YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Freezer sales climb as food prices rise

September 11, 2008|Ashley M. Heher | The Associated Press

Once relegated to the dank corners of the basement, deep freezers are regaining favor with shoppers who aim to stash bulk-sized purchases of meats, fruits and vegetables in their efforts to combat rising food prices.

Nationwide, shoppers bought more than 1.1 million freezers in the first six months of this year, up more than 7% from the same period last year, research firm NPD Group said.

Stores rang up nearly $400 million in freezer sales -- a staggering figure compared with the rest of the appliance market, which is struggling as consumer spending and the housing market falter. Industry data show that shipments of other appliances are down nearly 8%.

And, experts said, it's a trend that's expected to continue at least through much of next year as penny-pinching shoppers buy in bulk to take advantage of deals or bundle grocery shopping trips to conserve gasoline.

"We're not going to let our food costs rise faster than our food budgets, so if we can buy in bulk, we can save," said Harry Balzer, an NPD vice president.

About half of all U.S. households already have a chest or upright freezer, separate from the refrigerator-freezer combo that's a kitchen stalwart, according to industry statistics.

To accommodate the rest -- or cater to shoppers who want to upgrade to newer or more spacious models -- some appliance makers are redesigning their products and marketing them as a way to put the freeze on rising food prices.

This summer, Frigidaire's revamped upright freezers began hitting stores, as the brand owned by Swedish manufacturer Electrolux added specially designed shelves, baskets and other features to take advantage of the appliances' growing popularity.

The models retail between $399 and $799.

"Overall, these trends last a long period of time because consumers adjust their buying habits and they change their routine," said Marty O'Gorman, general manager of the freezer division of Electrolux Major Appliances.

Elizabeth Lyng and her husband spent $150 in August for a small freezer chest.

After her family switched from buying fresh fruits and vegetables to frozen items, the gadget has become the holding area for bags of frozen blueberries, strawberries and meats, along with leftovers.

"I wanted to be able to buy in bulk when things were on sale or at a pretty good price and have the room to save and freeze and store anything that we can get [at] a good price," said Lyng, 31, of Norcross, Ga. "We . . . really had to have the extra space."

Executives at home improvement chain Lowe's Cos. said they first noticed the rise in freezer sales this spring and correlated it to food prices. They also attribute some of the increase to a bumper crop for home gardeners, whose plots were damaged by last summer's drought.

"It made sense," Chief Executive Robert Niblock said.

At Home Depot Inc., unit sales of compact freezers are up in double-digit percentages over the last 12 months.

"Freezers tend to be countercyclical, meaning that they generally do better when the economy is soft because people go out less and buy groceries in bulk," Home Depot spokeswoman Paula Drake said.

Los Angeles Times Articles