Our C-Store Champions say the perception of the frozen category is changing as shoppers see it as offering quality and value for money 

Harry Goraya, Rosherville Post Office (Nisa), Gravesend, Kent

Harry is keen to develop his frozen range further and is set to remerchandise the section soon

Jag Brar, Londis Cricklade, Wiltshire

Jag says it can be tough to provide the variety shoppers expect within a small space, and would ideally like to add more frozen products

Bay Bashir, Lifestyle Express Belle Vue Convenience Store, Middlesbrough

Customer demand for frozen has led Bay to invest in the category

Richard Dance, six Co-op Welcome stores in and around Southampton

Richard says the Co-op’s £5 meal deals are key to attracting shoppers’ attention in this arena

How important is the frozen category in your store/s and how has this changed?

Harry: It’s an interestingly steady category so we are contemplating doing a range review just to see if we can give it a bit of a boost. Although it’s fine for it to be steady, we feel that we could be getting more out of it with the right remerchandising methods. I’d also like to get some ideas from suppliers on range reviews, promotional ideas and perhaps do some in-store tastings.

Jag: This category hasn’t been our best performing, but it’s a steady category which comes into its own in the summer when you see a real difference in sales of ice creams. It’s also like the chilled category in that people now expect you to offer meal deals which include a starter, a main and a dessert for a set price. We are promoting these frozen meal deals more than we did in the past. We have pizza, garlic bread and ice cream for £5, so it’s good value for the shopper and good for me because it’s got a long shelf life and so requires minimum labour. The frozen category is great in terms of being a low-waste category. These deals really come into their own on a Friday when people are looking for a simple meal for the kids, and a frozen pizza and chips is perfect for that. Most of the products in the category are pricemarked (PMPs), because that’s what our demographic of shopper seems to want.

Bay: It’s an important and growing category. We only started doing this two years ago and the category has grown continuously since then. We currently have a lot of PMPs as we wanted to capture shoppers’ attention and show that we are offering good value for money in order to get the category kick-started. But now we are wanting to move into more premium stuff. I’m currently getting ideas from other retailers as to what is selling well for them.

Richard: It’s as important as ever. It’s always got its place in the convenience market and it’s a good back-up for the fresh products. Although fresh is becoming more prominent, I would say frozen is still a key category.

What freezers do you use and why? What are their positives and negatives?

Harry: Some of our freezers are fairly old chest-style which work perfectly fine and do the job, but three years ago we also brought in some standing freezers which allow us to display the products so much better. We found with the chest freezers that we really couldn’t display the boxes as well as we could have and so it was important to bring in the standing freezers for those products that we want to give a good showing.

Jag: We have two double standing freezers, one large chest freezer and one Wall’s impulse ice cream unit. These are fairly new units with LED lighting. I don’t like that having both the standing freezers and chest freezer makes the category less easy to shop. I want to get more standing freezers so we have five or six doors and this will improve the way it looks and the ease of shop.

Bay: We currently only have two metres of standing freezers but in January we are looking to do a full refit and increase our chilled from two metres to seven, and increase the frozen by one or two metres.

Richard: We’ve got all standing freezers. It’s important to invest in these as they are a much smarter use of space and they look better.

What kind of support do you get from suppliers/manufacturers to bring the freezer to life?

Harry: We get little or no support from any of the suppliers. I don’t think they appreciate the quality of some good independent retailers. They set their minds on the bigger boys and seem to do a lot of work with the multiples. I’ve been to trade shows and told them I’d like more support and they’ve said they will and all it’s amounted to is a bit of POS in the post.

Jag: We don’t get any, not like the help you get from the likes of Coca-Cola or Cadbury’s. We do get help from Londis with their planograms.

Bay: We don’t get much support from suppliers. We just get the delivery through Blakemore’s and that’s it. I’d be very pleased to work with a supplier as I’m always looking to improve.

Richard: Not directly, no, only through the Co-op buying group. The one company that has worked closely with us is the New Forest Ice Cream Company as they are local and have just recently launched 500ml tubs – up until now they only had 1ltr tubs – and we’re one of the first to start selling these and we’re working with them to create POS.

Is there a role for local products as well as national brands?

Harry: There is a role for them, but it depends on your store’s demographic. My shoppers are very price-conscious and will make their choices dependent on the price. I haven’t tried locally-sourced frozen products, but I have tried them in other areas and I have seen that they cannot compete with the other ranges. As much as my shoppers do like to buy locally, their pocket makes the final decision.

Jag: The issue we have is space. We could probably stock a frozen turkey from the local butcher but that will only be duplicating on the fresh turkey from the local butcher and we can use that space for other products that we know will sell. If we had the space then we would experiment more.

Bay: We don’t have any locally-sourced products because we have concentrated on the high-value items in order to get things started, but perhaps when we’ve got a bit more space it would be possible to offer a couple of lines.

Richard: Definitely, if you have a good local business. The New Forest Ice Cream products are very popular. In our Ashurst store we sell only these in our impulse ice cream freezer because we think this looks neater and it also makes the ordering process simpler to just deal with them. They are also very good at being reactive. We can have a very busy weekend and call them to ask for extra stock and it will be with us the next day.

What are the biggest challenges that come from this category?

Harry: Making sure you have the correct range and a good range of each sub category is a challenge, because there is so much to fit in. You have to make sure you’ve got all the meals such as the fish fingers, burgers, chicken nuggets, then you have to have a good range of pizzas and ice creams. You have to hit all the marks.

Jag: Space is definitely the biggest challenge for us.

Bay: Ensuring people can continue to trust the quality of the food can be difficult; making sure to check the temperatures and check the dates on the products. It’s a category which could potentially be easy to become lazy with, but it’s important to ensure the quality is always there otherwise you’ll have people come back asking for refunds and losing trust in your products.

Richard: Managing space and getting stock levels right can be tricky with frozen.

When did you last remerchandise this category, and how did you do this?

Harry: I last remerchandised the section probably a good year ago. This is why I’m aware we need to look at the category again very soon. We were going to do this in September, but then our Christmas stock started coming in and we decided to push it back to January or February time.

Jag: Probably about a year ago. We took advice from Londis and used our epos data to help us make our decisions.

Bay: About three months ago, with the help of Blakemore’s planogram. I make some changes to their planograms to fit my shoppers’ needs, but generally I do find Blakemore’s advice helpful.

Richard: We get regular updates through the Co-op group so we had our end-of-summer update just a few weeks ago. We always use the Co-op planogram as this is a big part of the service we get from the fee we pay, so we may as well make good use of it!

Do you plan to make any changes to this category in the near future?

Harry: We want to draw shoppers towards the frozen category and one way we thought we could do this was by bringing some of the chilled range closer to the frozen. Because of the lack of support we’ve had from suppliers all ideas are down to us and we could do with some insight and advice on how to really give the category a boost. I can look at my epos data and work out what to increase and what to cut, but that can only get you so far.

Jag: We want to improve the category by bringing in new units so we can increase our range, especially in desserts, pizzas and ready meals. We have a popular range of Kershaw’s ready meals for one, which we sell for £1.79. These are perfect for our elderly demographic who come in daily to pick up their meal for the evening. We would like to offer them a wider choice.

Bay: Our full shop refit in January should make a huge difference, mostly to the chilled but also to the frozen. I hope it will give us a big boost in footfall.

Richard: We are always looking for more space for ice! This is one product that should never be underestimated and it always provides a good margin.

Shoppers’ views

How have customers’ perceptions of the category changed over time?

Harry: People are starting to see it as being higher quality than in the past. I think the products are genuinely improving. The technology that suppliers use, all the way down to the transport, means they can produce fresher and better-tasting products.

Jag: I think people’s expectations have changed in that they expect greater variety. With ice cream, for example, we’ve got Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs in a range of flavours, and a Cadbury range. In the past it would have been a big family tub of vanilla, and a Neopolitan. The biggest difficulty for us smaller retailers is space. Often we will choose to stock a new flavour because of all the marketing behind it as we know that it will sell well, but we won’t always be able to keep stocking it.

Bay: We have found that this category has become more important for us because shoppers expect to be able to do their full shop in a c-store now. We started this category two years ago because people were coming in and asking us for it, so we had to provide what was requested.

Richard: Definitely people’s perceptions have changed as they are looking for better value for money, as is the case with every category. They expect to see good promotions, especially for meal deals. We get the £5 meal deal which is hotly waited for every three weeks - that’s a key part of that offering and takes up about a fifth of the whole category in shelf space. The other trend is a move towards multipack ice creams. As well as there being such a wide choice of these, people are looking for value and don’t like to buy the individual impulse ice creams.

Increasing appeal

What have you done to make the category more exciting in-store, and what more could be done?

Harry: I want to get my symbol group to speak to some suppliers and ask them to come into my store to help make it more exciting. I would really like to work with the likes of Bird’s Eye or Quorn. I sell a lot of Quorn products and I think I could do a lot more with their range if I had a bit more support.

Jag: I think that getting in more standing units and having aesthetically pleasing units and great POS would make the category eye-catching. It’s important to use good POS for meal deals as these will catch the shopper’s eye.

Bay: We do a lot of advertising on Facebook to inform shoppers of our promotions and what’s available and this has helped to drive interest.

Richard: I think my main bit of advice for making it more exciting is to keep getting in new products and innovation. Often new products alone are enough to stir some interest.