Getting the frozen aisle out of Siberia


frozenfoodJust because it’s frozen foods and the fridge doors are cold (actually, not as cold as the chillers for dairy and cold cut meats) doesn’t mean the frozen aisle has to be a Siberian wasteland.

Inside Shopper’s recent article, Thawing the Frozen Market, about the UK frozen foods market prompted me to consider the similarities and differences in the Australian market.

Below are some key themes and implications arising from a shopper research study into the supermarket frozen foods aisle I conducted for Torchmedia a few years ago.

Some things have moved on since and some haven’t.

Some findings are similar to the Inside Shopper article, but our focus was more on the aisle shopping experience than the products and packs specifically, so a number of the findings are different.

I’ve included some implications for what could be improved or done differently.

It really is Siberia, but it doesn’t have to be

The frozens aisle tends to be at one end of the store or the other, and often located away from the fresh food.

Shoppers tend to leave shopping the frozens aisle until last because they don’t want the products thawing out – or if it’s ice cream, melting – in the bottom of the trolley.

This means that frozens truly is a department whose relevance and offers need to be communicated elsewhere around the store.

This promotion is preferably done in some sort of bundled meal offer (because frozen foods are often a meal component as the whole meal) in order to drive traffic to the aisle.

This is because traffic begets traffic. Smart restaurants always put diners in the window seats first, because it makes the restaurant look busier and the venue more desirable.

The same principle currently applies to the frozens aisle, except in reverse.

Part of the reason shoppers perceive the frozens aisle as undesirable is because nobody ever seems to be there. And those that are there are in a hurry to get out as quickly as possible.

This is not just because it’s perceived to be cold, it’s because shoppers don’t think anything happens there.

All the excitement (such that it is in supermarkets, which are largely grudge shopping trips by many shoppers) and retail effort is perceived to be put into the fresh area.

This means both the centre store aisles and the frozens aisle are thought to be bereft of interest and news. We have seen this across a number of supermarket studies.

Shoppers don’t know what’s really there

Because they don’t shop the aisle very often, and when they do it’s highly planned and for only a few categories, many shoppers don’t actually know the scope of what is available in the frozens aisle.

They don’t browse. They go straight to the hero categories of peas, chips, and ice cream, and largely ignore the rest.

When you accompany shoppers up the whole frozens aisle and point out categories, they are surprised by the variety of what is available. All of the Asian foods, seafood, and vegetarian meals are a revelation to them.

So, there is a job to do in communicating the range of food types available in frozens, both in the aisle itself (such as with the hanging signs like those you see in some Coles stores), but particularly outside of it in other areas of the store and in pre-store marketing communications.

This is not an issue of perceived freshness. It’s an issue about perceived range.

The versatility of frozen food is not understood

Because they don’t know what’s there, the versatility of frozen foods is not widely understood.

Chips, potato wedges, and chicken nuggets as kids’ snacks? Sure. Frozen veggies as an accompaniment to a meat of some sort? Definitely. Party pies for entertaining? Check.

Outside of that, it’s a white space opportunity for retailers and manufacturers to communicate the different frozens categories’ role in different occasions.

Unless it’s an entire meal, like a Lean Cuisine, shoppers generally see frozens as a meal component. An average dinner plate might contain one fresh, one frozen and one shelf stable component.

You can play to this in communicating different frozen categories’ role in different types of meals. Shoppers are always looking for meal inspiration.

The frozen food shopper is surprising

Frozen food shoppers aren’t just the province of families doing pizza or singles doing Lean Cuisine.

It turns out that many frozen food categories actually over index on the Empty Nesters life stage. Particularly whole meals.

This is because they have spent 20 odd years cooking for the family and now the kids have left home, they are over it. They just want quick, easy, one step cooking.

I’ve seen this time and again through a number of food, cooking and kitchen appliance shopper studies.

Frozens work for family life stages for different reasons. Quick snacks or something healthier than fast food or takeaway for the kids and teens are the main drivers here.

Show them what’s new, different, and give them some incentive to experiment (they won’t need much, it’s more about awareness).

Moving to a more temperate zone

So, what can be done to improve the frozens shopping experience?

Give them a reason to visit the aisle by demonstrating both new news and relevance before the get to the aisle, or the store.

Demonstrate understanding of the whole plate and frozen food’s role in it with cross category bundles (this will also drive traffic)

Ensure new category segments are clearly called out in the aisle before shoppers reach that door.

Provide them not just with a clearly navigable path, but with a discovery or treasure hunt type experience showcasing range variety as it relates to the whole plate and different consumption occasions

Call out clearly the benefits and relevance of various categories within frozens for their most likely target shoppers.

Families are likely to be interested in the fresh and health benefits and conversely easy snacks benefits.

Empty Nesters like the fact they don’t have to cook meals – it may not be quick (to cook), but it’s an easy meal.

Variety and experimentation appeals to these shoppers, such as with Asian foods.

Use more point of sale communications and promotions in the frozens section.

Vast expanses of fridge doors and ‘coffin’ fridges with no communication just reinforces the Siberia impression.

Norrelle Goldring is head of shopper insight and retail strategy at global research and retail datahouse, GfK. Norrelle can be contacted on 0437 335 686 or email


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