Frozen Pizza & Garlic Bread: The Common Denominator

April 24, 2008
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While the original concept of pizza has roots in ancient Greece, the version we know today became popularized in the late 17th century under the Italian reign of Queen Margherita. Legend has it that she took notice of a peasant’s food - a large piece of crusty, baked flatbread - and, much to the chagrin of her companions, requested a sample. Not long afterward, Margherita invited a local chef to bake the flatbread for her pleasure. In her honor, he created a special recipe, adding tomatoes, basil and Mozzarella cheese - the colors of which represented the Italian flag. Margherita devoured the culinary concoction and a proud pizza proliferation began.

Little did Margherita know what an enormous impact her taste buds would have on the world. Now of course you don’t need a fancy chef to mastermind your meal. While heading to your local pizzeria or dialing delivery is often an option, sometimes it’s easiest (and cheapest) just to buy your favorite pizza pie ready-made in the freezer section.

A Cheap Date

Queen Margherita would likely agree that there is no such thing as a truly bad pizza. Even pizza featuring that occasional cardboard-like quality is typically eaten with much gusto and haste. Still, a poor pizza that skimps on toppings or boasts lackluster flavor is usually regarded as only a one-night stand. A proper pizza relationship evolves from discerning selection and caring consumption developed over time.

So what makes private label frozen pizza and garlic bread products stand out?

“Price can often be the entrance for trial,” says Giacomo Fallucca, president and chief executive officer of Palermo’s Pizza, Milwaukee. “But developing high-quality products and strong brands around the retailer’s private label offerings can make them a viable alternative to the national brands.”

Certainly any retailer can produce a low-cost frozen pizza; this is true enough. Remember that pizza did, after all, begin as peasant food. Often the reasonable price is enough to attract consumers who are looking for a cheap and easy meal - and shoppers have dozens of options in the frozen pizza and garlic bread category.

But while price may drive the initial sale, how do retailers create the quality that ensures repeat buys? Paul DaRe, vice president of sales and marketing for Furlani’s Food Corp., Mississauga, Ontario, maintains that when it comes to competition, good quality and taste are not optional among private label products, but have become necessities. “The combination of quality/taste and price (i.e. value) is still the most effective tool I witness,” DaRe says.

This philosophy has prompted retailers to implement several private label strategies to improve their products’ quality. Dave Ramsay, vice president of Bernatello’s Pizza in Maple Lake, Minn., insists that private label products are generally comparable to branded products.

“Quality-assurance departments are tearing private label products apart to make sure they meet or exceed national brand quality,” Ramsay says. Among the many factors determining quality are bold variety offerings, advancements in crust and innovative promotional techniques.

To Top it Off

The traditional Margherita delicacy has given way to countless varieties of pizza, distinctive in flavor, shape, size and crust. According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc.(IRI), frozen pizza products accounted for nearly $3 billion dollars in American sales this year…that’s a lot of dough! The grocer’s freezer case abounds with frozen pizza products extending far beyond plain cheese or simple pepperoni. A significant percentage of these options - more than 7 percent - are private label.

“New flavors and ethnic offerings seem to be gaining in popularity,” says Palermo’s Fallucca.

Walk down any frozen pizza aisle, and this is clearly the case. The original pie has been given a sassy makeover that includes toppings such as garlic chicken alfredo, chicken fajita, barbecue chicken, and sweet Italian sausage, according to Bernatello’s Ramsay. While these premium varieties currently are more readily available among branded products, it’s likely they’ll emerge strong among private label soon enough.

And garlic bread is no different. Every day, retailers are producing new, innovative and flavorful products.

“Distinct flavors are becoming a very important part of the [garlic bread] category growth,” says Peter Cokinos, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Little Lady Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill. “Currently I see garlic chicken and parsley leading the way, and somewhat down the ranking, you’ll find garlic and spinach both showing positive development.”

Furlani’s DaRe affirms the trend in the category’s growth, citing the launch of three recent adds to his company’s repertoire: country garlic bread (a portion-conscious garlic bread with improved flavor), pizza toast and multigrain garlic toast (high in fiber), and topped focaccia breads.

The Upper-Crust

Retailers have steadily been improving the quality of the private label pizzas they produce, thus remaining competitive with the category’s branded counterparts. While some improvements are simply due to the increase in offerings of robust varieties, many retailers have discovered that the best recipe is ultimately found within the foundation of pizza itself - a delicious crust.

Palermo’s Fallucca reports that ultra-thin crusts have been the source of significant growth for the national brands, and private label is now following suit. “Ultra-thin crust pizzas seem to be on the rise across the country and organics are finding a niche as well,” he says.

Little Lady Foods’ Cokinos notes that retailers are jumping in on the health and wellness forum. He too reports that thin crusts are especially popular, as they often reduce caloric intake and eliminate or reduce trans-fats. Bernatello’s Ramsay echoes the trend, indicating that his company is “well on its way to eliminating trans-fats in its products,” an objective that is quickly becoming the benchmark in this category.

The health-conscious trend resonates well with consumers, even as they peruse the frozen foods aisle. Consequently, natural and organic products lead the way as they address healthier eating options.

“This segment will continue to show growth potential as family wellness education continues to be in the forefront,” Cokinos says.

Crust trends are not limited to the freezer shelf, however. According to IRI data, private label refrigerated pizza crusts spiked more than 40 percent this year - the most dramatic leap within the category, and nearly double the increase among branded counterparts. It is a fair conjecture that consumers have begun to fashion their own pizza pies at home, perhaps experimenting with healthier topping alternatives not yet found in the private label selection. However, one should question whether or not this spectacular growth will continue as retailers continue the movement toward innovative private label product development.

Saucy Sales Suggestions

Even the best-tasting frozen pizza and garlic bread products will go uneaten if consumers do not know about them. Unfortunately, private label products do not always receive the top-billing merchandising their quality merits. Little Lady Foods’ Cokinos recommends that, in addition to emphasis on price and product quality, retailers should consider careful positioning and product display as well as the inclusion of point-of-sale material. “We need to make sure there’s adequate presence in the freezer case or consumers will miss the impulse to enjoy a creative and innovative new product,” he says.

Elevating the perception of the store brand in general is key to attracting customers. Furlani’s DaRe suggests increasing private label recognition through enhanced packaging. “Private label package design is often at a disadvantage vs. the brand,” he says. “Dynamic package design is sometimes sacrificed because of the private label’s need for cross-category visibility.”

DaRe also suspects private label packaging will experience significant changes with respect to sustainability issues. “The use of recyclable packaging, as well as reducing over-packaging, is identified by consumers as a method to contribute to the environment, with little sacrifice in satisfaction,” DaRe says. “Displaying environmental and social consciousness is an enormous opportunity for retailers to cultivate an emotional attachment with consumers - to be perceived as something other than a monolithic supplier of goods.”

So let’s review: Private label frozen pizza and garlic bread products are typically affordably priced, meet or exceed the quality of their branded counterparts, and will likely become increasingly available in packaging that is more attractive and environmentally friendly than ever before. What other possible tips can experts give to help solidify sales?

Cokinos stresses how successful category sales can be when products are paired with the right accompaniments. “Bundling [private label products] around special eating occasions or co-marketing with other products such as soda or water has always been effective,” he says. Perhaps not surprisingly, DaRe reports that frozen garlic bread is most often purchased with pasta. Another popular bundling product - for both pizza and garlic bread products - is bagged salad.

Finally, sales tend to go up when products are sold in multiple units. After all, the only thing better than one pizza is two (or more!). Not only do two-for-one sales increase sales volume, but they also encourage product trial. That means more folks eating more private label products more often.

Private label frozen pizza and garlic bread products endure strict competition with their branded counterparts, restaurants, take-n-bake shops, and delivery, yet they maintain a steady position within the category. Simply stated, people like pizza and garlic bread in all forms - frozen, cheap and easy notwithstanding. Pizza is indeed the common denominator when it comes to what’s in the freezer.

For more information on frozen foods, go to our Web site and click on our sister publication Refrigerated & Frozen Foods.

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