My old roommate was the manager of a locally based gourmet chocolate company. We’re talking gourmet, as in $30 for truffles flavored with ingredients such as chili powder, blood orange and rose water.

Prior to her employment there, I actually had purchased these outrageously priced chocolates at full face value. Although the creative flavor combinations were unique, it was the decadent packaging and slight thrill of knowing these tiny morsels cost as much as a shirt at the Gap that made the experience enjoyable.

Later, when my roommate brought home free bags of “irregular” truffles, I easily left the sweets untouched. Without their ribbon-tied boxes and expensive price tag, the truffles had lost their cache. To me, the presentation and opportunity-cost were what gave the product value and implied quality.

Recent articles in the Hartman Group’s HartBeat newsletter and the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times had me thinking about this experience and the true meaning of quality.

The NYT article (“Is This the World’s Cheapest Dress?” by Eric Wilson) discussed the recent trend in the fashion world that has high fashion designers and celebrities aligning themselves with “value” priced wares. These endeavors have been met with much success. Examples include couture bridal gown designer Vera Wang’s modestly priced line at Kohl’s department stores and movie star Sara Jessica Parker’s clothing line at Steve & Barry’s stores (which tops out at $8.98).

The HartBeat  article centered on another gourmet chocolate purveyor who compared his premium chocolates to precious jewels. He also shared that, although his chocolates are expensive, many of his customers are people who need to save up to buy them.

What does this all have to do with the refrigerated and frozen food world? In each of these instances, manufacturers have found a way to successfully sell high quality to the masses.

It’s an interesting time to reconsider what “high-quality” means to your consumers. Although people are cutting back on eating out, and food prices continue to rise, consumers have not lowered their expectations for refrigerated and frozen foods that are convenient, great-tasting and fresh. Perhaps now, more than ever before, it’s important to understand how you can impart high quality into your brand.

Just the facts

U.S. demand for frozen food packaging will increase 4.1 percent per year to $6.4 billion in 2011, according to a new study by the Freedonia Group Inc., a Cleveland, Ohio-based research firm. Greater consumer desire for convenience foods, smaller household sizes and advances in packaging technology are all drivers.
Source: Frozen Food Packaging – The Freedonia Group Inc.

Does eating only one large meal a day affect your health? Until now there was no definitive research on the matter, but scientists who studied a group of “one-mealers” and compared them to a group of “three-mealers” found: One-mealers showed increases in overall cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol and higher blood pressure - but they also lost weight.
Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service et. al.

Where do you do your grocery shopping? Not everyone frequents big boxes and chain stores. In 2007, independent grocers made up about 18 percent of the nation’s 34,967 supermarkets and brought in $29.7 billion in revenues, about 5.5 percent of total supermarket sales.
Source: Progressive Grocer

Seventy-one percent of consumers said they are eating at home more because of economic concerns, according to U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2008, a recent Food Marketing Institute report. In addition, 67 percent said they are buying fewer luxury food products and 60 percent said they are buying more store brand products.
Source: FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends