Food retailing is an industry that often has its eyes on whatever is new: ECR, HMR, ABC or what have you. In that context, it's easy to overlook the fact that a good, solid promotion that's executed well can produce very favorable results.
Such a promotion is the National Frozen Food Month. That event has run faithfully every March for no less than 15 years now. And, for each of those 15 years, the category has seen a sales spike.
The success of the promotion is well illustrated by the simple fact the both manufacturers and retailers return year after year to the event, and get good results.
How good are those results? As you'll see by taking a look at the news feature compiled by SN's Center Store associate editor Maryellen Lo Bosco, this year's event produced a strong 3.9% sales increase. The article is on Page 51.
Let's look more closely at the numbers: The success of the promotional event is underscored by the fact that while frozens were lifted significantly, sales increases for the balance of the store, less frozens, were just 0.9%. This year's success comes on the heels of increases during previous March periods that were more or less, but always impressive: During March 1997, the increase was 4.2%, 1996, 3%, 1995, 1.4% and 1994, 4.6%. These numbers are from Information Resources, Inc. ACNielsen's reckoning shows increases of a different magnitudes and also shows that unit volume declined by 1.6% this March and 0.6% last March. All numbers are by way of the National Frozen Food Association.
As for overall directions in frozens, the trend in recent years has been toward dollar-volume increases, but unit-sales declines.
In any case, the long-time success of the March promotion illustrates what can be accomplished when stores and vendors plow energy into a category promotion, even a category that isn't setting the world on fire.
Here's a summary of how a few store operators, all cited in this week's news article, were able to put the frozens promotion to work for them:
Play music: One store hired a disc jockey and had its customers dancing in the aisles. Demonstrations of frozen food were conducted during the dance party and at other times too.
Face the competition: Another store used a meal-solutions theme and showed its shoppers, by means of signs, how much easier it is to prepare frozen food at home than it is to go to a fast-food restaurant.
Penguins: And, of course, numerous store operators used penguin cutouts and signs in one way or another to decorate stores and build interest.
The success of this promotion brings to mind the idea that if there were clear and sustained promotions the year around, or for much of the year, the entire category might start to register some real unit-sales gains.
As a beginning, the industry might look toward supporting messages that would particularly resonate with consumers right now, namely that frozen foods offer a big safety advantage, along with superior nutrition and freshness. That could be backed by information about the category's timeless attributes of convenience, quality and price.