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When it comes to new products, Western Family comes through.

Buying organization goes after the usual suspects, but also takes risks by pioneering new frozen food categories for private label. Turnover pies, upscale entrees among the latest.

Frozen entrees? Nobody's ever had much success with them in store brands. But that's not about to stop Western Family Foods, Portland, Oregon, a private label buying organization serving a number of regional wholesalers in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

Western Family plans to develop an upscale entree line, "better than Michaelina's and as good as Stouffer's," said Brad Tolliver, frozen food product manager, who has worked especially hard to expand the company's QFF presence in the last couple of years.

Tolliver has already scored a success with frozen meals, positioned against Banquet's frozen dinners, and has just launched a line of frozen turnover pies (similar to Hostess) in lemon, peach and chocolate varieties, that are shipped frozen, then thawed at the store and displayed on special fixtures.

As far as Tolliver is aware, the turnover pies are a first for private label. But that doesn't faze him. Western Family has such a strong reputation for quality that shoppers are always willing to give its new products a try. When those frozen meals were introduced last winter, orders reached 16,528 cases in only four weeks, and the supplier had to put in a rush order for additional packaging to keep up with demand.

With the same truth-in-packaging as for frozen meals (calling them "dinners" seems to be a no-no for private label, even though the brands still do it), Tolliver is readying a line of "family entrees," also positioned against Banquet -- items include gravy and salisbury steak, gravy and sliced turkey, and dumplings and chicken (note the word order). The 28-ounce items will feature "good pricing, plus good ad and display money," he told QFFI. Family entrees, needless to say, are aimed at the low-price market: the Northwest is still feeling the effects of the last recession, and the logging industry never recovered from the previous one.

Having already shown initial success with a line of seven-inch pizzas, Tolliver said, he has sourced a line of classy 21 to 23-ounce pizzas, with a price point of $3. "We've found a local company that can do them, and we're going to support them with in-store demonstrations," he said. The new line will bring business that used to be store-door to Western Family's warehouses. Western Family's entrees, "mainly Italian items," will be upscale, and a new line of 26-ounce frozen pies promises "better quality than Mrs. Smith's at a cheaper price per ounce than Sara Lee." Other imminent frozen introductions range from bagels to burritos to dinner rolls.

Bagels are being introduced under the Shurfine label, distributed by Western Family in the Northeast as well as in the Western Family label for the West, and even in the same varieties -- plain, egg, onion and cinnamon-raisin. But, at the advice of its supplier, the Western Family versions will be 16 ounces to a package instead of 12 ounces, and packaging will emphasize "25% More." In another introduction to the breakfast area, eight-count "homemade style" waffles have come out under both the Western Family and Shurfine labels; and a Western Family frozen egg substitute is in the offing.

Western Family's seven-ounce pizzas have done so well that a Shurfine line (cheese, sausage, pepperoni and combination) is being rolled out, and a hamburger variety is being added to both the Shurfine and Western Family labels. But frozen food at Western Family is taking a Mexican as well as an Italian accent. "Mexican dinners are pretty strong out here, and if I wanted to add something to our frozen meal lineup, it might be another enchilada," Tolliver noted (that line already includes one enchilada item, along with salisbury steak, fried chicken, meat loaf and turkey). The coming burrito line includes beef and bean, bean and cheese, beef and potato, red hot beef and bean, hot green chili and mild green chili.

Breaded fried chicken, meanwhile, has proven such a runaway success that Tolliver is looking at getting into line extensions: Southern Fried, Country Fried, Hot and Spicy. Two related items, breaded nuggets and patties, are already in the stores. Consumer sampling as well as off-invoice allowances have been used to build frozen chicken sales. If the right supplier can be found -- no easy task, he said -- he wants to develop a frozen fish line for Western Family.

In the frozen fruit and vegetable area, where Charlie Rotta is the product manager, fruit medleys (strawberries/blueberries/raspberries and strawberries/blueberries/blackberries) have proven one of the greatest successes of the past year; and frozen versions of cranberry juice cocktail and cranberry-raspberry drink are coming next. A year ago, Western Family was one of the first in the country to go into private label with curly fries, which have since also been introduced under the Shurfine label; seasoned fries and coated fries will soon join them.
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Title Annotation:Frozen Foods in North America; Western Family Foods
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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