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Frozen chic steals the show.

The frozen food category warmed the hearts--and pocketbooks--of retailers and manufacturers alike in 1983. Putting recessionary softness behind it at last, the category showed a significant sales gain of approximately 8% over the year before. What's more, net profits averaged 10.9%, compared with 6.8% back in 1978, according to a recent study conducted at the University of Florida.

The show stoppers continued to be the premium-priced dinner and entree items tailored to upscale and diet-conscious consumers. These have been proliferating the last few years and are causing a space crunch in the supermarket freezer case. Besides the established Stouffer's Lean Cuisine and regular entree line, Campbell's Le Menu dinners, Armour's Dinner Classics and Foodways National's Weight Watchers line, new entries last year included Green Giant Stir-Fry Entrees from Pillsbury, ConAgra's Light & Elegant entrees, Armour's Classic Lite line, and Swift International Entrees. Among this year's line debuts are Famous Restaurant Classics from Benihana of Tokyo, a line of frozen dinners, entrees and mini-meals sold under the Del Monte brand name, and six Le Menu single-serving entrees which are in test market in the Pacific Northwest.

Other premium-priced line extensions last year included Lean Cuisine's beef & pork cannelloni, cheese cannelloni and Salisbury steak with Italian sauce and vegetables additions. This past April, five new varieties--stuffed cabbage, fillet of fish jardiniere, chicken a l'orange, chicken cacciatore and linguine with clam sauce--went into test markets.

Similarly, Le Menu added four new varieties to its dinner line in 50% of the country last spring: chicken Florentine, flounder fillet, chicken cordon bleu and vegetable lasagna.

ConAgra's '84 additions to the Light & Elegant entree line are lasagna Florentine, spaghetti & meat sauce, and barbecued chicken with rice.

In the Weight Watchers line, Chicken cacciatore, beef Orientale and Italian cheese lasagna debuted this year. And the Pepperidge Farm Vegetables in Pastry line was extended to include Oriental Garden, ratatouille, Mexican style and green beans with mushrooms.

Jerry McCann, group product manager for Armour Food's Dinner Classics, says, "Prepared frozen dinner sales amounted to $750 last year, up almost 40% from the year before."

He explains that the company's latest Classic Lite line features nine calorie-control dinners in varieties such as surf and turf and chicken Oriental.

Charles Weiss, vice president of marketing for Del Monte, says the company's first frozen product line bearing the Del Monte name competes in both popular and premium-priced segments. The line includes more than 25 single-dish entrees, dinners and hand-held frozen products and is still in test market.

"The higher priced products will continue to grow," says Weiss, "but growth is not limited to these items."

He points out that ethnic lines have also been performing admirably. "In the frozen Oriental market, we've been experiencing nothing short of explosive growth," adds Weiss, whose company produces the Chun King Oriental line as well as Patio Mexican specialties. He reports that case sales of frozen Oriental items increased 30% in 1983 from the year before. And Mexican frozen foods were also up more than 14% on a case volume basis last year, he says. Among 1983 line extensions were reformulated Chun King entrees teamed up with rice as well as two new Chun King entree items--crunchy walnut chicken and Oriental chicken. In the Patio line, a new crispy burrito was also added.

"We're very bullish about the future of frozen ethnic foods," says Chris Binkley of Los Angeles-based Van de Kamp's Frozen Foods division. This year, the company added a new variety--sirloin burrito grande--to its Mexican Classics premium-quality entrees.

In other ethnic areas, Van de Kamp's Chinese Classics and Italian Classics entrees were both introduced into western markets last year.

Morton became the first economy-priced frozen dinner to include a dessert, according to Del Monte's Weiss. New dinners featuring chicken patties were also introduced.

Swanson, the market leader in medium-range TV dinners, reformulated, upgraded and repackaged all 44 of its products last year, according to a Campbell spokesman.

"We went to an Extra Helping dinner for our four-compartment line last year," says a Banquet spokesperson. The company also added three boneless chicken products--a pattie, a nugget and a "Drumsnacker"--to its three-compartment dinner line. Banquet also introduced Golden Fried Chicken in eight- and four-piece packages, and Hot Bites in nugget, wing and "drumsnack" shapes.

Other new prepared chicken products were also offered last year by both Victor F. Weaver Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. Weaver's 1983 intros were the chicken stick and chicken mini drum in two varieties. This year, Good 'N Wholesome Fried Chicken, and Crispy Light Chicken were added.

At Springdale, Ariz.-based Tyson Foods, pizza, nacho and taco varieties were added to the Chick'N Chunk line, and a Prime Breast Steak bowed. The company's latest rollouts are chicken patties, in Thick'N Zesty and Thick'N Crispy types.

As for frozen unprepared poultry, Swift's Jeff Durski, product manager for Butterball, says that "whole frozen" was down last year to 921 million pounds from 993 million pounds; that frozen breasts remained flat at 95 million pounds; and that boneless poultry increased 3 million pounds to 34 million pounds. He says Swift offered a boned, rolled and tied turkey breast last year.

Frozen vegetables continue to be among the freezer case's top sellers. "Total frozen vegetable tonnage was up 4% last year and the five-year projection is that it will grow 3-5% annually," says John Mann, category manager, prepared vegetables at the Birds Eye Division of General Foods Corp. He explains that regular vegetables grew 3% in tonnage, while prepared vegetables grew 5%, but adds that regular, blanched vegetables account for 78% of the total category. Private label still has the lion's share of the blanched vegetable market.

Last year, Birds Eye, the leader in branded frozen vegetables reformulated its International Recipe line, and added Mexicana-Style and Far Eastern-style. The company also reformulated its cheese sauce products. This year, a line of vegetables in butter sauce was put into lead markets.

At Pillsbury, Green Giant brand introduced a Harvest Fresh line with no sauce added last year.

As far as branded potato products go, last year was vert good, says Ore-Ida Foods Inc.'s Sue Garhardt. "Our sales increased 2%, to a 58.6% dollar share of the market." Among last year's new entries were Golden Patties and Crispy Crown.

The frozen fish story--for both prepared and uncoated categories--is also a tale of new product activity. Late last year, Van de Kamp's offered its first uncoated fish was flat in terms of tonnage last year, but the prepared fish was up 7% in pounds.

At Gorton's of Gloucester, Marketing Manager David Johnson says the company introduced a Light Recipe line of single-serving entrees and coated fish items late last year. It also has an unprepared fish line, Fish Market Fresh, in six test markets.

"Our sales were up on both raw and prepared fish categories," says Joyce Kucharvy, director of marketing at O'Donnell-Usen Fisheries, manufacturer of Taste O'Sea items. In January of 1983, the company introduced a line fo single-portion fish fillets. At year's end, a complete dinner line featuring the same entries was introduced. At the same time, Fish Nuggets, were offered. This year, Calico Scallops in a 12-ounce box were added to the raw fish line.

Mrs. Paul's Kitchens Inc. has also been cooking up some new entries of its own. Last year, the Light & Natural Fish fillets of cod, sole and flounder went national. This year, haddock joined the line.

The company also went into test market with its Light & Natural seafood entrees late last year. The seven-item line includes dishes such as fish Dijon, sole Florentine and fish mornay. The latest intro is a line of cornmeal-breaded catfish products n fillet and strip form, which was distributed in 12 southern markets this past April.

Last year's tonnage reports indicated that frozen pizza volume was "flat," but Tom Caron of Tony's Pizza Company in Marshall, Minn., who also heads up the National Frozen Pizza Institute, disagrees. "Last year was a growth year over 1982 in terms of tonnage," he says. "SAMI figures can be misleading because a fair amount of frozen pizza is store-door delivered and not shown in the calculations. I feel pizza grew 5% in tonnage last year."

Caron's company distributes Tony's and Red Baron brand pizza in markets across the country with exceptions of Southern California and New York City. Last year, Tony's Italian Pastry Crust line was introduced, and this year, the Red Baron line was reformulated. Jerry DeCroce, Stouffer's vice president of marketing, says 1983 was a good year for the company's French Bread Pizza. "Even though pizza sales have been flat lately, this past year, our pizza went against the trend." Among the line's new entries are single-serving pizza, double cheese pizza and Canadian bacon pizza. Back to breakfast

Although industry observes note that frozen concentrated orange juice registered a tonnage gain for 1983, the freeze which occurred last December left manufacturers with little to rejoice about. Now, say manufacturers, the amount of concentrate available for sale is not clear. Nor is the future price.

"Prices are already up," says Jack Mathews of the Florida Citrus Commission. "Whether retail prices will be higher will depend on the grocer. Juice is often sold as a loss leader. Grocers may not put the entire burden on the consumer right away."

Among the frozen concentrate introductions last year were Minute Maid Reduced Acid Orange Juice and Minute Maid Frozen Concentrate with More Pulp, from Coca-Cola Foods Company. Early this year, the company also rolled out Minute Maid Frozen Fruit Punch.

Procter & Gamble's first entry in the juice market, Citrus Hill frozen concentrate and chilled orange juice went national last Fall. Since, then, two new improved versions have gone into test markets. One, called Improved Citrus Hill, is being tested in frozen concentrate and chilled form in Indiana. The other, Citrus Hill Select, is available in test market in Iowa in frozen concentrate form only. The formulation is being supported by TV ads, print inserts, and couponing in test markets.

Another frozen juice entry is Del Monte's Island Blends line, also offered in aseptic packages and bottles.

There were also a number of bakery food breakfast items introduced both last year and this. The Kitchens of Sara Lee completed national distribution in its All Butter and Cheese croissant products in 1983, and this year introduced a new line of filled croissants in strawberry, chocolate, cinnamon nut raisin and apple. Pepperidge Farm made additions to its frozen muffin line late last year to include cinnamon swirl and carrot walnut. The company also introduced its Deep Dish Danish line.

Consumers can also look forward to a Pillbury Toaster Strudel pastry line which is scheduled to debut in the fall.

Other sweet goods introductions not geared to the breakfast table include Sara Lee Creative Cake Layers which were put into limited test markets last year. These are fully baked, unfrosted layers in golden or chocolate varieties which must be assembled.

The company is also restaging its pound cake line with new packaging and adding two new products, raisin walnut and chocolate chip. In addition, Sara Lee Elegant Endings cheesecakes in classic, pecan praline and chocolate chip types, are completing national rollout late this month.

Late last year, Pepperidge Farm introduced a Grand Marnier and a Dutch chocolate cake, and Weight Watchers came out with a dessert line including carrot cake, apple raisin spice cake, and apple cobbler, and plain and cherry cheesecakes. Recently, strawberry was added to the cheesecake line, and this coming September, a cream cheese frosting will be featured on the carrot and apple raisin spice cakes.

At Del Monte, spokesman Charles Weiss says Morton's new honey buns, introduces last fall, are doing exceptionally well. "As we go, the honey bun category goes, since we are the leader in hony buns, with 72% market share."

The frozen whipped toppings category has slowed in terms of growth, says General Foods Corporation's Steve Sadove, category manager of frozen toppings, who puts tonnage growth last year at 3-1/2%.

The company's Birds Eye Cool Whip non-dairy whipped topping is the market leader. It's Birds Eye Dover Farms whipped topping with real cream was introduced in the later part of '82 and is not available on the West Coast. However, Birds Eye Extra Creamy Dairy Recipe Cool whip, also containing some cream, went into national distribution last year.

At the same time, dairy-based La Creme frozen topping from Kraft, which had been introduced back in '81, completed its national rollout. According to spokesman Dave Roycroft, "Dairy-based toppings were up last year, but non-dairy based toppings were down. He adds that sales of La Creme increased 25% last year and attributes that to the introduction of a new 12-ounce size and to the completion of national distribution.

One of the anomalies of the frozen foods category is that a major component like ice cream is bought by the dairy aisle at some stores. The same can be true of frozen novlety items, but these are oftentimes bought by the frozen food buyer. At Castle & Cooke Foods, Senior Product Manager Tama Greenberg says this is precisely the case with the company's Dole Fruit 'N Juice Bars that recently went national. Available in strawberry, pineapple and orange flavors, the product is positioned as a natural snack. Greenburg points out that, overall, last year was a growth year for frozen novelty items, chiefly due to the introduction of premium quality items.
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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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