Frozen-pizza sector heats up

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In the slow-growing food industry, frozen-pizza marketers are in an enviable position-sales for the category have grown at least 7% every year since the mid-'90s. But competitors in the $2 billion-plus category jealously eye the $23 billion restaurant-pizza business and hope to drum up even more sales with products and advertising that speak to their brands' restaurant quality.

Tony's Pizza Service Co. will introduce an improved version of its Freschetta pizza next month and a new ad campaign in March, both centered on the creation of a "Culinary Council" of five renowned chefs. Meanwhile, category leader Philip Morris Cos.' Kraft Foods continues to spend heavily against its own restaurant-quality assurance campaign for DiGiorno Rising Crust pizza, "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno," and to expand distribution for its California Pizza Kitchen brand. ConAgra Foods, hoping to expand its limited presence in frozen pizza, has signed an estimated $20 million deal to align itself with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and to acquire Mr. Puck's existing pizza and frozen-entree business.

With its ad budget only a quarter of the roughly $30 million spent by leading rising-crust competitor DiGiorno, Freschetta has had to get creative to continue its double-digit growth. While efforts from True North Communications' Bozell Kamstra, Minneapolis, have focused on an elderly sampling lady named Etta, the fourth-place player has switched strategies-and agencies-to offer a "fresher" approach.

The first campaign from new agency Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, breaks March 5 and features the five-chef "Freschetta Culinary Council." The chefs will collaborate to give Freschetta its innovative, restaurant-quality taste. TV spots, a print campaign breaking in April issues of publications such as AOL Time Warner's People and Gannett Co.'s USA Weekend and new packaging for the brand tout what it calls chef-inspired, more flavorful sauce and fresher crust. The tagline is "Fresh thinking. Fresh baking. Freschetta."

"It adds a credibility to the product to know that renowned chefs throughout the country are developing products they would serve in their own restaurants and lending their stamp of approval," said Tom Bierbaum, national brand group manager for Freschetta. Freschetta plans to introduce a variety of flavors inspired by the council midyear and will tout its relationship with the chefs via media tours throughout the year.

Rising-crust creator Kraft is still very innovative. Since the early '90s, it has developed the now $345 million DiGiorno Rising Crust brand, introduced stuffed-crust and rising-crust versions to its $335 million Tombstone franchise and, based on research that showed 40% carryout or delivery pizzas had split toppings, launched DiGiorno and Tombstone Half & Half varieties.

"The elevation in quality and variety is the best way of keeping people from going to restaurants," said Rhonda Jordan, VP-marketing for Kraft's pizza division.

Kraft has continued to spend heavily against the "Fooler" campaign created for DiGiorno's launch in 1995 by True North's FCB Worldwide, Chicago, developing executions that show how easy it is to confuse the frozen pizza with its restaurant counterpart.

ConAgra, which has only limited pizza sales via its Healthy Choice brand, now jumps into the fray through an alliance with Mr. Puck. The deal, which was struck after ConAgra CEO Bruce Rohde hit it off with the chef at his signature restaurant, Spago, is intended to grow the roughly $20 million Wolfgang Puck frozen pizza and entree line, until now largely unadvertised, into a thriving franchise.

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