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Selling the season

Summer, and the promise of outdoor entertaining, is just around the corner. Here’s how to fire up sales during this key period
Group of happy young friends having barbecue party, outdoors
Shutterstock/NDAB Creativity

After a tough slog of a year, COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted and with them, hopefully, Canadians’ spirits and their desire to entertain friends and family this summer.

“Without going as far as to declare summer 2022 as the ‘best summer ever,’ I think that this summer will be a significantly stronger period than we’ve seen over the past few years,” says Jeff Doucette, general manager of marketing agency Field Agent Canada. “More gatherings will be likely and [they’ll] be larger, if restrictions remain lifted.”

But, like ants at a picnic, inflation will be the unwelcome guest this summer. It will affect categories like meat, Doucette says. “Retailers may want to consider picking a star protein and developing a ‘won’t be beat’ stance,” he advises. “Become the destination for chicken, pork or ground beef and make a price impression that can be the centre of summer campaigns.”


Despite the impact of inflation on meat prices, Rod Koning, executive director, domestic channel marketing, Canada Beef, is also confident about the season ahead. “The last two summers we’ve seen strong demand with consumers coming out of restrictions and mandates,” he says. “We expect that to continue in 2022.” He points out that value-cut offerings from the hip and shoulder cuts, thin cuts, and medallions—pre-marinated or cross-merchandised with marinade solutions—can help stretch food dollars.

And to help consumers be more confident in their cooking, the recently launched The Canadian Beef Information Gateway provides grilling recipes, accompanied with instructional cooking videos, nutritional information and more.

A food prep trend expected to continue to be popular this summer is smoking. “Backyard smokers with indirect heat, using smoker boxes containing wood chips, provide a great flavour base to favourite beef cuts,” adds Koning. Popular items will include Korean-style thin cut short ribs, bone-in rib steak (French cut-style) and skewers. Brisket and top sirloin cap steaks remain in high demand. Hanging tender and skirt steaks are gaining popularity at specialty butchers and provide bold beef flavours and they’re ideal for creating “dine-out dishes” at home, such as shawarma and fajitas.


While we’re still figuring out how COVID-19 has changed society, it’s clear that Canadians’ eating habits have shifted. A recent Deloitte Canada survey, for instance, found nearly two-thirds of consumers said they’re more interested in how their diets affect overall health and immunity.

It has created a sweet spot for retailers and suppliers. Ryan Dennis, owner of Larry’s Market in Vancouver, says he’ll be focusing on providing kits for customers to help them do vegetarian barbecues right. “I think vegan protein shreds with a pulled-pork type consistency will do well,” he says. “It’s not just about burgers this year, so we’re creating easy options to take the work out of summer entertaining.”

As Canadians embrace non-meat selections, B.C.- based The Very Good Butchers has added more soy and gluten-free options to its lineup—spicy Italian Mmm Meatballs, ground Butcher’s Select options like A Cut Above Beef and A Cut Above Pork are made with simple ingredients such as split peas, navy beans, and pea protein.

Lauren Watkins, president, Puravida Foods, also expects to see momentum build for quick, healthy foods: “We believe that summer grilling season is the perfect time to keep this trend moving forward. There’s something so satisfying about grilling vegetables or meats that allow their natural flavours and textures to be highlighted by the subtle smokiness of a grill.” She predicts grilled fruits and vegetables will be the star of the 2022 grilling season as people seek ways to increase their vegetable intake.

Consumers will want to maximize their time outdoors, so items offering convenience will be appealing. Puravida Foods’ line of pre-prepped, fire roasted vegetables offer a heat-and-serve option. They work as a side dish, or can be incorporated into other dishes such as a salad.

Puravida Foods will work with grocers to bring awareness of the value pre-prepped, ready-to-use products to consumers. “Educating grocers on available products trickles down to the consumers because the choices grocers make directly impact what’s available in the market,” says Watkins. The company will also collaborate on sampling events.

Watkins is bullish on summer sales. “I think they will soar to new levels since people are looking to restore a sense of normalcy while also taking advantage of loosened restrictions and great weather.”


During the pandemic, Canadians sought excitement by shaking up their old habits and this included trying new foods. “We believe people will start grilling different things,” says Teresa Spinelli, president, Italian Centre Shop, a grocery retailer with locations in Edmonton and Calgary. “They will try other exciting fish, more stuffed meats, like kabobs. Spices will be big this year—from Mediterranean to South American.” Grilling cheeses, like halloumi, are trending, wrapped with prosciutto or eggplant, grilled peaches and portobello mushrooms.

The trick with new products is getting consumers to try and to understand them. This summer may mark the return of demos and sampling. “We’re hoping to have demos and a barbecue at all our stores, promoting not only our house products, like Massimo’s Italian sausage and Piedmontese beef, but having those items alongside complementary items,” says Spinelli. She’d like to have supplier support for those demos. “We know that is difficult to do, but even information from the vendors really helps our retail team make that product shine.”


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Grill steaks browned on both sides are on an electric stove. Bottle with oil, various kinds of vegetables and glass of beer are standing on the table in the sunshine.


Just in time for summer entertaining come new spins on classics. French’s, a century-old brand, for instance, has debuted new creamy versions of its classic mustard. “These thick and spreadable options are changing the condiments game,” says Deborah Sharpe, group marketing director, McCormick Canada. French’s is now offered in three creamy spreads—Yellow Mustard, Sweet Applewood and Honey Chipotle. They’re ideal to serve with barbecue fare and cold cuts, to whisk into dressings or marinades, add to devilled eggs, or stir into salads.

“Big, bold flavours will continue to be popular across the country no matter what category is being purchased,” explains Sharpe. The new Club House La Grille All Purpose Grilling Blends are a great way to add them to anything on grill. “They enhance, but don’t compete, with the flavour of the grill.” Garlic & Crushed Herbs, Smoked Paprika & Onion, and Cracked Pepper & Garlic, are seasonings that are easy to use for grillers looking to maximize flavour.

From April to August, McCormick brands—French’s, Frank’s, Club House La Grille and Stubb’s— will be featured on in-store displays and have a presence in promotions and flyers. Consumers can get classic Canadian recipes by scanning a QR code to access the Explore Grilling Flavours landing page. “We work in partnership with customers to bring these campaigns to life throughout the consumer journey, bringing together all the products needed for grilling in one convenient destination in-store,” says Sharpe. “Sixty-six per cent of consumers say they’d buy more grilling condiments or seasonings, if displayed in one place. It’s a win-win for retailers and our brands alike.”

At Neal Brothers Foods, chief snacking/sipping officer Peter Neal says flavour inspiration is coming from far-flung locales. “We continue to see an exploration of new exciting flavours from all corners of the world,” he says. “For snacks and hot sauces, we are seeing more spicy renditions of traditional flavours such as ketchup or dill pickle. They often represent the essence of a food experience from a popular vacation locale.”

The influence is seen in many of the Toronto company’s new products, like its popular smoky, spicy, citrus Mexican Street Corn Chips. Launching in May are two grilling sauces (Crank Coffee BBQ and Sweet Heat Habanero), plant-based offerings, including salad dressings—white balsamic raspberry, Caesar, ranch and mango poppy seed as well as a queso.

To help boost sales, Neal Brothers will offer combinations and collaborations with snacking and beverage deals, as well as displays. “Summer sales depend on good weather,” adds Neal. “The better it is, the more social gatherings and entertaining there will be. Overall, we’re hoping for a bump with more people feeling more comfortable gathering and enjoying good times together.”

At Summer Fresh, new hummus and creamy dip offerings take their flavour inspiration from potato chips. Last year, shoppers couldn’t get enough of its dill pickle hummus, according to Susan Niczowski, the food company’s president and founder. Shoppers seeking healthier nibbles will be dunking into its new chip-inspired dips—barbecue, spicy Buffalo and spicy dill pickle.


Looking ahead, Jessica Embro, grocery and The Beer Store key account manager at Sleeman Breweries, is seeing innovation with flavour extensions in the premium light beer segment as well as growth in the non-alcohol category, with potential increased shelf space dedicated to the latter.

“Lime is a top-selling beer flavour and, based on consumer research, continues to be in demand,” she says. The company will launch Sleeman Clear 2.0 Lime with 90 calories and 3 grams of carbs per 355-mL serving this spring. Citrus fruits are commonly used to add flavour and liveliness to grilled vegetables or dips like guacamole, making Clear 2.0 Lime a perfect pairing.

The summer may hold challenges. “We are going up against inflated volumes over the last couple of years due to pandemic buying behaviours and, therefore, expect beer sales, specifically at grocery, to continue to level out in 2022,” notes Embro. “The on-premise channel will likely regain some momentum and we may see some strength in the value beer segment, due to the heavy inflation we’re experiencing.”

To assist retailers, Sleeman is planning on value-add programs where customers will be able to sample Sleeman Clear 2.0 Lime post-grocery shop. Also watch for a Sapporo national, enter-to-win promotion with a personalized trip to Japan.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer's March/April 2022 issue.

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