Will this summer be a sizzler? The Olympics, Euro 2012 and the diamond jubilee could add up to one of the most lucrative trading periods ever for the barbecue sector.Peter Mandelson-aka The Dark Lord, or The Prince of Darkness-isn't known for being a friend of the barbecue. But when the then-business secretary announced, on 5 January 2010, an extra bank holiday to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the industry had ample reason to toast him.
In the barbecue business, bank holidays mean big bucks. So do sporting events - and they're certainly not in short supply this summer, with not only the Olympics but the Euro 2012 football championships on the cards. All in all, it's a powerful combination that means this year could be "one of the most lucrative trading periods since the 2010 World Cup" for the industry, according to Bpex product manager Tina Mulholland.
If anything, that's underplaying it: 2012 could be one of the most lucrative periods ever for barbecue - if the weather cooperates.
Recent experiences have given the industry every reason to anticipate a bumper season. In 2010, the football World Cup contributed to a 30% year-on-year rise in summer barbecue occasions [Kantar Worldpanel] with a little help from some sunshine. And last year, the category's big growth spurt came in April, thanks to the Royal Wedding and unseasonably warm weather.
Hopes are higher still for 2012. "We expect this summer's events to be significant drivers for barbecue occasions based on the strong performance previously seen for the World Cup and Royal Wedding," says Waitrose barbecue buyer Tom Moore.
Although the Olympics and Euro 2012 are welcome draws, for many the big ticket in barbecue is the Jubilee. Toby Shea, director of the International BBQ Network, says this is because it is a single event - whereas the Olympics and football events are spread out and fall on work days, which are less convenient for barbecues, as well as weekends. "The Jubilee will be far and away the big one, as there will be street parties and garden parties and we have days off," he says. "Any manufacturer not focusing on barbecue then is going to lose out on a real opportunity."
That isn't stopping some manufacturers and retailers focusing primarily on the big sports events. Florette, for example, will be rolling out its Three Lions salad again after its success in 2010, and also hopes to capitalise on both the football and the Olympics with its Summer of Sport campaign encouraging consumers to be more healthy. But most are kicking off their campaigns with the Jubilee, the first big event.
Ambient products are particularly prepared. Although fresh food, especially meat, is key to the barbecue occasion, products that sit on shelves for longer have more scope to rebrand themselves far ahead of the event. Many are, unsurprisingly, featuring the Union Jack on packaging and PoS material-which has the advantage of catering for the Jubilee crowd, but also appealing to those backing Team GB later in the summer. Tabasco, for instance, is being repackaged in a limited edition red, white and blue design in May-and Manchester Drinks is unveiling a Union Jack-adorned fruit punch in April.
Asda, meanwhile, is literally flagging up barbecues, launching a Union Jack Instant Barbecue from Bar-Be-Quick. "We were mindful about creating a product retailers could capitalise on sooner rather than later," says Caroline Hoare, national account manager at owner Rectella International.
Redesigns and limited editions are impor-tant, but given how many there are going to be, they need to be supported by strong merchandising and promotions if they are to stand out. Ben Johnson-marketing director at All About Food, which produces Nando's sauces (including barbecue variants) and Pizza Express dressings under licence-says getting the right product to the consumer at the right time is crucial. Waitrose's Moore agrees. "It is important to make finding the barbecue range easy," he says.
Miranda Ballard, co-founder of premium burger producer Muddy Boots, flags up cross-promotions as a vital mechanism to give small brands exposure. The company will be part of Budgens' barbecue mix & match this summer, an initiative Ballard believes makes consumers more willing to try new brands.
Encona brand manager Giuseppe Vullo agrees cross-selling is crucial, but believes more could be done to maximise its impact. "There is scope to create much more theatre instore," he says. "Dual positioning of barbecue products above fresh meats and by delicatessen counters or alongside disposable barbecues is a good step."
PRESENCE AT BBQ OCCASION Barbecue: 12 rife December 2011 BBQ OCCASION % Sausages 45.3 Beefburgers 39.1 Chicken cuts & dishes 34.7 Fish 7.5 Steak 5.8 Kebabs 4.5 Bacon cuts 4.2 Pork chops 2.8 Lamb Chops 1.8
Merchandising is particularly important for products that consumers do not necessarily associate with barbecues -sauces such as Encona's, for instance. And other categories would also benefit from barbe-cue-related merchandising, believe experts. Although rolls are purchased for 43% of barbecues [Kantar Worldpanell, Allied Bakeries category director Guy Shepherd says this figure would be higher if retailers were savvier about placements. "Retailers do not devote enough off-fixture display space to rolls and if that does not change there is a danger the massive opportunity to boost sales in 2012 will be missed," he says.
Of course, brands can also help themselves by making the suitability of their products for barbecues crystal clear. To associate cider with barbecues, Sussex brand Merrydown will be running an on-pack raffle in May to give consumers the chance to win barbecue-related prizes, for instance-and soft drink stablemate Shloer is running a similar competition, as well as bringing back its limited-edition Fruit Punch variant.
Sauce manufacturers, meanwhile, can benefit from products specifically aimed at the barbecue market-such as jack Daniel's Barbecue Sauce and Heinz's new Classic and Sticky barbecue sauces. Sauce company French's international sales director John Cummins says it has upped marketing spend by 150% in anticipation of a big summer.
Hellmann's is also expecting a good year. "At barbecues, we see a lot of consumers purchasing multiple sauces," says Haseeb-ur-Rahman, Unilever marketing manager, dressings. "So it's important for us to build an association with barbecue. In 2011 we ran a TV ad that gave our flavoured mayos relevance to the barbecue season and are planning a similar strategy for 2012."
When it comes to sauces, shoppers are becoming more and more adventurous-reflected in Heinz's February launch of a limited-edition ketchup blended with Indian spices. To cater for Brits' growing need for heat, Encona is bringing out a West Indian Extra Hot Pepper Sauce (see psi) and Newman's Own is launching an Extra
Hot Sticky BBQ sauce. Meanwhile, rub and marinade manufacturers are also finding consumers more willing to use extra flavourings for meat. Bad Byron's Butt Rub reports steadily growing sales since its launch last summer-and All About Food says value sales of Nando's BBQ Rub rose 21% last year.
Consumers are also becoming bolder in their use of vegetables-and not just as an accompaniment. Vegetarian ranges of bar-becue meat alternatives are thriving. In preparation for an al fresco summer, Linda McCartney has launched products including a barbecue pack (see p52)-and wholesale supplier 3663 has listed barbecue products from family-run vegetarian business Fry's.
Fish, too, is becoming increasingly popular as a barbecue food. "Consumers said they would particularly love to be able to do fish on the barbecue," says Jill Skipsey, Asda fish counter buyer, in reference to the formats available at the retailer's new fish counters. "That's why we've included barbecue trays."
But traditional sausage, beefburger and chicken products remain the dominant foods in the sector [Kantar Worldpanel]. Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, founder of The Black Farmer range of gluten-free sausages, says he can't see this changing soon. "People are not prepared to take risks because barbecues are a leisure activity with the emphasis on socialising rather than experimenting."
Nevertheless, there are signs that consumers are experimenting a little. Meat is king, but the type of products being bought is changing. Last year, steaks featured at 34% more barbecues than in 2010, lamb chops at 27% more and beef cuts at 23% more [Kantar Worldpanel]. Eblex marketing manager Mike Whittemore says producers have developed options that meet a wider range of demands, including "a number of alternative steak cuts" to meet demand for cheaper beef.
In addition to broadening the range of meats and cuts on offer, retailers are increasingly focusing on products that add value for barbecue fans. A prime example is the selection pack of meat designed for barbecues-often with packaging or extra flavouring tailored to the occasion-which is fast becoming an in-store must-have.
Aside from their price, one of the main reasons for their popularity is that they are preprepared and ready to cook. An Asda spokeswoman describes the retailer's range of barbecue selections-including marinated ribs and sausages in European-inspired flavours-as "filling a skill gap" for those who lack the confidence to prepare food from scratch. "People want more than just a burger," she says. "They want products that really deliver on flavour."
Of course, many will maintain that no amount of NPD, merchandising and branding will help if the summer is a washout. To some extent, this is true the industry is more dependent than most on the whims of the British climate. In 2011, barbecue occa-sions fell from 73.9 million to 47.2 million year-on-year [Kantar Worldpanell as a result of the poor summer, although April had been much stronger than usual with the Royal Wedding, good weather and the second-warmest autumn in over 100 years resulting in a 67% rise in barbecue occasions.
"Good weather has a real impact on sector sales and when it coincides with a big event (especially at weekends), we see our customers buying more barbecue products than ever," confirms a Tesco spokesperson.
Given how temperamental the British weather can be, however, manufacturers are trying to cover themselves by emphasising versatility. Brands such as Birds Eye have rolled out on-pack messaging explaining that their products can be barbecued from frozen -and fresh meat producers are pointing out that products can be cooked indoors, or indeed frozen. Asda's meat and fish selections, for instance, will indicate on pack that they can be prepared in the oven. Sainsbury's, too, has "taken into account the unpredictable British weather", says Siobhan Barnes, senior buyer -beef and lamb. Its burger range, which this year includes veal-based products, features oven grilling instructions as well as barbecuing tips.
So what's the forecast for summer 2012? Netweather director Ian Michaelwaite says it is still too early to give an accurate forecast, but that readings point to average rainfall and marginally above-average temperatures.
One thing's for sure: the combination of multiple national celebrations and more versatile products should help mitigate the impact of a rainy summer if that's what is on the way. And if the sun does shine, so much i the better for the barbecue.
RELATED ARTICLE: * Last summer there was a decrease in barbecue occasions compared with 2010, when the World Cup boosted numbers.
* However, last autumn the UK experienced unseasonably warm weather-the second-warmest in over loo years-leading to a rise in the number of barbecue occasions (34 million compared with 20 million the previous autumn).
* The weekend is important for barbecues, in particular Saturday evenings-7pm is the peak time. Around 73% of barbecue occasions occur between 4pm and 9pm.
* Sausages feature at 45% of barbecues, and beef burgers at 39%. The top-growing food is steak, with an uplift of 34% year-on-year, whereas kebabs are in decline.
* Salad vegetables, meanwhile, feature at 46% of barbecue occasions, and potatoes at 37%.
Nicole de Blaquiere
RELATED ARTICLE: West Indian Extra Hot Pepper Sauce
Launched: March 2012 Manufacturer: Encona
Encona has launched its hottest-ever SKU in time for the barbecue season. The first mo bottles were sold via its Facebook page before the official launch. "Fans have been clamouring for us to take the heat to a new level," says brand manager Giuseppe Vullo. "We've responded with a distinctive, spicy sauce featuring some of the hottest peppers, including jolokia and Scotch Bonnet." The 142m1/150g sauce retails at [pounds sterling] 1.59.
MyCocktail Summer Fruit Punch
Launched: March 2012
Manufacturer: Manchester Drinks Company
Aimed unashamedly at Jubilee and Olympic barbecue festivities, this punch is a combination of white Caribbean rum blended with strawberry, raspberry and blueberry juices infused with honey. The foil pack means the liquid can be kept chilled and stays fresh for up to three months once opened. Set to be stocked in Asda, the rsp is 13.99.
Sweet Crispy salad mix
Launched: February 2012
Building on the success of the Crispy mix-which has sales of over [pounds sterling] 30m-Florette has launched the Sweet Crispy mix, perfect for barbecues. The new mix is the result of extensive research into the taste and appearance of crisp and sweet leaf types and offers salad fans "something sweeter for their crispy fix". Rsp is [pounds sterling] 1.74 for a 200g bag.
Vegetarian BBQ Selection
Launching: April 2012
Manufacturer: Linda McCartney
Debunking the myth that barbecue has to be all about meat, the Linda McCartney brand is launching a new selection pack containing vegetarian versions of barbecue classics. Each pack contains two vegetarian burgers, two vegetarian sausages and two chicken-style fillets and has an rsp of [pounds sterling] 2.50.
Canada: Low heat and slow cooking are making a comeback in Canada-evident in the growing popularity of smoked foods. "With new-found old skills, we are seeing a return to long meats such as brisket and pork shoulder-and hence pulled pork," says the Canadian Southern Barbecue Association.
USA: Smoked foods are becoming more popular in the US, too-and cooks enjoy having a smoker as well as a grill in the backyard, says Stuart Powell, CEO at barbecue products manufacturer Cookshack. As in Canada, large meat cuts i such as brisket and pork shoulder continue to grow in popularity.
Holland: "The Dutch are finding you can be more creative with food, rather than just having sausages," says Harry Havinga, a barbecue event 1 organiser. "You have to think now about desserts, vegetables and combinations as well as different kinds of meat cuts such as tri-tip and flank steak."
South Africa: The traai' is all about the marinades these days, says Baxters Food Group. Popular flavours include sosatie (a sweet, mild curry marinade with onion), sweet chilli, chilli & lime, Moroccan and Mexican. Ostrich is a popular meat along with boerewors, a seasoned coarse-ground lamb or pork sausage.
Australia: Global barbecue supplier Heat Beads Australia says Aussies are also experimenting more with marinades. The barbecue season, which already lasts six months, is extending further into the rainy months-Heat Beads says people are less deterred by bad weather than they used to be.