Is there life after National Frozen Food Month? One of the industry's bigger, more successful case-moving promotions, the March event is well supported by retailers, manufacturers and local frozen food organizations.
But retailers and others representing a cross-section of participants in March National Frozen Food Month are eager to expand on that sole nationally supported effort.
While one obvious goal would be to extend the uptick in sales the monthlong promotion brings, another is to build up frozen foods awareness, they told SN.
"We sell frozen foods 12 months out of the year, so maybe rather than just a March event we need to have a theme promotion every season," said Pat Brooks, director of perishables at Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.
Brooks is a former president of the Northern California Frozen Food Association, one of the network of local groups that are credited with the success of NFFM. Said Mike Ryan, director of the Eastern Frozen Food Association, Paterson, N.J., "It was exciting [in 1993] to have a 6.7% increase in tonnage over the previous March, in the biggest food market in the country.
"I know that people responded to the values, but in my view a one-month program cannot accomplish a distinct need we have for educating the consumer at large how valuable frozen foods are in terms of freshness."
Ryan said that would require a better-financed national strategy on the order of "what the beef and pork people" had done. The suggestions from Brooks, Ryan and others will be getting hearings very soon, according to H.V. "Skip" Shaw Jr., executive vice president of the National Frozen Food Association, Harrisburg, Pa., organizer and coordinator of the March promotion since it became an annual event in 1984.
"What we are looking to do is to explore the opportunities that we have in promoting frozen foods year-round," Shaw said. "As a matter of fact, that topic will be the main thrust at our second-annual executive conference on promoting and merchandising frozen foods in April in Houston." In the 10 years of NFFM, tonnage sales, measured in recent years by Nielsen and reported by NFFA, have increased 19.4%, with dollar sales shooting ahead 39.9%. NFFA contends that it can improve on those gains.
Retailers pointed out that they are already running multiple events, either individually or in concert with others in their markets, so there are plenty of time-tested models for consideration.
A frozen food and dairy executive at Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., said that although his chain regularly chooses October and Lent as frozen food feature periods and gets behind July Ice Cream Month, Winn-Dixie is also a big booster of national activity during NFFM.
Sales increased 5% in March, he added. "We feel it has helped our sales after Frozen Food Month as well as during the event and raised the awareness of frozen foods to our customers," said the Winn-Dixie official, who asked not to be identified. At Nash Finch Co., the Minneapolis-based retailer-wholesaler, "we didn't feel that one month was enough to promote frozen foods. We extended the promotion to three months," said Dick Hamblin, manager of corporate merchandising.
Industrywide promotions for 1994 promise to be more elaborate than has been the norm in prior years, encompassing car and house giveaways, TV and radio, and trip-for-two sweepstakes prizes. A raft of national associations have scheduled marketing events in and around March starting in 1994, doing their share to keep frozen food messages in front of the consumer for longer periods.
The organizations include the American Frozen Food Institute, which is being aided by the Produce for Better Health Foundation in its plans to tie frozen fruits and vegetables into the 5-a-Day fresh produce campaign. The AFFI-sponsored promotions will kick off in early February and continue until early spring.
Ice cream is another frozen category jumping on the March bandwagon, too, in addition to its traditional July month. The Ice Cream for America promotion, under the sponsorship of the National Dairy Board, the American Dairy Association and the International Ice Cream Association, will feature a full-page freestanding insert drop on March 6 to a potential audience of 58 million, plus an offer good for $50 in coupons that will appear in the March issue of several women's service and general interest magazines. The biggest attention-grabber, however, is expected to be the 1994 National Frozen Food Month Consumer Sweepstakes, themed "Proud to Be the Best" and represented by Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair.
NFFA is anticipating more than 230,000 entries for the prizes, well ahead of the 69,000 shopper entries attracted by the first sweeps in 1991, and there is talk of extra funding from more manufacturers that would raise entry totals possibly as soon as 1995.
The sweeps have enjoyed enormous popularity in the trade because they amplify regional and local promotions. Consumers enter by clipping the logo of a sponsoring brand from frozen food ads appearing in local grocery circulars. At the same time, many manufacturers, including those who contribute to national FSIs, are now "getting more of a bang for their buck" with their funds at the grassroots level, industry sources noted. There has been a terrific surge in the formation of local associations and ad hoc groups in what the industry likes to call "penguinized" markets.
The number of local groups -- nine when the promotion began -- is presently about 70, including 20 food-service organizations. (The food-service effort dates from 1987.) Growth is also reflected in Golden Penguins, the NFFA "Oscars" for best promotions, which since 1992 have included international entries. Golden Penguin awards in 1993 for an expanding number of rewardable categories totaled 37, more than double that of the mid-1980s.
Award-winning merchandisers confirmed the growth in participation. Larry King, director of frozen foods at Richfood, Richmond, Va., said his local association had no trouble at all increasing sponsors from 20 in 1993 to 27 for 1994, for example.
"It seems that participation from manufacturers and brokers is growing each year," said Art Reginelli, frozen foods buyer-merchandiser for Heinen's Supermarkets, an 11-unit chain based in Warrensville, Ohio. "And that's important because they drive our programs and are giving us additional opportunities," Reginelli said. Heinen's specifically was recognized for a tie-in promotion that helped the homeless in Cleveland.