HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Coupons, freezer giveaways, cruises and sweepstakes are all on the agenda as members of the frozen food industry anxiously prepare for next month's 12th annual National Frozen Food Month.
The event, spearheaded by the National Frozen Food Association here, continues to grow, and has emerged as a key opportunity for those in the industry to display their creative talents. Elaborate displays,
imaginative advertising and innovative consumer programs designed to drive sales have become the norm.
Much of this year's displays and advertising will tie in with the national theme of "Serving Up Perfection." Penguins, of course, will also be prominent.
"We will be using the slogan," said a spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J. "It will be the copy on our shelf tags and the other things we'll be using. We've always used shelf tags, point-of-sale promotions, danglers, messages on our bags; that kind of written material in the store."
Wakefern, a cooperative wholesaler that services about 170 stores in the Northeast under the ShopRite banner, has held display contests in past years, the spokeswoman said. "As a matter of fact, two years ago the frozen food manager at the ShopRite of Passaic [N.J.] won the Golden Penguin from NFFA. So in all likelihood we'll be doing display contests again this year."
Pete Marino, frozen food buyer at Genuardi Super Markets, Norristown, Pa., is looking forward to National Frozen Food Month.
"We participate every year. We'll do our part. We'll promote and advertise with additional space in the ads." Marino said frozen food month "grows by a couple of points from year to year" and results in double-digit gains over frozen food sales in a typical month.
Demos are one reason for that, he said. "We encourage demos with all of our vendors. During March that activity does increase, but we encourage demos year-round."
Darrell Jensen, a buyer at Harmon's City, West Valley City, Utah, said his company has not finalized its plans yet, but demos are sure to be included in his stores as well.
"We won an award a couple of years ago and we're trying to see if we can win again this year," he said.
Retailers contacted by SN said they are happy with what frozen food month does for the frozens department.
"I think it's probably the single most successful promotion in the supermarket business," said Genuardi's Marino. "It's been doing well for years. I don't think there's any other category that comes together the way frozens does every year."
"It's an excellent concept because it brings attention to the frozen food department and it reacquaints our customers with the products that are there that are wholesome, nutritious, convenient and a good value," said the Wakefern spokeswoman.
While NFFA offers a national sweepstakes and national advertising featuring speedskater Bonnie Blair, much of the event's success comes through work on the local level, according to Skip Shaw, NFFA's executive vice president.
"The bottom line is you need the support of the retailers in a particular market and you need the participation, the dollars, so to speak, from the manufacturer side," Shaw said. Those efforts are usually coordinated by local associations comprising brokers, retailers and warehousemen, he added.
"The real challenge for a lot of the local groups is to develop their plans well enough in advance so manufacturers can budget properly and participate in what's happening on the local level," Shaw said. "We're just tickled pink with the involvement we get from year to year. It seems that every year another retailer comes on board or another local association is established. It's growing each year and I guess you couldn't ask for much more than that."
Shaw said the goal each year is to move more frozen products than in the past year. "The first year we had a 6.5% tonnage increase and we've been going from 1% and 3% increases each year. So we're happy with that," he said. "The other key is the awareness of frozen foods by the consumer and educating them to the value, quality and convenience of frozen foods. That's been happening quite a bit in the 12 years this promotion has been around."
Representatives from regional associations contacted by SN are predicting great things for this year's promotion. One of the most ambitious undertakings is a demo program being staged by the Southern California Frozen Food Council. Debra Van Der Weide, the council's executive director, said demos will be conducted in 1,200 southern California supermarkets on the first and third weekends of March. Among the stores to be included: Hughes Family Markets, Ralphs Grocery Co., Vons Cos., Lucky Stores, Food 4 Less Supermarkets, Alpha Beta, Boys Markets and Viva.
The council also will hold its annual display contest, which features about $20,000 in cash prizes for the winners. Rather than opting for the national slogan, the council has selected its own theme -- "Lights, Camera, Action -- Frozen Satisfaction."
Van Der Weide expects lots of entrants in the display competition. "The one chain that has 100% participation and has in the past is Food 4 Less. But Vons does a good job, also," she added.
One of the more unusual promotions is being conducted by the North Texas Frozen Food Association. A local radio personality and his dog -- which has been renamed "Ice Cube" for the event -- will lead shoppers in a contest called "Frozen Food Football." Consumers will try to win prizes by tossing frozen food packages through a goal built from sacks of ice cubes.
"We give the chains the option to send us to whatever store they're focused on promoting at, or one of their top stores in the market," said Rita Morelli, a spokeswoman for the association.
"We've got six major retailers in the market, so we go to each one of them." Tom Thumb, Kroger Co., Minyard Food Stores, Winn-Dixie Stores, Albertson's and stores in the Fleming group are the chains involved, she said. "We also have Food Lions here, but the local brokers don't have as much in-store work with them as they do with the Dallas-based chains. A character called 'Perry Penguin' will go out to another six stores for a freezer giveaway," Morelli added.
Other retailers will be attempting to unseat Kroger as the council's award winner this year.
"Kroger is a real big participant in this market with frozen food month and they won our local penguin award for the last [several] years," said Morelli. "Their buyer, Debby Smith, just goes all out to make sure they get it. "I think they're going to have a bit more competition this year from Minyard. They seem to be putting together a big program on their own and they want to get that trophy back. They want it in their lobby. It's a pretty competitive market."
The month-long event will begin in grand style with a kickoff dinner at The Ballpark, the new stadium for the Texas Rangers baseball team. At least one group, the Frozen Food Association of the Delaware Valley, has organized its promotion with a slant away from the stores.
"We're strictly with media and River Rink, which has become a very, very popular spot in Philadelphia," said Cyndy Gwilliam, a spokeswoman for the group. "The exposure is going to be tremendous for frozen food month."
Gwilliam said radio spots will direct consumers to save labels from selected frozen food products to receive discounted admission to the rink. Upon leaving the rink, skaters will be given coupons for additional frozens items. A sampling night will be held at the rink on March 4.
"We're excited about it," Gwilliam said. "We haven't had a real good go for frozen food month for about five or six years. The pendulum was swinging the opposite way for us. "We were one of the first groups to become actively involved in National Frozen Food Month and we were very successful for years and were at our wit's end as far as putting a program together that the manufacturers would participate in. So we're pleased with the reaction we've gotten," Gwilliam said, noting that 21 packers have agreed to participate this year.