Although the principles of merchandising frozen food are the same as the fundamentals for promoting ambient products, it’s considerably more difficult to pull off because glass doors in reach-in freezer cabinets stand between shoppers and products on display.
“Unlike chilled and ambient product, frozen food is usually merchandised behind some sort of physical barrier, such as a door or lid,” said Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). “Consumer engagement with the category is therefore really important as customers only tend to open the freezer door if they’re certain they want to purchase the product.”
Visual impact is far harder to achieve in the freezer section when compared to ambient departments, as it’s a challenge to display food products in an aesthetically appealing way when they are behind glass and concealed within packaging.
“The category is usually located at the end of the shopper journey, which may not encourage people on non-frozen missions to browse this area,” explained Lucy Ingram, retail analyst at Watford, England-based IGD. “Jumbo Foodmarkt stores in the Netherlands are one of a number of retailers increasing consideration of frozen products by ranging them close to chilled equivalents, making it easier for shoppers to compare options.”
Sustainability remains a key issue for the retail sector and as a result innovations within the frozen food sector have been driven by energy efficiency.
“Equipment has become more energy efficient,” said Jim Clifton, head of merchandising at Iceland. “Upright freezers have become easier to use and even more space efficient.”
Consumers with increasingly busy lifestyles are looking for convenience when shopping, which has presented a great opportunity for the frozen sector as it meets this demand.
Highlighting the health benefits of products through on-pack communication is now more commonplace as is using social media platforms, such as Instagram, to show consumers what the end product will look like.“Retailers and suppliers are finding a number of ways to capitalize on this, with three trends standing out as having the biggest impact in the department: category evolution, delivering value and ease and convenience,” explained Ingram. “With the rise of industry trends such as health, sustainability and the role social media plays, we’re seeing the frozen category evolve significantly to engage with shoppers in these areas.”
“Communicating value for money is key in the frozen category,” continued Ingram. “Making the most visual impact and clearly communicating this message to shoppers should be an area of focus for retailers. Bright, bold messages communicating value can be seen across all retailers in this area.”
Farmfoods, for example, is delivering value with multi-buy offers aimed at families and is integral to the retailer’s offering. It makes full use of impactful messaging both inside and outside stores to clearly establish their value offering.
Ease and convenience is hugely appealing to consumers and given that the frozen food section is the least simple to navigate, retailers are endeavoring to make the process easier and more enjoyable for them.
“Increasing awareness of newly introduced frozen ranges is a tactic being seen by retailer B&M,” said Ingram. “Placing frozen ranges adjacent to fresh will also offer a more prominent place in store, as we’re currently seeing from Sainsbury’s.”
Historically, food retailers underestimated the importance of creating a warmer environment in the frozen food aisles and the positive impact this could have on sales, as shoppers could spend longer browsing in comfort.
The introduction of closed cabinets has certainly helped with this issue, pointed out Duncan Hill, managing director of HL Display Products in Essex.
Once again, convenience has been a driving force in many campaigns with retailers using merchandising techniques to offer complete meal solutions all in one place for ultimate accessibility.
The Co-op chain is one of the best proponents of this approach, according to Harrow.
“Their meal deal on frozen, with everything all in one cabinet, has performed very well in the last two to three years,” said the BFFF chief executive.
Iceland also maximizes opportunities with strategic merchandising by ensuring high visibility, particularly for new product launches, which are often given their own dedicated cabinet and follow seasonal trends.
“We flex our flow in stores seasonally to ensure that in the summer we have plenty of burgers, sausages and ice cream and more core food groups in the winter,” said Clifton. “These trends have remained for a long time.”
Changes in the way frozen products are presented on shelves have evolved as shelving technology has improved. Historically, boxes and bags were flat-packed. This meant that branding was hidden from the customers’ view, which negatively impacted on sales. However, there are now innovative merchandising solutions available that avoid this issue. The Next cross bar pusher system from HL Display is the perfect example.
“Next maximizes the amount of merchandising space available within the freezer for retailers who want to replace existing shelving,” explained Hill. “It creates dedicated product lanes so that empty space is minimized. Pushers attach on to a rear cross bar and feed product to the front of the fixture with branding clear and always front facing. These are key factors for boosting sales.”
This style of self-facing equipment not only helps with presentation and range visibility, but also helps stock rotation and reduces waste. Additionally, it means that staff don’t need to spend much time facing up, which reduces costs and increases sales.
As a naturally chillier and less inviting section in the supermarket, lighting is being increasingly used to create a more warm and welcoming ambience with greater visual appeal in the frozen aisles.
“This is particularly important to close the gap between chilled and frozen categories, because chilled categories tend to invite in-store browsing, while frozen is normally shopped on auto pilot,” said Hill.
The success of this approach is evident when comparing the performance of frozen with fresh. According to the BFFF, frozen grew at 4.7% per annum for the 52-week period ending on December 30, 2018, versus fresh which saw growth of just 3.7%.
The frozen food sector is enjoying increased sales, which can be attributed, in part, to more sophisticated merchandising strategy. With improved cabinet technology and specialized lighting, retailers have successfully managed to improve shoppers’ experiences in the frozen aisles. By enticing them to spend more time browsing, they have successfully managed to increase frozen sales. – Reported by Sarah Welsh