August 10, 2020 / Thought Leadership

The Summer of Frozen Food: What brands can do today to stay ahead tomorrow

Hillary Williams, Group Brand Director

It might be summer, but there is no doubt it’s frozen’s moment in the sun. To clarify, I’m talking about frozen food, not the Disney phenomenon and soundtrack for countless Zoom meetings over the past three months, DJ-ed by my 3-year-old daughter.

Frozen food is here to stay and I’m certainly not going to “let it go” any time soon. Gone are the days of the freezer burned boxes I dig out of the back of my freezer when I’m in a crunch for a last-minute meal – many of which were already past their expiration date since I forgot they even existed. Today, my family’s meals revolve around the freezer. Phrases like “how soon after eating to freeze,” “best frozen family dinners” and “easiest recipes to freeze” inundate my search history. Frozen proteins, full meals, sides, leftovers, smoothie ingredients, you name it – I’ll freeze it.

Each time I make my weekly shopping list or open my freezer, I feel the lines between my personal and professional lives continuing to blur. As I’ve seen firsthand working closely with CPG brands, frozen food was already in the midst of a revolution to redefine “fresh” leading up to COVID-19, and the past few months have only expedited that movement. Amidst anxious buyer stockpiling this spring, frozen food category sales were up 30% over last year in April. Frozen CPG brands are seeing a perfect (and profitable) storm of 70% of loyal customers buying more than usual, 68% trying new brands and products and 7% of entirely new customers purchasing frozen products. Even better, both existing and new customers are satisfied, ranking convenience at a 4.3/5 and quality at a 4.1/5, leading to 50% saying they’ll purchase more over the coming months.

For frozen CPG brands, this trend is further accelerated by the simultaneous growth of online grocery shopping in our on demand culture. While there has previously been consumer hesitation to order frozen products via ecommerce, the current pandemic has driven wider spread for online trial of delivery in addition to click and collect of frozen goods. Now, frozen food is not only synonymous with convenience to alleviate stress around multiple meals a day at home, but also with quality, low touch/safety and diversification of options.

But as brands look ahead to innovative ways to seize this unprecedented opportunity around an ecommerce and frozen food surge, the existing foundation they have (or have not) built to resonate with consumer behaviour and how they relate on a human level are equally as important. This is not a time to reactively sprint to the finish line and if they haven’t already, brands need to take the time to get it right.

In this make or break moment, here’s how to set the foundation to resonate with your audience when it matters most:

Set a strong digital foundation to align with consumer needs.

Now more than ever, it’s imperative that brands understand fluctuating consumer states across a journey that’s anything but linear. The days of an awareness through to conversion step-by-step journey are behind us. In today’s digitally focused world, consumers transition from hearing about a new product to purchasing it, in a matter of seconds. With online grocery sales projected to grow 40% in 2020, brands need to ensure their digital experiences simultaneously support both a range of needs as well as each potential sporadic touch point across what is now an ever-changing schematic vs. journey.

Gerber is getting it right. A longstanding heritage brand from 1927 that was previously synonymous with outdated and processed baby food, today’s Gerber has not only revamped its ingredients, but more importantly, it is an advocate and trusted resource for parents. Instead of defaulting to lead with its legacy, Gerber’s site appropriately addresses its COVID-19 response and then provides a range of resources, including parenting tips around nursing, solids, nutrition, teething and development – topics that anxious parents google on a daily basis (guilty). What’s more, you can book a consultation with registered dieticians and buy products and bundled offerings for starting solids, trying textures and super snacks, all directly from Gerber’s site.

Because of the consumer-focused digital foundation it has built, site visitors can seamlessly transition from valuing the brand, while educating themselves on feeding stage tips, to purchasing corresponding products, in a matter of minutes. Just like that, Gerber has become both your new go-to parent resource and favorite product.

Shift messaging to resonate with the millions of new consumers experiencing the brand for the first time in a relevant, timely way.

It would be short sighted to believe that brands can speak to the millions of shoppers trying new products or frozen food in the current world we’re living, using the same messaging from six months ago. Times have changed, and so have audiences and their standards. Consumer expectations of brands are higher than ever, with 77% of respondents in a recent Kantar study expecting brands to be helpful in their “new everyday life.” Business as usual ads without any subtle acknowledgement of the different times we’re living in evoke an immediate cringe – I’ve used the term “tone deaf” in the past few months more times than I care to admit. But at the same time, messaging can’t be reactively all consumed in the immediacy of the moment, and needs to strike a delicate balance of being timely with also staying true to the brand and longer- term purpose.

Legacy brand Gorton’s Seafood, a Connelly Partners client, is striking this balance, adapting how it delivers on its brand mission and building incidental trial by shaping perceptions of new users. The brand’s messaging takes an empathetic and helpful approach through various tactics like offering delicious and simple meal solutions for those who might be tired of cooking, sharing an ocean colouring page to help stressed parents running out of activities for their kids and clearly communicating product tips and benefits for first time users – all aligning with its mission to “bring the goodness of the sea to everyone.”

Gorton’s two-pronged approach targets new users to drive repeat purchases with perception-focused content, while simultaneously engaging existing audiences through amplified, inspiring recipe-focused social content – funneling all users through relevant website user streams. Whether new users are trying to please picky eaters, mix up a weekly routine, stock up on their omega-3’s or indulge in fried goodness, Gorton’s is a long-term mealtime solve, rather than a short-term frozen go-to during this crisis.

Now is not the time for short cuts. The brands that sprint to the finish line and lack empathetic, relevant messaging and a consumer centric experiences are going to fall short. You not only need to know who and where your audiences are, you need to know how to effectively speak to them and serve up information that aligns with how they both think and feel. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and brands that are positioned to resonate now and extend beyond the current landscape will win out.

Sources: IRI, e-Marketer, Edelman, Nielsen, Kantar, AFFI & Analytics April 2020 study, Coresight Research U.S. Online Grocery 2020 Survey