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$2.4-B microwavable food market in USA led by frozen breakfast, popcorn products.

Retail sales of microwavable foods sold in all USA retail outlets in 1992 totaled over $2.4 billion, and consumers purchased just under 900 million pounds of foods designed specifically for microwave oven preparation. So says The Market for Microwavable Foods, a report recently published by Find/SVP, the New York-based consulting firm.

Microwavable frozen breakfast and popcorn products clearly dominate the market for microwavable foods. On a dollar basis, Find/SVP estimates that the two product categories accounted for 56.3% of total sales.

Despite the growth of the overall market from 1989-92, it should be noted that annual growth rates have dramatically decelerated since 1991. Of 15 microwavable food categories, only four -- frozen breakfasts, shelf-stable entrees, shelf-stable popcorn, and frozen and refrigerated gravies -- have shown continual annual tonnage growth. Each of the remaining 11 categories have charted both dollar and tonnage declines for at least one of the 52-week periods.

Total sales of microwavable products are forecast to grow from 1992 dollar volumes of $2.4 billion to $2.7 billion in 1997. It is further anticipated that tonnage volumes for the entire market will advance from 1992 levels of 917 million pounds to 1.1 billion pounds in 1997. "At first glance," said Catherine Roberts, author of the study, "the growth rates may seem rather lackluster. But the numbers are rather deceiving when you take into account that only seven of the fifteen product categories will be responsible for the growth of the total market."

The seven growth categories are frozen breakfasts, frozen sandwiches, frozen potato products, shelf-stable popcorn, shelf stable entrees, refrigerated sauces and refrigerated prepared poultry. Sales declines are expected for frozen pizza, shelf-stable soup and dessert baking mix products. The report also predicts that five categories of microwave-specific products will be eliminated altogether by 1997 as a result of product withdrawals from all competing manufacturers. These are frozen entrees, frozen vegetables, shelf-stable side dishes, shelf-stable dinners, and refrigerated breakfast sausage products.

The microwavable foods market has been shaped more by failures than by achievements. With supermarket sales volumes down in 1992 for 10 of 15 product categories, it is clear that success remains elusive for what was once considered one of the most promising segments of the convenience foods market. The current trends are:

* Promises of convenience and quality made to the consumer remain unfulfilled.

* Little product differentiation exists within categories.

* Relatively high-priced microwavable products offer less actual or perceived value.

* Microwave-specific line extensions have been introduced even when existing products are microwavable.

* Scant attention has been paid to how consumers use their ovens.

* A dearth of technological innovation prevents the market from advancing.

* A lack of commitment to new product introductions is pervasive.

* Costs of participation have become unjustifiably excessive.

* The recession has adversely affected consumer spending patterns.

"Just look at the trends, they're all negative," said Roberts. "The trade-offs that consumers have been asked to make for the sake of convenience are clearly unacceptable."

According to Roberts, it's not unheard of for companies to spend an average of $25 million to launch new microwavable products only to see those products fail after little more than a year. In fact, over the past two years, the market has undergone a significant shakeout, resulting in a considerable number of product withdrawals. Many companies have learned that the microwave oven user is not very forgiving.
COPYRIGHT 1993 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Frozen Foods in North America
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Product managers advised to study American consumer trends checklist.
Next Article:'Breakfast of champions' in the USA is apt to be frozen or refrigerated.

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