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The heat is on

May 24th signals the start of barbecue season, and a golden opportunity to lift sales

May is national barbecue month and a time when the long warm nights have consumers uncovering their grills and heading outside to cook. According to a 2009 study by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 82% of North American households own a grill or a smoker—up from 77% in 2007. Add in portable barbecues and those at vacation homes, campsites, public parks and sporting events and that translates into a lot of consumers shopping for everything from frozen meat patties to dips, marinades, chips and bug spray.

At-home entertaining

While the economic downturn encouraged Canadians to spend more time at home with family and friends, James Fraser, partner and managing director of retail, Capital C, calls 2010 the “echo recession” and believes the trend to entertain at home will continue. “This will be an amazing season for retailers and manufacturers as the trends of 2009 are taken to an even higher level,” he says.

And while Canadians still want convenience, health and value, Fraser says they are not skimping on their outside entertaining bills.

“They are willing to pay a premium for quality cuts of meat and exotic grilling fare,” says Fraser. “They are also looking for the accent items—napkin rings, linen tablecloths, outdoor china and stemware.”

Susan Evans, trade communications manager, Beef Information Centre, says source grinds and medallions will be big this year.

“Steak on the grill continues to be popular, but source grinds—such as sirloin, chuck and prime-rib burgers—are less expensive ways to get that steak experience,” says Evans. “Consumers are also interested in medallions—smaller, thicker steaks that are easier to grill, like a strip loin or a rib-eye medallion.”


* The most popular foods cooked on a grill are meats (including burgers) (82%), steak (79%), chicken (72%) and hot dogs (71%)

* Four in 10 consumers who cook on a charcoal grill use barbecue sauce to add flavour. The most popular flavours include hickory (65%), mesquite (49%) and honey (49%)

* When charcoal grilling, more than half of consumers use marinades

* 59% of consumers use dry meat rubs

* 45% of grill owners barbecue at least one to two times a week during the summer months

* The top four reasons to barbecue are: afford-ability, convenience, taste and a great way to spend more time at home

Source: Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Figures are for Canada & the U.S.

Ethnic flavours are hot

Terry Fedorkiw, marketing product manager at Maple Lodge Farms, says that while Canadians will continue to focus on staples such as hot dogs and hamburgers, there is a growing trend toward ethnic flavours at the barbecue. “Asian, spicy southwestern and Indian are top choices,” he says. “Canadians are looking for options for their barbecue that still have all the flavour they are used to but without the added fat and sodium.”
During the summer season, while consumers have barbecuing on their mind, Fedorkiw says retailers can bump up their sales by directing consumers to products in the fresh, processed or frozen sections. “Remember, barbecuing is fast becoming a total meal occasion,” he says. “Canadians are starting to cook their entire meals outdoors, on their grills. Barbecuing vegetables can be a tasty way to get some colour and nutrients into their diet.  Retailers can feature barbecue meal-occasion bundles to really focus consumers to utilize their barbecue to its fullest potential.”

Add-on sales

And don’t forget the bug spray. Craig Schmidt, customer marketing manager at SC Johnson, says Canadian retailers lost about $2 million worth of business last year because many stopped merchandising repellents after the season peaked in July. According to Nielsen MarketTrack, in the 52 weeks ending
Jan. 16, 2010, sales of insect repellent came to nearly $40 million. And while that was 7% less than the year before, Schmidt says this was because year-to-year growth rates are weather dependent, and last summer was “unseasonably low.”
Cathy Antinozzi, client development manager, Priority Brands, says the company’s line of dips always shows a spike in sales during the summer barbecue season.

Antinozzi says the consumer continues to choose healthier alternatives to snacking, and as a result Priority Brands has launched a number of varieties that are lighter in calories and fat content. New this year are three SKUs of hummus veggie dip. “Research has shown that 66% of consumers are receptive to pairing hummus veggie dip with vegetables,” she says.

Nielsen MarketTrack also reported sales of prepared dips were $240 million, up 8% from the year before, while volume rose 4%.

Canadians also spent more than $100 million on spices, up 11% from the year before, while volume grew 9%.

Colleen Douglas, category solutions team manager at the consumer products division of McCormick, says that for its line of spices, seasonings and marinades, barbecue season starts in March. “As soon as there is a hint of warmer air, Canadians get out and barbecue,” she says.

New products for McCormick include La Grille Limited Edition Citrus Blast and La Grille 30 Minute Wet Marinades.

Sheri Morgan, manager of communications and community relations, PepsiCo Foods Canada, says a new snacking option this year is Tostitos Blue Corn Tortilla Chips. Other new Frito Lay products include Lay’s Cheddar and Sour Cream, Miss Vickie’s Balsamic Vinegar and Sweet Onion, Spitz Cracked Pepper sunflower seeds and Stacy’s Multigrain pita chips.

Morgan says the nut categories are growing as consumers see these products as “better-for-you” options, and PepsiCo Foods offers portion-controlled options in single-serve package sizes that target female shoppers.

“We know that consumers are looking for healthy and convenient snacks that taste great and we expect this demand to continue,” says Morgan. “Given the increased focus on healthy eating, nutrition now ranks second to taste as the primary influence for purchasing behaviour.”

Merchandising tips

Cross merchandise

The most effective way to move product is to put all the ingredients together in one convenient location. “The easier you can make it for consumers and give them ideas of what to cook and then have it all there, the better the sales opportunity,” says Susan Evans, trade communications manager at the Beef Information Centre. “Get everything you need to prepare a certain meal together, whether that’s burger condiments or cut-up vegetables for kebabs.”
Cathy Antinozzi, client development manager at Priority Brands, says dips are the perfect complement to fresh veggies in the produce department. “With every dip sold, produce is sold, resulting in two profit margins,” she says. “Cross merchandising veggie and fruit dips with precut veggies and fruit will ensure they maximize sales.”

Merchandise the occasion

It’s not a barbecue any longer, says James Fraser, partner and managing director of retail, Capital C. It’s now an outdoor gathering. Savvy retailers, he says, will merchandise the occasion as opposed to the meal. “While the burger and dog still exist, they will be served with linen napkins and outdoor faux china,” he says. “Consumers are willing to pay premiums for designer condiments and premade kebabs. Esthetics and presentation are as important as the meal itself.”

Be bold

Laura Litchfield, an administrator with the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association in Ontario, suggests retailers set up a complete barbecue with everything from furniture, shelters and lighting options to menu solutions to give consumers ideas and a visual experience. Litchfield also suggests providing recipes, in-store cooking demonstrations and taste tests to help draw in customers and move inventory.

Link to promotions

Lots of manufacturers are offering promotions this summer, including McCormick’s 20th anniversary of La Grille. Colleen Douglas, category solutions team manager for the consumer products division at McCormick, says promotions for the anniversary include television, print and online campaigns, prepack promotional activity, special neckbanding and shelf point-of-sale to help retailers move its lines of shake-on seasonings, dry marinades, wet marinades, dry rubs and wet rubs. PepsiCo Foods Canada is launching a massive summer promotion called Lay’s Chip Trips. “On every bag of Lay’s, consumers will be able to collect and redeem points against thousands of attractions and hotel partners across Canada,” says Sheri Morgan, PepsiCo’s manager of communications and community relations.

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