BOSTON -- Consumers give frozen food a good rating, but although almost everyone has food in their freezers at home, they seem to forget about moving it out and onto the table. With frozen-food sales averaging 10% or less of a supermarket's sales, and capacity outstripping consumption, the frozen-food industry has its work cut out.
Raising the awareness of frozen food as a meal solution "tonight" is an industry challenge that was addressed at the recent 55th annual National Frozen Food Convention held here Oct. 2 to 6.
"We have talked about trying to come up with a national campaign like the dairy industry's 'Got Milk?' campaign," said Pat Brooks, frozen-food director for Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., and vice chairman of the retail advisory committee for the National Frozen Food Association, Harrisburg, Pa. But the difference is that for milk, it was a generic campaign -- harder, if not impossible, to do for a diverse group of foods like frozen, which includes juice, potatoes, entrees, ice cream, etc., he told SN.
"Soaring Ahead Through Teamwork" was the convention's theme, and it was co-sponsored by the American Frozen Food Institute, Washington.
The number of delegates -- fewer than 1,000 -- was down from 1998's 1,069, a result of the industry's continuous consolidation. At its peak during the 1970s, delegate attendance topped 3,000, according to Nevin Montgomery, NFFA president.
Retail and wholesale buyers from 35 grocery companies arrived here at various times before the Sunday night opening reception. Slotting fees, industrywide consolidation, the effects of e-commerce, functional foods and national politics were all discussed, and the first sitting U.S. senator, Gordon Smith, R-Ore., joined the Hall of Fame, as his wife, Sharon, now president of their company, Smith Frozen Foods, took a bow. Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary for President Clinton, gave the breakfast address on the second morning.
John R. Crown, corporate vice president for business development with Performance Food Group, Richmond, Va., was installed as chairman for next year, along with a slate of officers.
The Taste of Excellence reception Sunday night at the Westin Copley Place hotel here, orchestrated by Tom McCants, president of The Marketing Arm, Chicago, allowed suppliers to show off their latest products to an influential audience.
Local frozen-food associations met to discuss strategies in the face of declining enrollment caused by consolidation. One approach taken by the Frozen Food Council of North Carolina, Charlotte, was to invite dairy manufacturers in, since most of the supermarket frozen-food buyers the council deals with also have responsibility for the dairy section.
Less money for promotions was a common wail, with one broker telling SN that slotting fees -- the charge food retailers and wholesalers often impose to introduce a product into their systems -- are responsible. "Manufacturers write it off as advertising, but how do the supermarkets report it?" he wondered. Slotting fees are currently being examined by the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee.
Pierre J. Barlier and his business partner Dominique R. Eustache showed up with shiny three-ply polyethylene bags of various sizes, shapes and designs. The bags are insulated, and can keep frozen products frozen for three hours (an hour and a half for ice cream). The two, co-founders of KeepCool USA, Brooklyn, N.Y., said their product can render frozen food much more of an impulse item than it currently is. They are hoping to interest retailers in buying a supply to give away to customers, or to get food manufacturers to sponsor the bags, which cost $2 each.