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Retail frozen food sales remain hot for own label products in United States: supermarket operators want frozen products that appeal to both upscale tastes and downscale pocketbooks in troubled economic times.

Store brand frozen foods used to be pretty basic stuff: vegetables, french fries, fish sticks, low-end pizza and pot pies. Then it started getting fancy, with upscale entrees, stir-fry meals and ethnic specialties.

Now a lot of the market is commodity-driven again. Supermarket store brand seafood sales soared 23.9% to $624.5 million for the 52 weeks ended July 13, 2003, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), Chicago, Illinois, and a lot of that had to do with a glut of shrimp.

Frozen meat sales, again just for food stores, jumped 20.4% in private label, to $129.4 million. Chicken didn't gain anywhere near as much in percentage terms, but accounted for $524.2 million in sales at 'all three classes of trade, and largely in bulk IQF form. French fries, hash browns and other potato products did $292.1 million.

Another hot category is pizza, up 13.1% to $176.4 million, and here a lot of the action is at the high end. Meijer, Grand Rapids, Michigan, even has two upscale pizza lines: its own Meijer Select Italian with rising crust 3 Meat, Pepperoni and Supreme, all at $4.50; and Dining In from Topco Associates, Skokie, Ill., with 6 Cheese regular, 3 Meat, Pepperoni and Supreme, all at $5.99.

Plain or Fancy?

But the prevailing trend towards the basics isn't limited to commodities at some retail operations. Or, more precisely, some of the fancy stuff has become basic stuff. Take Homemade Helpings, a frozen family entree line at Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Positioned against Stouffer's, these are pretty basic items: 40 oz Macaroni & Cheese ($4.44), 40 oz Macaroni & Beef ($5.39), 33 oz Meat Loaf (also $5.39), 20 oz Twice Baked Potatoes ($4.99 in Sour Cream & Bacon or Triple Cheese versions), 28 oz Salisbury Steak ($5.39), 32 oz Stuffed Peppers (ditto) mid more.

Yet a lot of the stone items appear under premium store brands like Private Selections at Kroger, Cincinnati, Ohio; or Safeway Select at Safeway Stores, Pleasanton, California. Those chains may have fancier items like Chicken Marsala at Safeway and Baby Back Pork Ribs at Kroger, but they do cover the basics like mac & cheese and lasagna.

What's the diffference? Maybe it's an image tiring. Those Private Selections and Safeway Select entrees--the latter come under the Gourmet Club sub-brand--are meant to convey a high-class image, with black-banded packaging and fancy product shots that cover nearly the whole front panel. But with Homeland Helpings, the packaging is soft yellow and the appeal is down home.

They're a small segment of the market compared to entrees, but they're out there, and boy are they a bargain: frozen dinners, the kind positioned against Swanson or, more often, Banquet. You'd think they couldn't sell them cheaper than Meijer, which retails Salisbury Steak, Chicken Nuggets and Fried Chicken varieties at 89 cents. But Kroger featured its dinners at only 69 cents during Frozen Food Month last March.

Variety is the spice of store brand. Hash browns, for example, are part of just about every store brand program now. But Meijer appeals to every segment with seasoned, shredded, Southern and Western (with onions and green and red peppers) varieties. Like most retailers, it also carries a broad assortment of french fries--standard cut, crinkle cut, steak fries, etc. Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., offers organic hash browns-not as part of a special line, just under the regular store brand.

Frozen Fish Story

Why do you see so much frozen shrimp in store brands these days? Because there's so much shrimp around, retailers hardly know what to do with it--overall sales were up 25% last year. Shrimp consumption in the United States has overtaken that traditional favorite, tuna, but there are a lot more things you can do with shrimp.

Popcorn shrimp, positioned against Gorton's, is only the most obvious. Kroger offers both a 6 oz ($2.79) and a 12 oz ($3.99) pack. At Meijer, they're called Shrimp Poppers, and the same two sizes go for $1.99 and $3.39.

Kroger, the largest chain supermarket operator in the USA, also offers regular ($5.99) and jumbo ($6.99) butterfly shrimp in 8 oz packs, plus 14 oz cooked shrimp in cocktail sauce ($8.99). Going beyond shrimp are Private Selection specialties like salmon cakes ($6.99) and Maryland style crab cakes ($7.99).

Coconut shrimp may be unique to Kroger. They're basically breaded butterfly shrimp, but with a packet of coconut dipping sauce. They aren't for people worried about their weight, either; as the saturated fat and cholesterol counts are high.

But Kroger also has entire cabinets of its frozen food section devoted to cocktail shrimp in various counts, from 19-25 a pound to 71-90 a pound, tall-on or tailless, plus salad shrimp, all in resealable pouches, at prices from $5.99 to $11.99.

Giant Eagle similarly offers store brand cooked shrimp in a variety of counts. Both Safeway and Cub Foods, warehouse retail unit of Supervalu, Minneapolis, Minnesota, have run Buy One, Get One Free sales on raw, cooked and breaded shrimp. They outdid even Kroger, which cut $3 off the prices of some of its $7.99 items.

Bulk poultry cuts are a big thing in store brands these days, and they often appear under sub-brands or secondary brands. Stop & Shop sub-brands its 40 oz IQF party wings and other items White Gem. Albertson's carries 64 oz and even 80 oz chicken parts under the Village Market brand, formerly used for entrees; and Safeway has revived its old Manor House brand for the same sort of thing.

It's much the same with basic store brand meat products, at least when it comes to size. Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, offers 20 count club pack ground beef burgers at $12.99. Eight-count burgers are $7.99 and eight-count beef chuck steaks $8.99. At Big Y, Springfield, Mass., the store brand meatballs may be small but the packaging is big: you can get five pounds for $11.99 as well as two pounds for $4.99. At Kroger, $6.39 will get you two pounds of Italian meatballs, mid 40 ounces of beef patties go for $7.99.
Selected PL Frozen Food Data

Store Brand Sales * Change Share

Seafood ([dagger]) $624.5 +23.9% 39.2%

Chicken $524.2 +5.1% 27.4%

Fried potatoes $292.1 +6.4% 33.7%

Pizza $176.4 +13.1% 6.5%

Meat ([dagger]) $129.4 20.4% 20.5%

Entrees $102.9 +3.8% 2.7%

Appetizers/Snacks $38.9 +14.3% 4.9%

* millions of dollars.

Source: Information Resources, Inc., 52 weeks ended 5/18.03.
Sales include mass merchandiser data except Wal-Mart.
COPYRIGHT 2003 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Private Label
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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