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Private Eye: Frozen Foods

Frozen Foods

Our secret shoppers head to their local retailers to find out what’s happening in frozen foods.

August 14, 2013
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The frozen food department accounted for $41 billion in sales in 2011, according to Nielsen records compiled for the 2012 PLMA Private Label Yearbook.

That made it the third-largest food department in all outlets, trailing dry grocery and dairy. Private label accounted for a 21.8 percent dollar share in the department in 2011, up 0.3 percent from a year earlier.

PLBuyer sent five of its secret shoppers to check out frozen foods items at a Marsh’s Sun Fresh Market in Missouri (an Associate Wholesale Grocers member), a Fry’s Food Stores shop in Arizona (part of the Kroger banner), an Ingles Markets store in North Carolina, a Super Wal-Mart in Colorado, and a Giant Eagle in Ohio.

We asked them to evaluate how their local grocers market and merchandise their frozen food products. 

In addition to looking for in-store promotions and advertising, shoppers recorded prices of comparable private label and national brand frozen pizza, appetizers, pie, and vegetables (other than potato). They then conducted their own product tests in one of these categories.

Here, we provide you with our gathered insight.

Side by Side

All of the secret shoppers this month reported seeing private label frozen products shelved side-by-side with national brands in some cases, if not all.

Sarah C. saw in-store ads for private label frozen foods at Fry’s Food Stores, while Christina R. reported seeing ads for private labels at the entry way of her Super Wal-Mart. None of the secret shoppers saw on-shelf price tags comparing brands with the private labels.

The secret shoppers found frozen pie to be non-existent as a private label option, left with only national brands Mrs. Smith’s, Sara Lee, and Marie Calender’s to choose from. At Marsh’s Sun Fresh Market, Michael G. found private brand Best Choice pie crust for 10 cents less than the national brand offered. The Best Choice brand also offered 5 ounces more of product. Christina also noticed at Wal-Mart the store brands have a few more ounces then their brand name counterparts.

For example, at Wal-Mart the retailer offers about the same price Great Value Green Peas as national brand PictSweet, but gives shoppers 8 more ounces. Sarah reported Kroger green peas costing $1 for 12 ounces, while PictSweet Green Peas were $1.99 for 14 ounces.

In frozen pizza, most shoppers found national brand DiGiorno pizzas with the biggest private label savings at Ingles Market, where Bill K. saw Laura Lynn brand Self Rising Crust, on sale two for $8. The DiGiorno Rising Crust was $7.38. On the other hand, at Fry’s Food Stores, the Kroger brand pepperoni rising crust and DiGiorno brand were the same price.

For frozen appetizers, Amy K. saw Totino’s Pizza Rolls on sale, three for $9, making them cheaper than the store’s Giant Eagle brand Pizza Bites priced at $3.29 for about the same size. Michael saw Best Choice pepperoni and cheese pizza bites for $1.40 less than Totino’s brand.

Product Tests

All the secret shoppers reported that they typically buy private label frozen vegetables, except for Bill who reported only buying private label frozen appetizers. He tried the Laura Lynn mini bagel pizzas, which saved him $2.90 over the national brand, but said they “are pretty lousy” and had “skimpy, low quality toppings.”

Christina tried the Great Value BBQ Wings from Wal-Mart and said “they tasted great, but could have used more sauce/seasoning.”

Sarah said, “The Kroger green peas seem to taste OK for a frozen vegetable. Often times I will mix them into the meal or if I serve on the side, we often use butter and seasonings.”

Michael tried both the national Celeste brand and Best Choice private label individual microwaveable pizzas and found neither of them satisfying.

“Directions for a microwaveable product were a bit of a challenge for the store brand, which called for cooking in the packaging,” he said. “The national brand suggested placing the product on a microwave-safe plate, which seems at odds to the point of buying a one-serving microwave product. Neither pizza was appetizing.”

Amy had a better pizza experience at Giant Eagle.

 “I purchased the Giant Eagle Ultimate Rise Four Cheese Pizza, and as the product I normally buy for a frozen pizza option for my family, the quality met and exceeded my expectations,” she said. “It cooked properly in the time stated for preparation and the taste was even better than some of the national brand items that we have tried at home. The ingredients were high quality and we will continue to purchase this brand for our first pick in frozen pizzas.”  

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