Retailers are working to get larger profits from their family- and club-pack frozens, with some focusing on integration and others on separation.
Some supermarkets, such as Lucky Stores' San Leandro, Calif.-based southern division and Buehler Foods, Jasper, Ind., have substantial club-pack sections, while others, like Spokane, Wash.-based Rosauers Supermarkets and Balls Food Stores in Kansas City, Kan., have a limited selection. Still others told SN that they have very few items, or even no items at some locations.
"Frozen [club-pack items] are growing," said Norm Borden, buyer for grocery and frozens at Nickel's Payless Stores, Visalia, Calif. "It's lagging behind grocery because we sell a tremendous amount of grocery in club packs. But frozens is increasing. We've expanded in the last year."
Borden said club packs, which are given their own section in the freezer case, will continue to grow, although more so in Food 4 Less warehouse stores rather than in the conventional Food King and Payless stores. Club packs are currently given up to 12 feet in the larger stores.
Dave Renaldi, director of merchandising for Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind., said he hasn't had great success with the mix, which is merchandised in a separate section at the end of the aisle. Stores devote anywhere from 3 to 12 feet to the large sizes.
"We don't have plans to expand right now. We tried it and spent a lot of time and effort on it, but it just didn't work," he said.
Tom Rose, director of category management for grocery and frozens at Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City, said the majority of the stores he supplies in 38 states have frozen club packs, but with a limited selection. Club packs are mostly integrated with regular items. He doesn't expect this business to grow much, either.
"Retailers don't see frozens in warehouse clubs as a big challenge to them, although the grocery side is a whole different story," he said.
"It's pretty much going to stay where it is. Vendors are not coming up with new items to go after that business," he said.
When asked who is buying the greater variety of frozen club-pack items that can be found at some mass stores, Rose replied, "I don't think it's much on the retail-consumer side."
He also noted that "Stouffer's [large entrees] are not an everyday meal."
"Smaller restaurants may be utilizing the club stores," he speculated.
A store-level source at a BJ's Wholesale Club in Rotterdam, N.Y., which carries an impressive array of frozen club-pack items, from entrees to hors d'oeuvres and vegetables, said restaurateurs aren't the only ones buying club packs. "It's pretty much everybody," said the source, who did not want to be identified.
"The freezer is one of our better-selling areas," he said, noting that the grocery and freezer items in club sizes sell equally well. This BJ's has been open about eight months.
A Kmart superstore in San Antonio, which did not have a great variety of items according to a store-level source, has been carrying frozen club packs for a long time.
"We carry what [the supermarkets] carry, but we are pretty competitive on our prices," the source said. His impression was that larger families buy club packs. Special events -- like the Super Bowl and other large parties or gatherings -- will also prompt people to buy larger sizes.
"Hors d'oeuvres sell the best. Chicken wings sell well year-round, along with mozzarella sticks, pizza rolls, and French fries," said the source at BJ's.
During a recent visit to the Albany, N.Y., market area, SN noted that BJ's had an extensive selection, including traditional finger foods like chicken wings, chicken fingers and stuffed appetizers; Mexican, Chinese, and French gourmet appetizers; and Swedish and Italian meatballs. According to the store-level source, in the snack category alone, the unit carries about 40 different items.
Although this club store is probably an anomaly, it is worth noting that large sizes are not languishing in the freezer case.
On the West Coast, SN recently visited some Lucky/Savon combination stores in the Anaheim, Calif., area and found Max Pak Aisles, which stocked a large variety of both grocery and freezer items.
At one store in Garden Grove, Calif., frozen club and family packs were given 33 doors, six of which were devoted to ice cream. Items included Lender's Bagels, Ore Ida Bagel Bites, Hot Pockets, Hormel cheeseburgers and Stouffer's French Bread Pizza.
The Max Pak brand of various chicken parts in 6-pound bags -- thighs, breast tenders, drumsticks, leg quarters and party wings -- could also be purchased, along with potatoes and other vegetables and Stouffer's dinners.
According to a store-level source at a Lucky's in Mission Viejo, Calif., "All of the Max Pak sections do well." He also mentioned that the section had been expanded about a year ago. Most of the retailers SN polled agreed that one of the best-selling items in a large size is Stouffer's 6-pound lasagna.
"We have Stouffer's, Encore frozen dinners and Banquet buffet sizes," said Pat Redmond, grocery buyer for Rosauers Supermarkets.
His store carries very few club packs. "They are not really setting the world on fire for us. We're an upscale chain and we don't have buyers with large families," he said.
"We sell quite a few large bags of fruit and multipack pizza, corn on the cob, bagels, microwave pancakes, bagel bites, poppers and entrees, including lots of Stouffer's," said Chuck Sotzing, category manager for Buehler Foods.
Sotzing's store merchandises large sizes separately, in an area that can be as small as 4 feet or as large as 15 feet.
"We've received favorable comments from customers, and the wholesale section seems to be shopped quite well," Sotzing said. Of the variety of different types of large-sized frozens on the market, several retailers said lasagna sells the best.
"The biggest items are Stouffer's 6-pound lasagna and Tyson's 4-pound chicken, said Rose of Fleming.
According to Renaldi, frozen vegetables, Eggo waffles, french fries, and Lender's bagels all do well at the Martin's stores.
Food Circus Supermarkets, Middletown, N.J., integrates club packs with regular items.
"We've been into [large sizes] for about three years, but we've weeded most of them back out and have roughly about seven or eight items left," said Lou Scaduto Jr., director of frozens and dairy at Food Circus.
Scaduto explained that turns were not high enough to continue having a separate area for club packs. He still carries large sizes of SuperPretzel pretzels, French bread pizza, bulk mixed fruit and strawberries, french fries and bagels.
At Nickel's Payless, club packs are given their own section, where entrees from Ruiz do especially well in areas with a large number of Hispanic shoppers. Large-pack vegetables are also popular.
"People are finding it's more economical. They get what they want at a better price," Borden said.
Retailers agreed that to make room for club sizes, other items had to be eliminated from the lineup.
"We continually review," said Borden. "That's a constant battle, with movement and expansion."
Sotzing also mentioned that "We ran reports on frozen sections and deleted slow-moving items."
Meanwhile, Bob Annand, frozens and dairy buyer at Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass., said that his stores generally do not have the space for club packs.
Balls Food Stores allows the decision to carry club packs to be made at the store level, although most stores have few large sizes, according to Larry Brown, grocery and frozens buyer for the chain.
Most of the retailers said that their prices on large sizes were competitive with what was offered by the club stores.
Sotzing promotes large sizes frequently. "About every four to six weeks, we run club-pack sales for both frozens and grocery, and also put quite a few items on an everyday low price for a month at a time."
He uses newspaper ads, and has some large signs above the area where club packs are merchandised, sometimes in doors and sometimes in coffins.