The frozen aisle has undergone major transformation, from the sodium-heavy, artificial ingredient-laden TV dinners to today’s naturally preserved alternatives. While consumers may have helped to drive this change, overall, category leaders have endeavored to make their once theoretical ideals a reality.

Even amidst a constantly evolving food industry, the frozen food aisle is climbing back into Millennial shoppers’ good graces. For challenger brands, specifically, making a bigger impact means harnessing their inherent power, speed and nimbleness. Challenger food brands must make that steep climb to the top, competing with their larger national counterparts to win that coveted shelf space. However, the health halo surrounding plant-based foods has helped to shape shopper perception of what frozen food is and isn’t. Today, niche brands have the unprecedented opportunity to yield authority.

Getting a handle on four primary areas of leverage can help solidify today’s niche frozen brands as leaders within the freezer case. To establish presence on the shelf, a brand needs to consider the following:

  1. Be true to your original purpose.

Remaining true to your brand’s identity boils down to messaging and story. By swaying with shoppers’ every interest and following every trend, you risk diluting your brand story.

Instead, don’t stray from your messaging by letting it be the compass by which each decision is made. Whether guiding the decision to pursue a retail partner or the decision to expand a product offering, consider the implications these choices have for your brand’s image. What shoppers lack in trust of the food industry, they gain in loyalty to brands they know to be authentic.

Brands that have always touted their vegan focus can take care of the integrity they built by joining consumers in today’s most relevant conversations. Plant-based foods, such as those in the Five Star Foodies line, help perpetuate the desire many shoppers have for a clean label. Transparency in those conversations held by frozen brands steady a brand’s image, even amidst fickle food trends. As soon as your brand waivers, however, the discerning consumer is left to question what you’re all about.

Expanding upon a brand’s primary messaging, such as “vegan” or “plant-based” can also take valuable attention away from what is most important to share with consumers. For many challenger food brands, gaining a loyal consumer following is oftentimes about staying true to a simple message that’s easy for you to grow within. Diversifying your messaging should only serve to strengthen the brand’s identity, as opposed to confusing its primary focus for the sake of capturing a broader audience.

  1. Compete for stomach share with the resources at your disposal.

Competing as a challenger brand means taking advantage of the fact that you are smaller than national brands. Today, consumers put a high value on emerging and family-owned brands – not only do their stories seep authenticity, but they also tend to be more accessible. Transparency is about more than a clean label. In fact, transparency speaks to the people behind the brand just as much as the sustainability the brand possesses.

Consider what type of consumer your brand supports. Not only will you have a clearer picture of the shopper you can best cater to, but you can also become valuable to retail partners. Challenger brands bring excitement to the shelf, and have the unique ability to attract natural food consumers to major retailers and vice versa. With an undiluted brand story and a strong shelf presence, challenger brands are poised to be weighty competitors.

  1. Serve your retail partners.

Retail leaders know the frozen category is all about convenience. Consumers are asking themselves, “can it be microwaved?” and “how quickly can it be heated up?” For retailers, convenience fits hand in hand with the frozen aisle. They also know shoppers are relentless in their search for better-for-you food offerings, including high protein, Ketogenic, low-carb and high fiber offerings. “Though frozen vegan products make up just 1% of the overall frozen market (reaching $800.5 million in sales), they are growing at nearly nine times the rate of the overall department at 27.2% year over year,” according to data released from SPINS, Chicago, and published in the Food Insider Journal.

Because there is such a need for highly functional foods, your brand should carry the weight of those needs. Support your retail partners with education campaigns that jumpstart these conversations before consumers walk down the freezer aisle.

  1. Move feet to the frozen food aisle with purpose.

Consumers are exposed to worldly and lively flavors that take them from the Midwest to countries that are oceans away. As a result, challenger frozen food brands can reinvent the way frozen food is viewed. After establishing the clean label and authenticity in your brand story, differentiate within your niche.

The plant-based category, in particular, suffered for years. Now, with the ability to create nutritionally dense, plant-based food options without sacrificing deep and complex flavors, consumers can broaden their expectations for frozen in the realms of both flavor and texture. Where plant-based burgers were (and are) oftentimes either lackluster or highly processed, brands like Five Star Foodies, Cincinnati, have innovated with whole ingredients that buck the norm. From selective spices to novel ingredients, each detail is thorough and competitively pushes the boundaries within the frozen food aisle, ultimately drawing the attention of shoppers who may not have previously ventured down the perimeter aisles.

A call to action

While the frozen dinner and entrée market reported a $10 billion in retail value in 2018, sales have declined at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 1% between 2012-2017, according to “U.S. Food Market Outlook 2018” report, produced by Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. The need for education surrounding frozen foods still looms, and the heavy lifting must come from the brands that promote authenticity, sustainability and a clean label among convenience.