As the weather gets colder, shoppers are turning their attention to private-label vegetables for soup, stew and stir-fry recipes, according to retailers.
"Some of my bagged brussels sprouts, whole baby carrots and other varieties aren't what they used to be, but sales seem pretty good on the blends," said Michael DiGeronimo, frozen-food buyer at Victory Super Markets, Leominster, Mass.
"[Private-label blends] are good for quick-fix meals," said Roger Burks, senior vice president of The Mad Butcher in Pine Bluff, Ark. "All [consumers] have to do is add meat or chicken, and they've got themselves a complete meal."
With temperatures dropping across the country, consumers are looking for more hot meal solutions, into which private-label blends fit perfectly, said a buyer at a Northeast retailer.
"Now is when [blends] start to move because people start to use them for soups and other recipes," said the buyer, who requested anonymity.
"Mixed vegetables are really starting to take off," he added. "We've got a private-label soup mix and stew mix. We do really well with them."
Larry Brown, grocery and frozen-food buyer at Balls Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan., told SN his private-label frozen-vegetable sales are strong. "There's a seasonal change to them," Brown added.
Private-label vegetable blends are currently performing well within the frozen-vegetable category, which has experienced flat or declining sales recently. For the 52 weeks ended Aug. 11, private-label frozen-vegetable blends generated just over $183 million in sales, up 1.2% over the previous year, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago. Private-label blends account for 32% of the frozen-vegetable-blend sales, according to IRI.
Single-item frozen vegetables are not as strong. Private-label frozen peas, corn and beans generated $91.1 million, $81.7 million and $103 million in sales, respectively, for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 11. All three segments were down: peas, 2.8%; corn, 1.5%; and beans, 1.1%.
Private-label blends sell almost as well as their branded counterparts, retailers told SN. Price points for Best Choice, Balls Food Stores' private label, range from $1.09 to $1.55, depending on the flavor, said Brown. "That's a 35% gross profit," he said.
Branded frozen-vegetable blends from Green Giant and Birdseye generate a 22% or 24% gross profit, Brown said. Green Giant sells a little better at Balls because it promotes its products more often, he added.
DiGeronimo of Victory also cited profitability as a bonus for private-label blends. "You make a bigger margin promoting the blends," said DiGeronimo. "With private-label peas or corn, for instance, you can't really make a big margin."
Private-label frozen-vegetable blends have to sell themselves, retailers told SN. That's because national brands have more money to promote their products, so they get the prime endcap promotional space within frozen food departments.
Brown said he rarely promotes private-label frozen vegetables because private label lacks promotional funds. But low price points help the products sell, he said.
"The brands promote with us more," said DiGeronimo of Victory. "I don't run a lot of private label on sale, but I tend to run the blends more than other types," he explained.
Some retailers, however, have successfully promoted their private-label blends as meal solutions. The Mad Butcher recently ran a stir-fry promotion that even included a pan, according to Burks.
"We ran [private-label blends] with the stir-fry pan and we had it all together at one price. It worked out really well," Burks said. The promotion was featured in an ad and backed up with in-store displays, said Burks.
Most retailers told SN that private-label frozen-vegetable blends can only compete with brands if they have comparable variety and quality.
"Our private label is very good," said David Goodyear, frozen-food manager for Dreshertown Shop 'n Bag in Upper Dublin, Pa. "Seabrook Farms does most of our packing on our private label, so we have a very good quality private label."
Shop 'n Bag stocks California, winter and oriental blends under its store-brand label. This selection is supplemented with Peking stir-fry and succotash, pea and onion combinations packed under the Frosty Acres label, Goodyear said.
"There needs to be more creativity with private-label mixtures," said Goodyear, adding that Birdseye has some blends with four or five different vegetables in them.
Some retailers, however, told SN they are carrying more interesting private-label frozen-vegetable blends. "We have stew vegetables, stir-fry, oriental, Italian and country vegetables," said Brown of Balls.
During a recent store visit to a unit of Tom Thumb in Dallas, SN discovered an assortment of fancy private-label frozen vegetables that included Thai and Classic Cantonese stir-fry blends packed under the President's Choice label.