In good times, consumers can be loyal to a fault. That’s especially true in the highly competitive frozen pizza and 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 freezercase, however, many Americans are reassessing their grocery purchases. 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 helps shoppers trade in their national brand choices without feeling that they have sacrificed quality and taste.

“Our mission is to be the consumer’s choice in value pizza and pizza bites,” says President and CEO Ricardo “Ric” Alvarez. “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.

To better focus on its best-sellers, Frozen Specialties closed a Connecticut pizza bite plant last October and relocated operations to its Archbold, Ohio, facility. This has helped Alvarez and his team better evaluate the company’s product line 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.”

Officials say Frozen Specialties produces between 150 and 200 million pizzas per year and enough frozen pizza bites to stretch from New York City to San Francisco. In terms of sheer volume, the traditional varieties such as cheese and pepperoni still outpace unconventional ones, notes Patrick Koralewski, director of marketing.

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.”

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 – search 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.”

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 trend changes 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: This article excerpted from the May 2009 issue of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, a sister publication to Refrigerated & Frozen Foods.