Consumers aren’t waiting for weekends to hit the garden and grill. When the sun shines they’re ready to barbecue - so you need to be prepared

Such is our love of barbecue food that, according to The Food People, there has been a 35% increase in the number of US barbecue dishes served in UK restaurants since 2010. Heinz, known for its ketchup and barbecue sauces, reckons our taste in barbecue items will increasingly be influenced by American styles and flavours.

Add this to the fact that many food shows regularly feature pulled pork, smoky ribs, brisket and ‘burnt ends’ and you’ve got thousands of would-be chefs gagging to get out in the garden to recreate their favourite dishes.

“As typical American styles of food, such as pulled pork, and the increased accessibility of different variants of barbecue sauces become more familiar within the UK, the barbecue occasion will become part of the everyday rather than a summer occasion,” says Heinz brand manager Chris Isaac.

“Barbecue flavours and accompaniments will become a key staple within consumers’ everyday diets, and food and drink brands will have to incorporate this growing trend within NPD and marketing strategies.”

Luckily, many convenience store retailers are responding to this trend with a wider range of barbecue bits. Hicksons, a Spar store in North Hykeham, Lincoln, has its own in-store butchers - Hicksons Fresh Foods. On its website, for example, there’s a message that says “Barbie time is almost upon us again and many barbie meats taste just as good under the grill or in the oven. We always have a great range of BBQ meats at Hicksons Fresh Foods, but to make sure you get what you want or to place a special order, just give us a call”.

On-site butcher Jonathan Cook confirms that the barbecue season is good for business. “We carry a wide range of barbecue stock and, as well as the meat, there are the burger baps and the charcoal to consider.

“We offer marinated meats throughout the year - things like smoky barbecue and peri peri chicken - but in the summer we narrow down the range of stewing and braising meat and have a bigger stock of barbecue meat.”

And all meat is fully traceable, from local free-range chickens to lamb from the Lincolnshire wolds. It is all hung, cut and trimmed to suit customer needs.

Jonathan says they use Verstegen spices and sauces, which are popular. “I’ve just been using one called Spanish Harbour which is a Spanish garlic sauce; customers love it. We do whatever people want - sometimes we get an order for 50 kebabs, other times it’s for a few burgers. We currently have a bogof offer on packs of three burgers.”

At Spar Compton in Wolverhampton, they too have a butchery department and their butcher is Richard Hipkiss. He says: “Burgers and sausages are still popular, but we’re doing more exotic flavours such as chilli sausages and caramelised onion sausages. Another popular line is our grill stick - they’re like kebabs, but have no meat on them. We do a mince one, chicken tikka and tandoori.” He uses traditional butchers’ spices, but marinades are available in the store for shoppers who prefer to do it themselves.

Spar Compton doesn’t tend to do offers on fresh meat: “Our meat is locally sourced, our sausages and burgers are hand-made and we’re trading in an area where people will pay a little bit more for that,” says Richard. “When the sun comes out, the feel-good factor kicks in and people are willing to spend money, but that said our prices are reasonable. Our sausages sell at £2.80 a pound, and you get approximately six to a pound. As for traceability, we can trace our meat right back to the particular field it came from.”

Like Hicksons, people can order their meat at Spar Compton. “We catered for some big barbecues last summer where people ordered 100 burgers and 50 of this and 50 of that,” says Richard, who is keen to advise shoppers just like the traditional butchers of old. “We will always advise people if they are unsure about what they want and what will cook best. I’ve even gone so far as roasting someone’s meat for them.”

Richard says the first weekend of 20-degree sunshine typically signals the start of the barbecue season. C-Store spoke to Richard in April. At the time, he said the thermometer hadn’t quite hit the magic 70˚F so only the more adventurous barbecuers had been out. “I check the BBC weather reports and always keep a reasonable amount of stock. If I know it’s going to be hot on a Saturday we’ll spend all day Friday preparing for that. We don’t run out.”

Of course, it’s not just the meat section that’s busy when the sun comes out. Richard says items such as coleslaw and salads sell well and he confers with other departments around the store so they all know what’s available.”

Phil Hickson - owner of Hicksons Fresh Foods - says barbecue season is “pretty good” for business, but you need consistently good weather for it really to take off.

“The odd good day here and there is not really good enough. If the weather is good on a Wednesday or Thursday then people plan to have a barbecue at the weekend, but if it’s not they’ll plan other things. We’re lucky in that we have our own butcher on site and if the weather changes we can change to suit it.”

Chris Woodruff runs Darsham Service Station in Suffolk, which has a Londis-branded store. With charcoal outside the shop and barbecue staples such as meat and salads inside, he’s keen to push barbecuing to his punters.

“What I’d like to see is POS material at the pump that pushes what we sell in the store, something along the lines of ‘It’s barbecue time - grab your burgers inside’. Standing at the petrol pump must be one of the most boring things people have to do, so I’d like to give them something to think about.”

He’d also be keen to do more promotions to link barbecue products, but says it can be complicated because of the different rates of VAT, for example, on charcoal versus burgers. “We’re looking at deals but it’s a fine line between having a reasonable offer for the customer and us still making money. Barbecue is not pushed massively by Londis, but we always use any POS material they send, such as header cards. There isn’t much in the way of multibuys, though.”

As for that charcoal, Chris says at peak times he’s selling 15 to 20 bags a week.

Of course, if you haven’t got a forecourt then you might not have much room for bags of charcoal, but the rise in popularity of gas and disposable barbecues means you don’t have to miss out.

Caroline Morris, head of sales at Bar-Be-Quick, reckons a key product for convenience retailers is the single-use barbecue. “If sold in CDUs, these can be placed around the store so they don’t take up valuable shelf space,” she explains. But she adds that another popular line to consider is instant lighting charcoal, because by stocking that you don’t need to also stock lighting agents, other than a gas lighter.

She says the core size is the 3kg bag. “Our Grab and Grill 500g instant lighting FSC lumpwood charcoal is ideal for convenience retailers and independents. We’ve also introduced the instant lighting 1.5kg FSC briquette bag for slightly larger barbecues, or lidded barbecues for when you need to raise the temperature slightly. The portable picnic barbecue is also new to our range and is proving very popular.”

Morris adds: “Not only is barbecuing becoming more frequent, but we are also beginning to experiment more with flavour. Infusing food with certain aromas by, for example, sprinkling smoking chips over the charcoal, is hot at the moment.”

The weather might not be hot at the moment where you are, but once the sun hits that magic 70˚F expect the barbecuers to come out to play - and also pay for lots of outdoor eats.

Pulling in the punters

You’d have had to have been hiding under a rock not to have noticed the growing popularity of pulled pork. A massive hit in the US, its inclusion on cookery and other food shows has meant more people are eating it here.

The Spar brand has already jumped onto the pulled pork bandwagon with its BBQ pulled pork product. Spar UK brand director Susan Darbyshire said she expected it to sell particularly well during the summer. And Spar retailer Conrad Davies is a fan - he’s tried it and described it as really tasty.

BPEX, which looks after the interests of pig farmers and others in the pig industry, has just launched a TV-led campaign which focuses on pulled pork - how easy it is to cook and how good it tastes. The campaign is targeting younger consumers in particular, to change their perceptions of pork and to get them to eat more of it. As well as TV advertising, there will be PR, social media and in-store activity.

Feeling hot, hot hot

Get fired up for full-on flavours

Hot sauces is one of the fastest developing trends in the barbecue category. Indeed, consumer spend on hot sauces has increased by 54% over the past four years to reach £35.5m (Kantar 2015).

Heinz has helped with the growth via new product launches. The firm says its consumers are very adventurous so it’s therefore important to offer a wide range of products that incorporate international flavours and the right level of space. Its chilli ketchup range has been boosted with the launch of a jalapeno chilli variety and, at the same time, there is refreshed packaging for the existing fiery chilli and sweet chilli varieties featuring a chilli indicator to communicate the heat level of each product.

In Heinz’s chilli sauce range there is new sriracha, which joins sweet chilli, peri peri, jerk bbq and hot pepper. Sriracha is made from a special blend of chilli peppers, vinegar and garlic to create an authentic Thai flavour, which brings an aromatic heat to food. The company says it can be used as a condiment, a dipping sauce or for marinating or glazing.

Meanwhile, the Encona Sauces brand has recently had a label refresh in a bid to create greater standout and attract more shoppers to the fixture.

“We’ve found that consumer interest in hotter flavours continues to grow,” says Nyree Chambers, head of marketing for distributor Grace Foods UK. “Our Extra Hot pepper sauce remains our third best-selling flavour, with value sales up 65.5% year on year (IRI data), and we expect this interest in hotter variants to continue.

“At the same time, we also recognise that milder sauces have great appeal, with our sweet mango chilli flavour proving popular with families looking for a milder sauce to be enjoyed around the dinner table and during barbecues.”