Frozen breakfast items -- which offer busy consumers microwavable, toastable and "grab-and-go" options -- are being marketed for convenience in supermarket breakfast centers.
The amount of space devoted to frozen breakfast items, especially in newer stores, is a tip-off to their popularity. For example, a remodeled Waldbaum's unit in Stony Brook, N.Y., open about a year and a half, devotes 10 doors to breakfast and has labeled the section as such. Three adjacent doors are devoted to juice.
"Breakfast sections are growing," said Pat Brooks, frozen food/dairy/deli director of Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif. "The better-for-you meat and egg substitutes are selling well. There is a new Pillsbury product, Toaster Scrambles, coming to our stores this month. In most of our stores, where we can, we're putting the frozen juice next to the breakfast sections," Brooks continued.
While the percentage of breakfast meals that includes a frozen item has declined, the frozen breakfast category is growing.
Bill Spear, the new frozens buyer for Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz., said "sales in this category are very strong, and that's why we are expanding it."
Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group, Rosemont, Ill., said 17% of breakfasts -- reported by a 1998 survey of 5,200 individuals and drawn from 190,000 meal occasions -- included at least one item that was frozen. This percentage is the lowest in the last 13 years; in 1985, it was 23%.
NPD's eating trends survey result "probably has more to do with the number of items being served at breakfast, not so much a movement away from frozen per se. The average breakfast in 1985 contained 3.4 items; today, it's 3.1," Balzer explained. And the frozen breakfast number was higher than for lunch, which was 15%. Dinner had the highest percentage of frozen items, at 29%.
The small and perhaps not very meaningful decline wasn't news to Pat Brooks. "That's about what I've been hearing in seminars," said Brooks, who chairs the retail executive committee of the National Frozen Food Association, Harrisburg, Pa.
Barry Maddox, director of marketing for 11 Sewell-Allen Piggly Wiggly stores in the metro Memphis, Tenn., area, has been running a test of in-line merchandising of frozen breakfast foods in his largest unit (60,000 square feet) in Bartlett, Tenn.
In the frozen breakfast category, he said, "we dropped 40% of the items, which were 10% of the sales." After two quarters, Maddox said, "the observation is that it is doing extremely well." One dual-temperature case has frozen breakfast items in the top section, with chilled products at the bottom. "Impulse shopping has increased dramatically throughout all these presentations," Maddox said.
"In frozens, the only thing done differently was that we decreased the number of items we carried. The presentation looks like there is more variety, because it gives more facings on the best sellers."
Frozen waffles are the most popular frozen breakfast item, he said, while bagels are declining.
"We will measure the results after a year, but it's doing well enough that this look will be incorporated in the new stores we are going to build over the next two years.
"Even if you can't measure a big increase in sales, if your consumer feels like you carry a lot more variety, then there's value to us," Maddox said.
The Bartlett store devotes 36 feet, all in doors, to breakfast, plus the 8-foot dual-temperature case. All breakfasts foods are on aisle one, Maddox said.
The frozen breakfast category is growing for Buehler Foods, Jasper, Ind., according to Kim Heseman, category manager of frozen food. Growth is being stimulated by new items, he said.
Frozen items used first thing in the morning can include a toaster pastry, frozen waffles, or even a breakfast pizza containing bacon, scrambled eggs and two kinds of cheese on a biscuit-style crust.
"The meal is changing toward convenience. Trends are toward less preparation and more portability of food," Balzer said.
Frozen bagels for breakfast are not as popular as they used to be. Save Mart carries Lenders bagels, but the Big 'N Crusty variety is not successful, so the chain is dropping them, Brooks said.
Information Resources Inc., Chicago, reported that the frozen-bagel category as a whole declined by 11.4% last year.