“Historically, there have been no low-carb alternatives to pizzas” other than time-consuming recipes to make from scratch at home, such as cauliflower crust pizza, said Scott Parker, chief marketing officer for Atkins. As a result, he said, many low-carb dieters and health-conscious consumers currently skip the frozen pizza aisle at the store, even though many say they love and crave it.
The launch of Atkins Stone Fired individually sized pizzas in January, however, will give them a reason to return to the category and a way to satisfy their craving conveniently without sacrificing their diet, Parker said.
He explained the pizzas are made with a blend of grains, proteins and fiber to create a proprietary crust that is crispy but has only 11 carbs – just a quarter of the carbs of a similarly sized traditional frozen pizza. Because the crust tastes like that of other frozen pizzas, it does not detract from the full-flavor of the toppings, which are loaded on the pizzas with a heavy hand, Parker added.
The “artisanal” pizzas come in four traditional flavors: cheese, three meat, pepperoni and vegetable, each of which has between 23-26 grams of protein that the brand claims will “leave even the hungriest consumer satisfied.” With 350 to 410 calories each, they are a full meal.
Marketing hurdles remain
While the Atkins pizzas meet an unmet need in the market and are on-trend with consumers’ increased interest in healthier foods, they are entering a category that faces significant sales challenges.
According to a recent report from market analyst firm Packaged Facts, the percentage of households buying frozen pizza from 2010-2014 has contracted 3% and the percentage of households that eat at least 10 frozen pizzas per month also has fallen 15%.
“This recent trend reflects an improved economy and the return to food service pizza and restaurant dining,” Packaged Facts notes. “Additionally, health and wellness trends focusing on ‘real food’ ingredients and clean eating have negative implications for frozen pizza given its association as a highly processed convenience food.”
To an extent, Atkins pizzas may be immune from these drawbacks since they already are positioned as a healthier alternative and because, as Parker noted, low-carb pizza is not offered at many restaurants.
By aligning with a lifestyle diet, the new Atkins pizzas also might have a leg up on competing diet brand Lean Cuisine, which Packaged Facts says “is struggling in the frozen pizza category, with sales down 12%.”
The market analysis report, written by Kaleidoscope Research Consulting, explains Lean Cuisine’s decline may be due to consumers “increasingly [viewing] low-calorie brands as out of step with more recent health trends focusing on natural and organic ingredients and lifestyle diets.”
The report adds that other major health-oriented brands Weight Watchers and Kashi also declined even though “health oriented branding is all the rage.”
Other competitive factors that are slowing sales of frozen and refrigerated pizza sales, which are expected to reach $5.39 billion in 2014 and to grow 1% in 2015 and slightly more than 1% in 2016-2017, are increased competition from supermarket’s prepared foods departments, take-and-bake pizzas and pricing pressure from store brand frozen pizza, the Packaged Facts report notes.
Taste and price are pivotal
In addition to increased interest in healthier frozen pizzas, Packaged Facts reports that taste, price and the ability to share are factors driving category sales.
On a scale of one to five with five being “very important,” consumers scored “great taste” a 4.6 and low price 4.0. “On sale” came in a close third for the most important factor with a score of 3.8, according to Packaged Facts. But beyond these, “the difference between other factors is narrower: ‘all natural ingredients,’ ‘ingredient that are not processed,’ ‘getting a specific brand,’ ‘something to cook for myself’ and ‘something to share with others’ each garnered scores ranging from 3.4 to 3.6,” Packaged Facts noted.
Parker claims Atkins hits several of these factors. He noted that the individual size makes the pizzas easy for one person to eat, but that because it tastes similar to other frozen pizzas it is easy to share with people who do not adhere to the low-carb diet.
Brand appeal and marketing
Atkins also has strong brand appeal – a factor that Parker says will help direct consumers who typically avoid the froze aisle to venture into the segment in the store.
He explains that the brand’s website has millions of active users who seek out the company’s low-carb branded foods and talk about them with their friends, family and other dieters. This substantially eases the marketing burden on the company.
But Atkins also is promoting the launch with television marketing, native advertising on celebrity blogs and couponing – all of which will encourage consumers to explore the potentially unfamiliar store aisle.
Parker also is confident the pizzas will sell well based on Atkin’s success in the branded frozen entrée segment. Much like the frozen pizza category, the frozen entrée segment has been struggling, but Atkins has injected it with new shoppers who previously avoided the category because the products were so high in carbs, Parker explained.