Filling In With Frozen

As just-in-time shopping increases, consumers are spreading their dinner dollars across more channels and retailers
Frozen food aisle

A typical grocery store has a lot of square footage devoted to frozen food—space that isn’t as readily available in c-stores. But don’t write off­ frozen completely.

“We are seeing a lot more just-in-time shopping, and this is causing shoppers to spread their dollars across more channels and retailers,” says Susan Viamari, vice president of thought leadership for Chicago-based IRI.

Specifically, 19% of shoppers use c-stores most often for fill-in trips, according to a November 2014 General Mills Convenience & Foodservice survey. Think of the customer who comes in for a c-store staple such as a Red Bull or even a gallon of milk and grabs a frozen pizza at the same time.

In fact, pizza is one of the top five categories in frozen, with dollar sales increasing 7.6% in multioutlet channels (gas/c-stores, supermarkets, drug stores, mass market, military commissaries and select club and dollar chains) during the 52 weeks ending Oct. 2, 2016, according to IRI.


Shoppers who visit convenience stores most often for fill-in trips

Source: General Mills Convenience & Foodservice

The category that’s doing the best in terms of growth, however, is frozen appetizers and snack rolls. Dollar sales have increased 11.3%, according to IRI. “The reason for this is the whole grab-and-go, quick-and-easy, flavor excitement sort of trend,” says Viamari.

The rest of the top five are frozen novelties, with dollar sales increasing 5.7%; ice  cream/sherbet, up 6.0%; and frozen dinners/entrees, up 0.6%. These five categories make up 90% of frozen sales, Viamari says.

She offers these tips for tailoring a convenience store’s frozen-food department:

Think outside the category. “Don’t take that pure category view,” Viamari says. “Look at the store and look at your opportunities through the lens of the customer trying to satisfy a specific need state,” which is, “I’m hungry, and I’m on the run and I need something to eat right now.”

Cater to indulgences. C-stores are already known for helping consumers cure their cravings for indulgence, so “think about exciting flavors, local flavors, artisan flavors as well as appropriate ethnic flavors that are going to bring some excitement,” Viamari says.

Don’t forget about healthy. “There absolutely is a place for healthy within the frozen-food section,” she says. “Looking beyond just the c-store channel, a lot of growth in frozen foods is coming from premium-end products, and so consumers are really  looking for something that’s healthier but still quick and easy and exciting.”

Be microscopic. A one-size-fits-all offering won’t work: “Even within the same ZIP code, you are going to have a lot of different consumer segments,” Viamari says.