When stocking up on frozen pizza, consumers often initially turn to their favorite national brands. Today, however, many Americans are searching for ways to spend less. Thanks to Frozen Specialties, shoppers can get the best of both worlds – quality products at an affordable price.
By Marina Mayer
In good times, consumers can be loyal to a fault. That’s especially true in the highly competitive frozen pizza and hot snacks categories. Here, the major players spend millions of dollars annually building trust in their brands to ensure that shoppers keep on coming back for more.
With the economy as cold as a supermarket freezer case, however, many Americans are reassessing their grocery purchases. From the bread aisle and the cookie and cracker categories and even in the frozen foods section, consumers are looking for alternatives to get the best bang for the buck.
Now, they don’t have to compromise because of companies like Frozen Specialties, Inc., a private label producer of value pizza and pizza bites. With its line of products, the Holland, Ohio-based company is helping shoppers trade in their national brand choices without feeling that they sacrificed anything in terms of quality and taste, says Ricardo “Ric” Alvarez, president and CEO.
“Our mission is to be the consumer’s choice in value pizza and pizza bites,” he says. “We show this everyday by the value, the consistency, the convenience and the quality of the products we market.”
Purchased in 2002 by Swander Pace Capital, Frozen Specialties has been in the private label channel for nearly a half a century. Over the years, the company has been a part of a market that’s evolved from producing alternatives of the most popular products to creating innovative items for store brands that actually compete with the national brand equivalents.
In fact, offering restaurant-style quality is becoming an increasingly popular concept as companies like Frozen Specialties provide value-added products for penny-pinching shoppers who still crave good-tasting, personal-size pizzas, adds Patrick Koralewski, director of marketing.
“Consumers seem to be caught between escalating living expenses and soft economic conditions,” he notes. “There are only so many ways a household can trim the budget, and the grocery store is one. There seems to be more focus on private label in general and on the value portion of private label more specifically.”
To focus on the demand for its best-selling products, Frozen Specialties closed its Connecticut pizza bite plant last October and relocated it to the current Archbold, Ohio, facility, allowing Alvarez and his team to reevaluate its product lineup and streamline its portfolio.
“We used to have a lot of other product categories,” Alvarez says, “[but] we shed them, disposed them, sold some of them, and now we’re a really focused business on value pizza and pizza bites.”
In terms of sheer volume, the traditional varieties such as cheese and pepperoni still outpace unconventional ones, Koralewski says. However, the increased acceptance of higher quality private label pizzas has enabled Frozen Specialties to introduce more avant-garde choices such as barbeque chicken, garlic chicken, bistro-style Italian margarita and even some Mexican-style, taco pizzas.
Loyal consumers, it seems, are expanding their horizons in more ways than one.
“A lot of studies recently have shown that consumers are much more confident with private label. They see it actually as a brand,” Koralewski adds. “Consumers overall across a lot of economic situations are finding private label as a quality, convenient, value alternative to national brands.”
Frozen Specialties produces between 150 and 200 million pizzas per year, and so many pizza bites, which if they were laid out end-to-end, would measure 3,800 miles or from New York City to San Francisco.
In addition to providing alternatives to the national brands, Alvarez says consumers now recognize that many of its private labels actually provide a better option than some national brands.
“They realize that [private label products] offer all the benefits that they look for and what they want for their family,” he notes, “and [private label items] offer the quality, value and convenience at an affordable price in today’s economical environment.”
Along with value, consumers, especially those in smaller-sized households, are searching for such healthy products as pizzas that offer portion control.
“Frozen Specialties has a core focus around our single-serve frozen pizza and pizza bites,” Koralewski says. “There are few manufacturers who have invested in producing pizzas as quickly and efficiently as Frozen Specialties. And this is especially true on the private label side. We’ve done a really nice job of focusing around that value, convenience and quality and try to do it operationally and with the products we bring to market as well.”
Revving Up the ReputationAs consumers raise their expectations, retailers are demanding more quality and the national brand equivalent is no longer the standard, Koralewski says.
“The economy has brought more people to private label, and the quality that retailers have expected has kept them there in this segment,” he notes. “So now it has given us the opportunity to not only do things that national brands do at a better price but actually expand our offerings and not do things that are me-too items.”
Plus, Frozen Specialties strives to go beyond the generic alternatives to deliver quality, value and convenient private label products.
“A lot of studies recently have shown that consumers are much more confident with private label,” Koralewski says. “They see it actually as a brand. Consumers overall across a lot of economic situation are finding private label as a quality, convenient, value alternative to national brands.”
Shoppers, however, aren’t willing to abandon what’s important when it comes to purchasing pizza, says Rick Hicks, vice president of sales.
“Traditionally, our core consumer has been the ‘teenager’ 10 to 12 years old,” he says. “More recently, however, our core consumer has expanded to include the adult who enjoys our 6.5-oz. pizza as a snack or light meal. [Consumers] have quickly found private label brand pizzas offer the value they desire without relinquishing their need for quality and convenience.”
Although overall private label sales generally comprise some 20% to 22% of total sales, Alvarez says private label pizza sales only make up for 8% to 9% of the $3.3 billion category.
To Alvarez, that signals a significant opportunity for Frozen Specialties.
“Private label pizza has quite a bit of growth, quite a bit of legs to even approach the average USA private label sales,” he adds.
In fact, Frozen Specialties is in prime position to continue capturing private label accounts. In addition to the United States, the company distributes to Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Beyond supermarkets, its products can be found in the drug outlets, dollar stores and throughout segments of the broader foodservice industry.
“We just make sure that we are partnering with our immediate customer, the retailers in all the various channels to make sure that in turn, they’re satisfying the needs of their customers,” Alvarez notes.
To do so, their first go-to-market strategy is to think like their branded counterparts and identify demographic and economic shifts to stay abreast of trends.
For instance, the megatrends of convenience, health and wellness are on the rise. Frozen Specialties has responded to this well-established movement by introducing its lean and microwavable pizzas that can be eaten for lunch while at work, on the weekends or as a dinner replacement for the fast-paced, always-on-the-go consumer.
“We’re trying to marry [health and wellness] together and understand that people are on the move a lot,” Alvarez says. “So there’s that single-serve need and there’s also the health/wellness need and some fun flavors beyond the basic cheese and pepperoni.”
Once the changes in trends have been identified, Frozen Specialties partners with its retail customers via their R&D teams.
“We want to make sure that we’re satisfying the needs of our retail partner and are meeting the needs of their customers,” Koralewski says.
It’s no surprise that gaining consumer acceptance is a big part of the plan.
“I think our secret is that we have created a trust, a bond with our customers because we provide them a consistent, high-quality, value product that is convenient at a value price, in so many different flavors and formats that satisfies the needs of our valued customers,” Alvarez adds.
Consumers can rest at ease when reexamining their grocery lists. Companies like Frozen Specialties are upping the ante on quality, value and taste without it costing an arm and a leg.
Editor’s Note: Go to www.snackandbakery.com for more about trends in the pizza category.