Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to chat with Brian Schiegg, president of consumer brands at Schwan's Company (a subsidiary of CJCJ Food, Americas), about frozen pizza sales during the pandemic and why consumers have made it a pandemic staple.
Liz Parker: How does Schwan’s Co. plan to harness growth opportunities in frozen retail pizza?
Brian Sciegg: There is huge potential for growth in this category; to truly tap into that potential, it’s essential that CJCJ Food, Americas is on the cutting edge of frozen pizza innovation. In fact, the U.S. pizza market is dominated by two key suppliers and CJCJ Food, Americas is the only supplier with strong presence in retail and foodservice. This provides us with a unique opportunity to gain insights into what is happening in the away from home space and leverage those insights in our retail innovation. We strive to be thought leaders in innovation—we don’t want to be just watching what our competitors and peers are doing, but rather setting the stage for what’s new and what’s next in terms of trends, flavors and formats.
We’re also making significant investments in our frozen pizza marketing to keep our brands top of mind for consumers and ensuring we are reaching the right consumer in the right way. And of course, to get our on-trend pizza into the hands of consumers, we also need to be focused on seamless execution and distribution.
LP: How did the pandemic affect frozen pizza sales?
BS: COVID-19 has changed a lot in our consumers’ lives and it’s been important for us to recognize those changes as we’ve thought about our current portfolio and product innovation strategy at CJCJ Food, Americas. We know that a reduction in out-of-home eating occasions and a desire for comfort food and indulgence during challenging times have added tailwinds to what was already a strong growth trend in the premium segment of frozen pizza. We also know that a large number of new consumers have been drawn to the frozen pizza aisle for the first time, or perhaps the first time in a while, seeking stress-free and family-pleasing options.
Additionally, we have seen some major changes in shopping behavior over the last year in the frozen pizza category which has been driven by the increase in demand attributed to COVID-19. The move to dining at home has created unparalleled demand in frozen pizza and many retailers have found themselves experiencing stressed supply chains which resulted in driving higher than average out of stocks. Also, based on this behavior, e-commerce has exploded and what many thought would take five years has happened in under a year. E-commerce frozen pizza sales are growing almost 4x faster than in store sales and e-commerce pizza share went from 5 percent to 9 percent of the total category in a couple of months.
LP: Why have consumers turned to the frozen aisle during the pandemic?
BS: While many consumers lost access to their favorite restaurants in 2020, they didn’t lose their taste for premium, restaurant-quality offerings, pizza included.
Taste and convenience have always been critical drivers for frozen foods. Consumers are increasingly busy and the frozen aisle helps them prepare meals without a lot of stress. As consumers have relied less on restaurants during the pandemic and more home-based occasions, they have an interest in indulgent and high-quality offerings that don’t require a lot of effort or expense. Some of our recent launches have been designed to give consumers an easy way to get a delicious meal regardless of time of day. Items such as Red Baron Pizza Melts, which offer the great taste of pizza you love sandwiched between two slices of crispy toast and ready in just three minutes from the microwave, come in handy during the lunch hour and our Red Baron Stuffed Crust Pizza offers a convenient family dinner the whole family can enjoy.
LP: What is the future of frozen pizza, and related trends?
BS: Currently, frozen pizza accounts for roughly 14 percent of the total pizza market (Technomic Estimates, Information Resources Inc.)—fueled by innovation and continued consumer demand for convenient, stress free, at-home meals that appeal to the entire family. We know there is room to grow retail’s piece of the pie and we’re studying pizza consumers, learning how this beloved food can best help fuel them and their families, and innovating to find tasty, creative solutions.
We are seeing a surge in protein and plant-based innovation and claims, given consumers’ desire to reduce carb intake but still enjoy the foods they love. Protein, in particular, is viewed as a healthy way to fill up families and keep them full longer. These may result in innovation using alternative food ingredients or simple renovation of existing items or packaging callouts. However, it is imperative that these new product attributes do not sacrifice taste. For example, as consumers strive to make small, manageable changes to their health and wellness lifestyle, our Freschetta Gluten Free pizza provides that perfect stepping stone to achieve their goals without sacrificing the great pizza taste they love.
We are also seeing frozen pizza expanding beyond traditional attributes and formats, perhaps a reaction to reduction of variety on shelf during the pandemic? We expect the category to continue to expand offerings with ethnic flavors (i.e. Indian, Mexican, etc.).
LP: Has Schwan’s made any investments in frozen pizza innovation, manufacturing, and marketing?
BS: From frozen pizza place of origin to destination for future pizza innovation in both retail and foodservice, CJCJ Food, Americas manufacturing facility in Salina, Kansas, is currently the largest pizza plant by volume—and it’s about to get bigger.
At Schwan’s (which, together with CJ Foods USA Inc., comprises CJCJ Food, Americas), we were among the early pioneers in the frozen pizza category, bringing delicious pizzas that originated at the Tony’s pizzeria in Salina to families across the country. We are proud of that heritage and plan to continue to build upon that legacy of frozen pizza innovation with upgrades to our current manufacturing facility in Salina.
Plans for the Salina manufacturing facility include a 400,000 square-foot expansion with state-of-the-art, automated production lines and equipment capable of making more than 100 million pizzas per year, as well as increased shipping and receiving docks and office space. Completion is targeted for December 2022 and is part of the company’s investment in growing its retail and foodservice markets in the U.S. and abroad. Currently, the Salina site is 550,000 square feet and employs about 1,125 people. The planned expansion will result in an estimated 225 new full-time jobs by 2023.
With the increased manufacturing capabilities at the Salina plant, CJCJ Food, Americas plans to grow its retail frozen pizza brands through continued innovation, as well as investments in marketing and promotion. The company recently completed a brand refresh for the Tony’s pizza line, which included a complete packaging redesign to establish the brand as accessible and family-friendly.
We know Tony’s consumers seek value when looking for meal-time solutions that also please their kids at dinner time. We’re eager to track the in-market response to the new look, which will all extend to the brand’s digital ads, website, social media and in-store marketing. We’ve got big plans for our other frozen pizza brands that we can’t wait to share.
Click here to view full pizza infographic.