Success Story

Heating up retail sales: How Conagra Brands grew frozen food category 150% at key drug retailer

Success Story

Heating up retail sales: How Conagra Brands grew frozen food category 150% at key drug retailer

The unparalleled impacts COVID-19 had on the retail food industry from the outset required companies to pivot quickly to respond to the dramatic interruptions stemming from a double-whammy of an overtaxed supply chain and an explosion of e-commerce. 

Conagra Brands was no exception and realized early in the global pandemic that it would need to revamp its assortment strategies to rapidly adapt to changing consumer demand, heightened unpredictability, and extraordinary supply challenges.

Expertise to crack the cold case

As one of North America’s leading manufacturers of frozen, grocery and snack foods, the Chicago-based Conagra’s iconic brands include such stalwarts as Birds Eye, Marie Callender’s, Banquet, Healthy Choice, Slim Jim, Reddi-wip and Vlasic, as well as emerging brands like Angie’s Boomchickapop, Duke’s, Earth Balance, Gardein and Frontera.

With its strong position in frozen foods, Conagra’s category expertise enables it to work closely with its retail partners to unlock opportunities and detect hot spots in their frozen assortment plans with great success.

Evidence of the same can be found in the results of a refreshed shelf management and assortment optimization plan the company conducted at the end of 2019 for one of its key drug retailers (Retailer A), whose frozen department sales were not only declining but also performing worse than the total edible category.

Moving from decline to crisis

Compounding the lingering category declines was the continued fallout of the pandemic, which sparked dramatic changes in consumer behavior and demand. In turn, Conagra Brands recognized it needed a plan to maintain its tried and true fundamentals of shelf management and assortment optimization, but within a framework that allowed for flexibility to manage the many different retailer approaches and strategies, including those of Retailer A.

During a fireside video chat hosted by Pete Conti, NielsenIQ SVP, NA Intelligent Analytics, at the recent 2021 CMA|SIMA Conference, Chris Hubbuch, senior director of category leadership at Conagra Brands, shared a bit more about how the manufacturer quickly adapted during the pandemic and pivoted its assortment to better meet changing consumer demand.

“I’m not sure any company was really prepared for the massive, prolonged crisis brought on by COVID-19,” said Hubbuch. “Retailers and manufacturers really didn’t have a great handle on how long the pandemic would last and how shoppers would react. So as an organization, we quickly created and continue to have multiple workstreams in place to address increased supply and demand challenges.”

Conagra had already been utilizing NielsenIQ’s assortment solutions to identify assortment gaps and opportunities—not just for its own brands but as well for the entire frozen category at Retailer A. 

Person refining their assortment

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The power of collaboration

Historically, the frozen aisle in drug stores “has been associated with limited doors and value-based segments like appetizers, pizza and ice cream,” according to Hubbuch. By leveraging NielsenIQ’s bubble chart functionality and incrementality data, Conagra discovered that there was shopper interest in modern health attributes, as well as an opportunity for Retailer A to expand within the frozen meal and vegetable space.

NielsenIQ’s assortment solutions enabled Conagra to provide Retailer A with actionable recommendations that were forecasted to show growth at both the category and subcategory levels, as well as provide item-level scenarios to optimize specific UPCs.

“At the end of the day, the tool that we used the most was [from] NielsenIQ,” Hubbuch affirmed.

Subsequently, Retailer A embraced the recommendations and agreed to add more than 10 Conagra items across multiple brands while simultaneously adjusting some competitor distribution. As a result, by the end of 2020, Retailer A’s total frozen department was performing 16 points better than total edible and Conagra Brand’s frozen category sales increased by nearly 150% compared to 2019.

“An additional cool outcome from this process,” explained Hubbuch, “is that we were able to take that same story and replicate it for [another] drug retailer and customize it a bit, and now we’re expecting similar results there as well.”

The successful collaboration between Conagra Brands and NielsenIQ to leverage solutions to effectively define and recommend optimal assortment and space strategies for one of its key drug retailer partners positions it well to sustain the benefits of the eat-at-home habits consumers developed during the pandemic.