BBQ is big business if you plan ahead, go big on flavoured meats, and build a strong, inspirational display. Here’s how to get summer ready

When the South East basked in record temperatures last month, one thing was unavoidable – the smell of BBQ smoke wafting from thousands of back gardens as the heat sparked the first outdoor dining occasion of the year for many.

“Starting from April until September, it’s the best time of year with BBQs, soft drinks and other high-margin products,” says Siva Thievanayagam, who owns five Nisa stores in Peterborough. “People are happy, the shop opens late, there’s more light and people are generally in a good mood. Last year we did really well.”

Chris Shelley of Shelley’s Budgens in Horsham, West Sussex, is equally enthusiastic. “If we get a spell of hot weather we see massive spikes in alcohol sales, soft drinks sales and BBQ food,” he says.

“The mark-up on BBQ goods is really good – about 40% – and with meat we’re looking at anything between 25% and 30%.”

Budgens Mortimer in Reading, Berkshire, which boasts a Jon Thorner’s-branded butchery counter, is quietly confident for this year after a promising 2017 BBQ season. “We were pleasantly surprised last year, sales were very good,” says head butcher Mike Copeland. “The first weekend of good weather is always the best and that sets the standard for the summer.”

Nisa Milestone Rathfriland in Co Down, which also houses a butchery counter, put in a strong performance, too. “BBQs are increasing in popularity every year,” claims butchery manager Peter Cahill. “BBQ sales performed very well last year and we anticipate the sales to increase further this year as we get to know better what the customer is looking for. On key weeks when the weather was good we had an average 22% increase in butchery sales, all directly related to BBQ sales.”

However, Adam Vincent, company director at Dike & Son in Stalbridge, Dorset, is hungry for more sunshine this year. “BBQ sales last year weren’t as good as the year before. We definitely had dry periods, but we didn’t have that 25˚C heat.

“It was quite a mild winter last year and you didn’t have that hankering to get out in the garden and have a BBQ. We’re hoping we’ll get nice weather this year, because we do really well out of it.”

Sauce of all knowledge

Unilever’s Partners for Growth (PfG) points out that retailers need to remember to manage sauces over the summer.

Don’t lose out on seasonal sales by keeping the same products on shelf all year round, it warns. In summer, make sure you stock products that are relevant to your customers’ eating habits, so a special focus on tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressings is a must. Additionally, non-traditional sauces such as BBQ and hot sauces should be stocked.

“Summer is a very important season for the table sauces, dressings and condiments category because of BBQs and summer parties,” says Nick Widdowson, PfG merchandising & creative controller.

Warm weather can lead to lots of shoppers popping in for last-minute BBQ or picnic items, claims the group. It recommends retailers try siting complementary products next to each other to prompt purchase, for example tomato ketchup by burgers and sausages, mayonnaise and salad dressings by salad bags.

 

What to stock

Obviously, a strong meat offering is central to BBQ sales. Burgers, chicken and sausages remain the top three products, featuring at 35%, 32.2% and 28.5% of BBQ occasions respectively (Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 3 December 2017). But today’s consumers want more than your standard fare.

Customers are becoming more adventurous in their BBQ choices, notes Peter. He states that the colour and variety of BBQ products is very important. “This could be directly related to the social media culture of our customers and the trend to Instagram food,” he says.

The store makes sure it gives customers what they want with a range of exciting flavours. “We make our own burgers in-store,” says Peter. “We have seen a huge demand for variations on the burgers available. Popular varieties including peppered burgers, gourmet burgers with caramelised onion, Tex Mex burger, and bacon & cheese burger.”

He claims that flavoured sausages are also in demand. “Last year we had beef & vegetable, garlic & chilli, pork & apple, caramelised onion, curry, and sweet chilli sausages. Variety is essential to increase sales.”

Siva has also been experimenting with multiple variants. “We use a local sausage company, Grasmere Farm. They make eight or 10 different varieties of sausage, such as Mediterranean-flavoured sausage. They are more high-end, so we also get in more affordable sausages, burgers and meats from another local butcher as well as stocking Nisa, Richmond and Walls-branded BBQ products.”

There’s an equally enticing offering at Dike & Son. “We’ll roll out different flavoured burgers and we’ll up the flavoured sausages,” says Adam. “We do eight different flavours from one local company, The Sausage Shed, including: marmalade; red onion; caramelised red onion & balsamic, and Burrowhill cider and mustard.”

In addition, the store challenges local supplier the Langton Arms Butchery to make two different flavoured sausages each week over the summer. “You can do anything,” says Adam. “Merrydown Cider wanted to do a promotion with us a couple of years ago, so we made a Merrydown Cider sausage. It’s good, because if you only do those sausages for two weeks people know they’re a guest flavour, and if they like them they’ll buy extra packs to stick in the freezer as it’s a limited edition.”

He claims that high-end goods are in greater demand than their cheaper counterparts at his store. “We’re a rural store, we have some people who don’t have much money, but it’s a farming community so we don’t sell foreign meat because it wouldn’t go down very well. We have got packs of sausages for a pound, but we have really good handmade local sausages for £2.99, which offers great value. If you’re having a BBQ, you’re not doing it just to feed yourself – it’s an event.”

Bring out the barbie

Disposable BBQs appeal to the frequently impromptu nature of the occasion. Making the most of the sun when it does shine often results in a spontaneous decision by consumers to throw a BBQ, points out instant BBQ brand Bar-Be-Quick.

“The great thing with disposable barbecues is that they don’t have the disadvantages that come with short shelf-life barbecue products, such as fresh meat and bakery products,” says the company’s head of sales Caroline Morris.

She adds: “Our best-selling product – the Bar-Be-Quick Instant Barbecue – is perfect for impromptu dinners, is quick and convenient to use, and there’s very little clean-up required, so it appeals to 
those time-poor consumers, too.”

The company claims that all the charcoal used in its products is FSC-approved and from well-managed sources, which it hopes will appeal to the growing number of consumers who are now buying from brands based on their social and environmental impact.

 

Budgens Mortimer goes to town on BBQ goods and prides itself on stocking only UK meat at its Jon Thorner’s counter.

“Sausages and burgers are our best-sellers for BBQ,” says Mike. “We make them up on demand. We do six different flavours of marinated chicken portions, including BBQ drumsticks, Chinese chicken wings, hot & spicy chicken breasts and so on.”

While the butchery counter closes at 5pm, the store is open for a further four hours so the counter makes up packaged goods to sell on shelf. “We do saver packs costing £11 each, with two kilos of sausages, burgers or spare ribs. We also do ‘do-your-own kebabs’ where you get the chicken, the sticks, the peppers and then build them yourself, which is good fun for the kids.”

Sauces are another category to benefit from BBQ sales. “Sauces are a necessity to complement the BBQ meats,” says Jon Walbancke, brand building director at Unilever UK and Ireland. “The most popular are BBQ sauce, Chinese sauce, piri piri sauce and peppered sauce.”

Ajay Chapanery, manager at Hawkhurst Road Spar, Preston, Lancashire, explains that more unusual sauces can add interest to a BBQ display. “I like adding a few quirky things – stuff you don’t normally get in your local shop – such as a Jack Daniel’s BBQ sauce or American mustard. It’s about trying to make the experience as authentic as possible. We try different marinades from Maggi, too, including BBQ, lemon, mint and piri piri.”

Adam agrees retailers can have fun with their sauces. “You can go off piste a bit – we have some really super-hot Naga chilli sauces. They’re a good way to get a bit of colour into the fixture. You can’t forget your squeezy mustard and mayonnaise, either.”

Hellmann’s moves to more natural ingredients

Consumers are increasingly looking for more natural ingredients when it comes to food and this trend is expected to continue, claims food giant Unilever, which owns the Hellmann’s brand.

As a result, the company has added a number of more natural-style products to the BBQ market to tap into this growing consumer demand.

In March Unilever relaunched its entire salad dressings portfolio. The new and improved line-up made with natural ingredients offers consumers a variety of classic and modern flavours to suit a range of tastes, and taps into the millions of salad occasions that take place in the UK every year, including during the BBQ season.

The firm also introduced two new variants: sesame & soy; and coconut & lime dressings. The new products have been developed to attract shoppers desiring more experimental, natural ingredients in their salads.

The lines join the firm’s natural ketchup, which was launched last year.

“Hellmann’s Ketchup Only Sweetened by Honey is the first ketchup on the market to be solely sweetened by honey, using 30% less sugar,” says Jon Walbancke, brand building director at Unilever UK and Ireland.

“We also updated the recipe for our Light Mayonnaise, making it free from artificial colours and preservatives.”

From May through to September, Unilever will be supporting the range with a £3m campaign, which includes thermally-activated out-of-home activity. In hot conditions, the weather-responsive advertising is triggered in key locations across the UK, pushing Hellmann’s BBQ range to the front of consumers’ minds.

 

Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated when it comes to flavours, concurs Unilever, which has just launched three new sauces: Hellmann’s chilli BBQ (rrp £1.29); Hellmann’s honey BBQ (rrp: £1.29); and Hellmann’s hot dog (rrp £1.89).

“Hellmann’s chilli BBQ sauce and Hellmann’s Honey BBQ sauce have been developed based on the popular flavour profiles of honey and chilli, which are growing year on year,” says Walbancke. The flavour profile of honey is up 35%, while chilli is up 21% (Kantar Worldpanel).

In addition to the staples of meat and sauces, it is also worth noting demand for healthy options, in the form of free-from, vegetarian and diet products.

Budgens Mortimer, Dike & Son and Nisa Milestone Rathfriland all cater for gluten-free BBQs. “Most of our sausages are gluten-free and we can get burgers in, too,” says Mike.

Adam says that gluten-free is “massive” at the moment. “Black Farmer does a good range of gluten-free sausages that tick the box,” he says. “You can get gluten-free rolls really easily these days; they’re another essential. And if you run out of your normal rolls, people will buy gluten-free rolls so you haven’t got to think ‘We’ll only get a case in because not everyone will want them’.”

He has also witnessed demand for vegetarian BBQ products. “Quorn is big for us now. We’ve got Mo Farah to thank for that. It’s not a vegetarian product now, in my opinion. They’ve re-marketed it as a healthy product, high protein and low in fat.”

Nisa Milestone Rathfriland is expanding its veggie range this BBQ season. “To date we have concentrated on vegetable burgers as a vegetarian option,” says director Ann McAvoy. “However, we hope to extend the range with BBQ corn on the cob with garlic and chilli, stuffed peppers and baked potatoes, to mention just a few.”

Meanwhile, Family Shopper Blantyre in South Lanarkshire has been helping its health-conscious customers enjoy BBQs. “I was the first supplier to get the Skinni range last year from an Ayrshire butchers,” says store supervisor Amanda Strachan. “It did really well during BBQ season – we had chilli burgers and kebabs. It’s all low fat, high protein and Slimming World-approved. It was really big for us, but now the supplier won’t supply any wee shops and is doing orders online instead. It’s a shame as we still get people coming in looking for it now.”

The store isn’t giving up on better-for-you offerings, though, and also has started stocking a range of healthy spice mixes. “We brought in Flava Shaka for seasoning your meats. The sachets come in lots of flavours - Chinese curry mix, South Indian garlic chilli, tandoori mix. They do really well.”

Florette makes salad super-easy

Florette is on a mission to make life even easier for BBQ consumers who want to enjoy their salad without the hassle of prepping the 
veg, or finding a suitable serving bowl.

It has created a new ham hock, cheese and pasta Salad Bowl, aimed at shoppers looking for quick, convenient and healthy solutions.

“More than half of UK shoppers are seeking healthy products and strongest category growth has been in healthy sectors,” says Polly Davies, category controller at Florette. She adds: “Retailers need to capitalise on this macro trend to drive footfall in store and BBQs are the perfect partner for salads as shoppers seek permissible indulgence.”

Florette recommends organising fixtures by meal type or bundle this barbecue season. “For example, Florette Summer Mix (140g) would be the perfect accompaniment for a burger, so should be placed near products such as beef burgers and fresh tomatoes,” says Davies. “To generate a higher basket spend, retailers should also think about strategic merchandising and cross-category ends/promotions to make it easy and quicker for the shopper.”

 

Sudden demand

But simply knowing what products to stock isn’t enough to succeed in BBQ, as retailers must also contend with the fickle British weather and the problem of when to stock.

“With the typically unpredictable weather in the UK, it can be difficult for consumers and retailers to plan ahead,” says Florette category controller Polly Davies. “When the sun does make an appearance, consumers quickly seize the opportunity for a BBQ – not knowing when the next chance will be – and it’s an all too familiar sight for the shelves to be emptied of burgers, bread rolls and salad.

“With 131 million BBQs held annually in the UK, worth £1.5bn, it’s important to strike the right balance of range and availability in periods of sudden demand.”

Nisa Milestone Rathfriland overcomes this hurdle by making key BBQ products in-house. “The in-store butchery means we can change our product range at very short notice,” explains Peter. “If the weather changes suddenly to become warmer and the demand changes, we can adapt immediately.”

Bread products can also be made at short notice. “We find many people are looking for burgers and bread baps. With our in-store bakery we can also change the supply almost immediately and increase the supply of bread rolls and baps for BBQs. We do not have to wait for a new delivery to come in the next day.”

Siva gets around the supply-demand issue thanks to numerous deliveries. “I’m lucky because we have six-day-a-week deliveries,” he says. “If tomorrow is going to be 30ºC, we’ll stock up properly – BBQ foods, eight-packs of water and salads, and so on.”

As well as receiving deliveries throughout the week from Londis and Booker, Family Shopper Blantyre relies on local butchers Gleddoch and McCandlish to provide burgers and sausages at short notice.

Meanwhile, non-food BBQ goods are ready to go on display at a moment’s notice. “We’ve got a cellar, so we always have non-food BBQ stock,” says Amanda. “I had stock from last year, so the first nice day we had I got out the BBQ things. It doesn’t even need to be really warm, as long as the sun’s out.”

Monitoring the sun’s whereabouts is really important over the summer. “You’ve got to plan ahead and keep an eye on the forecast,” says Mike. “Normally five days ahead is accurate.”

He claims that most BBQs are decided on the spur of the moment. “Some people, if they’re having a party, might take a gamble on the weather and order stuff in, but spontaneous BBQs make up about 80% of BBQ sales,” he claims.

This makes it especially tricky to prepare for, particularly with meat items. “Summer is the hardest time of the year. Christmas is easy because it’s all planned out, but in summer you have to be very flexible on your products. Steaks are okay, but you can get stuck with sausages and burgers, or you can spend ages making up kebabs and the weather takes a turn for the worse.”

Weather watching is crucial, according to Adam. “We turn into weather geeks at Dikes over the summer,” he concedes. “I use a weather app called Dark Sky that seems to be really accurate.

“It’s not always about how the weather is now, sometimes it’s about what the weather’s going to do. If you’re told it’s going to be a blazing hot weekend, you’re more likely to ring a friend, invite them for a BBQ and do your shopping on Saturday morning. Nice summer evenings during the week are another opportunity to get people to spend a bit more.”

He has also found a simple solution to roll shortages. “Brioche was good for us last year,” he states. “They have a longer date than fresh buns. We jumped on the poshdogs bandwagon last year, with brioche rolls and getting our butcher to make longer sausages for them. We also saw a bit of a resurgence of the long-life Herta frankfurters.”

Brioche buns are a quick way to give a barbecued hot dog a fresh gourmet twist, agees Brioche Pasquier. Sales manager Matthew Grenter says: “In France you will find that the brioche roll is a popular choice for a barbecued sausage and marries well with all flavours and varieties.

“The light sweetness and soft texture of the brioche complements sausages perfectly, and they are conveniently sized to hold the sausage,” he adds.

To help stores deliver this message to their customers the firm has introduced special packaging for its French-style Pain au Lait, showing how it can be used in BBQ context. Retailers will be able to display it with rolls and bread, but also alongside any special BBQ or seasonal displays, suggests the firm.

Summer time strategies

Nisa Milestone Rathfriland’s general manager Noel Hadden gives his top BBQ tips:

Ensure good availability of products, well-merchandised and sufficiently staffed to look after it. Use strong POS and social media to promote your offer

Order sufficient stock of non-food lines in advance, as these are likely to become scarce if the weather turns warm

Offer key ranges of fresh and marinated products and ensure availability is strong

Include ambient sauces close to the fresh displays

Ensure sufficient stock of beers and wines as sales of these will increase considerably when it comes to BBQ time

Ensure that you have plenty of fresh salad and coleslaw products

Plan staff rotas in advance to cater for changes in the weather and increase in footfall.

 

Complementary products

Indeed, cross-category merchandising is central to a successful BBQ offering. “We’ll put together the burgers, sausages, all the sauces, mayonnaise and ketchup to give customers ideas of what they need,” says Siva. “We put the plates and cups together, too.”

Shelley’s Budgens is an advocate of dedicated seasonal displays. “Budgens does a range of POS that’s summer- and BBQ-based so we use that to highlight our display,” says Chris. “We give plenty of room to the products and block them together to make a decent display and highlight beer stacks and stacks of multipacks of soft drinks.”

Displaying everything in one place gives retailers an opportunity to introduce customers to new products. “We sold citronella candles for the first time last year and they were quite successful,” he says. “We had a bucket-type product that you put on a table with candles in and then also a wooden bamboo skewer with a candle in. Both of those sold quite well.”

Ajay at Spar Hawkhurst Road has had great success with cross-category BBQ displays. “We had a shelf free near the wines, so we put all our BBQ products there – sauces and disposable BBQs – to encourage cross-category sales. If you’re picking up BBQ stuff you’ll pick up the packs of beer and wine and ice, too. We sold lots of marinades and sauces – the whole lot really.”

Most BBQs are last-minute decisions so you if you have everything together customers can pick items up easily, he says. “It can really boost customer spend when they’re buying the charcoal, the meat, the beer, the skewers. It makes you become a destination store.”

Adam couldn’t agree more. “There’s no point selling sausages, burgers, sauces and having nice alcohol deals if you haven’t got the charcoal to go with it,” he says. “Without a shadow of a doubt, you need to be merchandising it all together.

“People are quite lazy and it’s a good way to get them to make additional purchases. With your ribs, wings, spatchcock chicken - put them on their own and people won’t look for them, but put them together and it really works.”

Adam displays all his BBQ meats in a dedicated BBQ chiller, which not only helps customers to find what they need, but also enables him to sell higher-margin products. “If I tried charging you £5 for a pack of sausages you’d think ‘I know how much sausages cost, I’m not paying that’, but with different flavoured burgers or kebabs, they’re less known, so you can charge more and get away with making more margin on it.”

He has also come up with an additional way to encourage incremental sales. “One thing we’re going to try this year is floor stickers with suns on them to direct people to BBQ products in-store. It’s a bit more relaxed, so hopefully people don’t really notice they’re spending the money.”

Another way to boost sales is by promoting your goods online. Nisa Milestone Rathfriland recognises that the immediacy of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make them ideal platforms for flagging up BBQ goods during sunny spells. “Social media is critical to promoting BBQ foods due to the instant access to marketing and the wide range of people it can reach,” says Peter. “The minute the sun comes out the BBQ products can be relayed to the customer.

“In addition if the food is presented well and there is a variety of colour this works well for promoting products in store. We also use in-store digital screens to promote products.”

A tempting mix of BBQ staples, eye-catching flavours and inspiring accompaniments, along with a good sprinkle of sunshine, strong cross-category displays and online promotions, and you’re well on your way to red hot sales this summer.