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Private Label frozen fruits and vegetables are some of the simplest products retailers can offer their shoppers, in a good way. They have multiple health benefits,
can be naturally sweetened, offer no additives, and are perfect for shoppers seeking connivance foods. In addition, shoppers should be eating more fruits and vegetables than they do, so there should be plenty of opportunity for retailers increase their private label sales in this category.
According to the “Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) Moms with Kids 10 & Under and Primary Shopper Study” conducted in 2012, the majority of all survey participants are consuming, on average, one-half to three cups of fruits and vegetables daily, while PBH says, at a minimum, the participants in this survey (which excluded children) should be consuming five cups daily.
Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet, whether frozen or otherwise, can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer and a number of diseases, and helps eye health, bone health and weight control, said Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D., president & CEO at PBH.
“Literally, half of what you eat during the day should be fruits and vegetables,” said Pivonka. Private label frozen fruits and vegetables can benefit shoppers because “they’re providing this great product in a very convenient way,” since frozen options are already cleaned and ready to go.
PBH’s survey found if frozen fruit is not in the home, it is primarily because the household doesn’t use them (39 percent) or they are too expensive (32 percent), which store brands may be able to help with. However, there is some concern among primary shoppers that frozen fruit has added preservatives (14 percent) or artificial ingredients (7 percent), concerns—whether always founded or not—that didn’t rank as high as with canned fruit or 100 percent fruit juice.
In the case of fruits and vegetables that don’t add sugar or sauces, Pivonka thinks it’s important to make sure retailers promote that fact—that the product consists solely of whole fresh fruit that has been frozen.
“Generally, fruit is frozen between 24–36 hours after it is picked in the field, in contrast to fresh produce which can take up to a week to reach the supermarket shelf,” explained Peter Skolnick, president of Imperial Frozen Foods (IFF). “Berries are picked in the field usually in the morning, delivered to the processor usually the same day.” Then they’re washed, sorted and frozen in the afternoon or evening, and then delivered to the cold storage. “As orders are received, the fruit is put into various-sized poly bags, then delivered to the retailer’s distribution centers. That’s it!”
The quality of these products is typically quite high. “Berry fruits freeze really well,” said Skolnick. “That’s why they are so popular. Optical sorters for blueberries have greatly improved the ability to remove under-ripe fruit.”
When it comes to distribution of private label frozen fruits, Skolnick said since frozen fruit is maintained and stored at 0°F, IFF rarely has any challenges.
However, according to Savannah Haspel , vice president of media relations at IBISWorld, Inc., the most-notable trend in their frozen food production industry research is a shift in consumer preference toward fresh produce over frozen.
“Operators have responded to this change with product innovations focused on higher-quality and healthier ingredients,” said Haspel. “Over the next five years, operators will continue to develop products and marketing messages that focus on healthfulness.”
According to the August 2013 IBISWorld industry report, “Frozen Food Production in the U.S.,” USDA scientists note that frozen produce may be more nutrient-dense than fresh produce, since frozen foods are harvested at peak ripeness and flash-frozen right away, locking in nutrients. Fresh produce, on the other hand, is often harvested before peak ripeness, and then packaged and shipped, with nutrient content degrading all the while. Capturing such messages in private branding adds appeal and value.
The subset of consumers that are interested in health is growing, said Pivonka. In additional to wanting healthful foods, they also want to know where food is harvested, be it in the United States or abroad.
Select subsets of such consumers also opt for organic. “Sales growth in organic fruits has exceeded our expectations,” said Skolnick. “Sales growth is fantastic on a same-store basis, and customers are adding organic fruit to their private label programs.”
Target’s new standalone Simply Balanced line (formerly a subset of Archer Farms) hits some of these targets. The line is organic, with products formulated without artificial flavors and colors, as well as no preservatives. Frozen fruit and vegetable options include blueberries, strawberries, broccoli and mixed vegetables.
Wegmans has released new organic frozen fruit under the Food You Feel Good About line, products, including organic options, formulated free from: artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils, and high-fructose corn syrup. Organic options include blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries, mixed berries, blueberry and pomegranate. A portion of the fruits in the line include “Just Picked” or “Just Picked and Quickly Frozen” in the product description to lend a sense of freshness.
The frozen vegetables segment of the line includes microwave steam-in-bag options, as well as combinations like Pepper & Onion Blend, Roasted Butternut Squash & Spinach, Artichokes & Asparagus in a Lemon Butter Sauce, Petite Brussels Sprouts & Bacon, Diced Sweet Potatoes, Petite Peas with Béarnaise Sauce, Fire-Roasted Poblano Peppers, and various Asian stir-fry mixes interspersed among dozens of other specialty and standard-fare choices.
As for what types of frozen store brand fruits are popular for IFF, Skolnick said strawberry is king, with blueberry a close second. But previously niche products are making gains. “Mango chunks are doing really well all across the country,” he said. “No longer are mango chunks just for a limited demographic. Mangoes freeze really well and have a great natural flavor.” He also pointed out mango chunks are perfect for smoothies.
Promotional price cuts are always a tactic in promoting private label frozen fruits and vegetables. According to the IBISWorld report: “Although the market has many well-established brand names, consumers are still price-sensitive and can easily switch their preferences to a lower-priced substitute. Furthermore, the growing segment of low-priced, private label brands made price-based competition more intense, especially given the current economic climate.”
Cross-merchandising fresh private label fruits and vegetables with frozen varieties can be accomplished by promoting both in recipes offered by the retailer online, in-store or on packaging.
“What’s nice is that if you’re going to cook the product anyway, then frozen vegetables are a great alternative,” said Pivonka. “And the nice thing about fruit, especially for smoothies, is that it’s already frozen.”
According to the PBH survey, the majority of all primary shoppers report purchasing about the same amount of frozen fruit (71 percent) compared to one year ago; 13 percent report purchasing more; and 17 percent report purchasing less.
For all primary shoppers, nearly 8 out of 10 (79 percent) have frozen vegetables available in the home while only 4 out of 10 (43 percent) have frozen fruit available in the home. Female primary shoppers, higher-income primary shoppers, and older primary shoppers are more likely to have frozen vegetables in the home, while younger primary shoppers are more likely to have frozen fruit in the home.
Pivonka explained younger primary shoppers are more likely to have frozen fruit on hand because they are more likely to drink more smoothies.
“The popular smoothie chains market to the youth successfully, and the frozen fruit industry is the beneficiary of that marketing,” said Skolnick.
“The popular smoothie chains market to the youth successfully, and the frozen fruit industry is the beneficiary of that marketing."
Retailers shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to target these shoppers with recipes for smoothies featuring private label frozen fruit, cross promotions with other private label smoothie ingredients, and utilizing social media to promote frozen fruit.
And don’t forget vegetables when using smoothie recipes as merchandising and promotional tools. Jamba Juice include several fruit and vegetable smoothies on its menu, with kale, spinach, carrots, beets and others going into the mix. A new seasonal smoothie on Jamba Juice’s menu this fall blended mango, peach, sweet potato, carrot, butternut squash and passion fruit.
Pivonka pointed out that in addition to adding frozen fruit to yogurt and making smoothies, people need more ideas about what to do with frozen fruit. “I think reminders at the store level are very important,” she said. “Part of that same survey asked consumers where they get their information about food… Of course, the Internet ranks high, but if you wanted to talk to them about food, the supermarket was one of the top places where they look for information about food. So I think retailers could do more with talking to consumers about food in this department. And those retailers that have those supermarket dieticians I think are in a particularly unique position to do that.”
According to PBH’s survey, in the prior six months, primary shoppers reported mostly getting their frozen fruit (73 percent) and frozen vegetables (87 percent) from grocery stores. In both cases, supercenters—such as Walmart, Meijer and Super Target—followed, with club stores and then farmers’ markets behind that.
In addition to having a greater variety of recipes (37 percent), the survey found other useful ideas to attain the goal of eating more fruits and vegetables for moms and primary shoppers, including knowing how to store fruits and vegetables, knowing what’s in season, learning new cooking techniques, and having new serving suggestions.
Supplier and manufacturers can help foster an environment that educates consumers on this level, thereby encouraging increased consumption of frozen fruits and vegetables. “Imperial is about to launch www.frozenfruitrecipes.com,” Skolnick revealed. “The idea of the site is to have a central website that promotes frozen fruit recipes. It is a work in progress, so stand by for more news.”
To help with meal suggestions, www.pbhfoundation.org/recipes offers numerous ideas. Also, the “Fruits & Veggies—More Matters” health initiative (www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org), sponsored by PBH and CDC, works with private label retailers to promote fruits and vegetables, including frozen products.
Pivonka said she’d love to see more of the More Matters logo in stores. Static clings are available that adhere to freezer doors and don’t block the view of the products, but can also carry the logo of store brand products and draw attention to frozen fruits and vegetables.
Some retailers already carry the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters logo on a lot of their private label packages, according to Pivonka, including Weis, HyVee, Schnucks, Western Family Foods/White Rose, and Safeway.
To include the logo on a private label packaging, PBH just needs to approve that the logo is used properly, which Pivonka said can take just 24–48 hours. Most retailers are already licensed, she said, but if they aren’t, they would have to pay a nominal licensing fee.
As for packaging types, stand-up packs are gaining popularity. “Private label packaging, and the fruit inside, already exceeds the national brand,” said Skolnick. “Private label represents over 70 percent of frozen fruit sales. The switch to stand-up versus pillow pack has already taken place. They display really well in upright freezers, and the laminated surfaces really stand out with bright, fruity colors.”
According to Skolnick, 80 percent of the category has moved over to stand-up pouches. It was introduced about three or four years ago in the height of the recession and has only increased in popularity. “The film itself is more expensive, and the filling of it is slower so it requires more labor, but all our customers really like it,” he said.
In the June 2013 issue of PLBuyer,Bobby Ray, vice president of retail at Select Store Brands said that when it comes to packaging techniques for frozen vegetables, it’s “steam, steam and steam…” He said that when Birds Eye introduced its Steamfresh packaging, “it gave the entire frozen vegetable area a shot in the arm.” Now retailers across the country include freezer-to-microwave steam-in-bag technology in their store brand lines.
Ray expects “types” of vegetables to grow more popular. “Consumers are embracing the fire-roasted vegetables in steam-ready packaging,” he said. “The roasting develops a special flavor profile that makes a frozen corn ‘special.’ When seasoning is added to the roasting process, again the product jumps up to even another level of excitement to the consumer.”
National brand Birds Eye has introduced a new line of Recipe Ready vegetables. Appealing to time-crunched shoppers, Recipe Ready options have been cut, sliced and diced so the prep work is done. Options in the line include Chopped Green Pepper & Onions, Chopped Onions & Garlic, Broccoli Stir-Fry, Chopped Zucchini, Chopped Celery, Tri-Color Pepper & Onion Blend, Sofrito (minced tomatoes, onions and garlic), Grilling Blend (zucchini, yellow squash, red onion and red peppers), Marsala Blend (mushrooms, chopped onions and garlic), Pizza Supreme Blend (green peppers, onions, mushrooms and black olives) and many more.
Earlier this year, Dole added a new Peach Mango flavor to its Fruit Smoothie Shakers, a line that takes convenience to a new level. Consumers simply remove the cup-like product from the freezer, add juice and shake to create a yogurt-fruit smoothie. Other flavors include strawberry, strawberry banana and mixed berry. Dole’s line of frozen fruit is now offered in easy-open, resealable stand-up pouches.
Sweet potatoes are gaining traction in the freezer aisle, and Earthbound Farm now offers organic Frozen Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Other new frozen vegetables from the company include Rainbow Chard Blend and Butternut Squash, all in resealable stand-up pouches.