Chicago Town takes on the takeaways

Money is short in consumers pockets and people are turning to frozen food rather than more expensive fresh products and restaurant takeaways. Nearly half of all consumers believe that frozen food will help them through the credit crunch and 70% say it helps them minimise waste and shop less often, according to Insight Track research.

Feature3-Chicago-TownMoney is short in consumers’ pockets and people are turning to frozen food rather than more expensive fresh products and restaurant takeaways. Nearly half of all consumers believe that frozen food will help them through the credit crunch and 70% say it helps them minimise waste and shop less often, according to Insight Track research.

Chicago Town pizza, which is sold frozen in supermarkets, is keen to capitalise on this trend with a marketing campaign for its “takeaway” range, aimed at stealing market share from high street restaurant rivals Domino’s and Pizza Hut.

The brand, recently acquired by German food business Dr Oetker, is pushing the range by advertising that it has been “voted tastier than Domino’s and Pizza Hut” as part of a £5m marketing support plan, which launched last month. Its £2m TV ad campaign, running since 17 April on mainstream channels, aims to put the brand in front of 7.2 million mums and more than 10 million Domino’s and Pizza Hut consumers.

Chicago Town marketing manager Paula Wyatt reveals: “The frozen pizza market is consolidating, with lots of strong competition emerging, all of which have similar propositions to us. This has made it difficult for consumers to differentiate between brands and we have struggled to gain top-of-mind awareness. We have focused our marketing on making our brand stand out and offering consumers something new.”

If the campaign is successful, Wyatt predicts that the brand could increase its penetration by 30% and deliver an additional £8m to the brand. According to the latest sales figures from Information Resources Incorporated (IRI), Chicago Town is now the second-largest frozen pizza brand behind Northern Foods brand Goodfella’s, and made almost £63m last year.

The IRI research found that Chicago Town had increased its market share to 21.6%, through a 20.4% sales uplift year on year, while Goodfella’s saw its sales decline by 10.5%. However, Chicago Town’s main competitors last year were supermarket own-label brands, which dominate the market with a 36.4% share and experienced an increase in sales of 17%.

Wyatt says that although the research data came out in its favour, the company couldn’t rest on its laurels. It needed to find a way of getting consumers to feel it was offering something different from own-brand options or direct rivals such as Goodfella’s. She explains: “We looked to boldly attack our competitors with a hard-hitting above-the-line campaign supported by a complete redesign to create a real takeaway feel to our pizzas.”

The brand’s packaging now includes a foil pizza pan to help consumers cook the product in an effort to give people an incentive to buy it rather than a competitor.

To back up the advertising, Chicago Town is also offering consumers a 100% money-back guarantee on 1.2 million of its packs for buyers who disagree that it is tastier than Pizza Hut and Domino’s.

Wyatt says the redesign and marketing campaign was necessary to help convince consumers that you don’t have to sacrifice taste by buying frozen pizzas. “We wanted to reiterate to consumers that the “takeaway” range uses fresh dough and is of the same quality, if not better, than the benchmark for pizza – high-street takeaways. The money-back guarantee will extend this for us, and give consumers the choice to stick with us or go back to their local takeaways,” she explains.

At a corporate level, Dr Oetker’s purchase of Chicago Town from its former owner Schwan is helping the parent company make inroads into the British pizza market. In 2005, the company bought Birds Eye’s frozen pizza business and folded the Gino Ginelli and Igloo brands into its Ristorante brands. Its purchase of Chicago Town now gives the German company a 43% share of the frozen pizza sector in the UK.

But despite the company’s current marketing push, the Office of Fair Trading is investigating Dr Oetker’s purchase of Chicago Town after retailers complained the deal would force them to scale back promotional activity on frozen pizzas, which they are treating as a recession staple.

Despite these obstacles, Wyatt is confident the brand push can help to increase recognition of the Chicago Town brand. She says: “We know we have to enhance our image, especially as the private label marketers are doing a very good job promoting their products. I’d like to think we are excellent at making our brand stand out using innovation and lots of new product development to cater to all markets.”

Although Wyatt claims to be keen to continue to market the brand heavily in future, she says that the company will scrutinise all campaigns to ensure they provide the correct levels of return on investment. It has already decided not to continue with Chicago Town’s two-year sponsorship of screenings of American Idol on ITV2.

Wyatt explains: “American Idol was a great move for us, giving us exposure on a hugely popular show for two years. However, it didn’t give us the in-depth knowledge of our audiences we wanted, so we have opted to move to this new proposition instead.”

In due course, Dr Oetker plans to offer further marketing support to all the Chicago Town range, including the mini dish, deep dish, thin dish and edge-to-edge pizza selections. New marketing campaigns will also be rolled out for the side orders and desserts offerings the company launched last year.

With so many competitors out there and strong own-brand rivals, Chicago Town hopes that by maintaining a high profile with its new marketing initiatives, this will ensure it can stay hot in the frozen pizza sector.

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