Expanding the Frozen Food Aisle

PicardIt is not often that I am jealous of the French, but this morning I turned vert with envy over Picard, a French chain that only sells frozen foods, that I read about on Food and Wine’s blog.

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of frozen foods. As your typical millennial I feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day and cooking doesn’t rank very high on my priority list. My limited time and repertoire means a lot of chicken cutlets and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Enter my appreciation of frozen foods.

There are a ton of choices in the frozen food aisle, but for years I only bought Stouffers; their pizzas got me through college. As those who frequent the frozen food aisle know, there is nothing more disappointing than heating up a new meal for the first time and realizing that it’s not as tasty as it looked on the box. Now you’re going to have to wait another 6-10 minutes for your standby to heat up or worse: order take-out.

Then I started shopping at Trader Joe’s and I suddenly had a lot more options. From individual items like their frozen scallops, to gourmet pizzas and meals like steak and potatoes, I was pretty excited about the variety. Then I heard about Picard. They offer over 1,000 store brand frozen items. 1,000! Sure, some of them are side dishes, but that just means you can mix and match. They offer options like venison (which is hard enough to find in a restaurant let alone at your local grocery store), calamari, organic vegetables and even macaroons.

Picard is unique in that they sell only private label which are store brand Picard. In High School I worked at CVS and I became a loyal fan of their Gold Emblem snack products (best gummy bears on the market in my humble opinion), so I’m a supporter of store brand products. Online consumer reviews on sites like Tripadvisor and expat bloggers confirm that the Picard store brand products are indeed delicious.

From the packaging to purchase, Picard aims to streamline the shopping experience. While not everyone can offer home delivery, there are lessons to be learned from their good example.

  • Print cooking times on the front of the box: If you’re shopping for frozen food, chances are you’re short on time. If I’m in a rush I don’t feel like opening a bunch of freezer doors and taking out each box with an appealing picture to see how long it will take to make it. Printing the cooking times clearly on the front of the box saves shoppers time and effort.
  • Offer menu tips in circulars: Each week when my circulars arrive they go straight in the recycling bin. If I knew that there were menu tips on a specific store’s circular, not only would I rummage through the pile to find it, but I’d be more likely to go to that grocery store in the first place. Case in point: Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer - the only supermarket mailer I ever read because it gives background information on featured products and serves as a sort of a study guide for my shopping trip.
  • Make Online even easier: I cannot say that I have ever gone to a grocery store website to look up anything other than store hours and/or location before today. Then I saw the recipe section of Picard’s site; it gave new meaning to one-stop shopping. Not only do they offer ideas featuring items in the store, like Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market do, but they also have a Last Minute Inspiration section, where you can choose between “I need an idea” ” or “I have an ingredient.” If only I’d paid better attention in high school French.

Considering all that they do well, there are also lessons to be learned from their faults. Since Picard sells only frozen foods the store is made up of mostly cases and the atmosphere has received some harsh criticism. Food and travel writer Ann Mah describes the store as “very sterile, with fluorescent lights and frozen food cases and very little else” on her blog. Others have compared the rows of refrigerated cases to coffins.

Nonetheless, Picard has successfully launched stores in Italy and the chain is in the process of expanding into Belgium and Sweden. With no word on a possible expansion overseas, there’s still time to beat them at there own game here in the States.

What do you think of a store that only sells frozen food?

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