not doing very well," said an East Coast frozen-foods manager who did not wish to be identified. "They are doing better in stores where I have bulk sections. They have to be with other items that start at $6 or $7."
Nonetheless, more than one retailer mentioned carrying the 40-ounce packages of macaroni and cheese and lasagna and said they are fairly consistent in sales.
"We have members that merchandise to certain ethnic groups, and in those areas frozen is not as well developed," said Bob Lutz, director of merchandising for the wholesaler Certified Grocers of California, based in Los Angeles. Lutz noted that first- and second-generation Americans are probably buying more fresh and are not accustomed to frozen foods.
On the other hand, he noted, "[Our Mexican items] are quite extensive in comparison to what you see in other markets and they do really well."