The barbecue season can offer sales across an array of categories in convenience stores, providing retailers are ready for the action
We Brits sure know how to make the most of our very rare and sporadic sunny days. The UK appetite for barbecues is booming, with the number estimated to have grown from a mere nine million in 1997 to 120 million in 2015, creating a category worth more than £1.3bn. With most of these occasions being decided on the spur of the moment, it’s great news for convenience retailers perfectly placed for impulse shops… or is it?
It’s no use having queueing customers without the stock to match, so it is vital convenience stores be prepared throughout the summer, and that takes some planning.
David Wyatt, of Costcutter Service Station in Crawley Down, West Sussex, says the biggest challenge when it comes to this BBQs, is the unpredictable weather. “This mission, more so than any other, is driven by the weather. The key is to be able to stock large amounts of fresh meat at very short notice – you can sell 10 times more meat on a weekend when people are barbecuing than on any other weekend, and it’s a huge gamble to stock up on fresh meat when you’re not sure if it will sell through.
“The way we get around this is by using Costcutter as a supplier, plus a local butcher. The local butcher can get us fresh meat on much shorter notice.
“If you can get this balance right then the BBQ occasion can be huge. People on that mission will spend more than a shopper on any other mission as they have so many elements to buy. There’s nothing more frustrating than having the demand for products and not having the stock.”
Chris Taylor, of Taylors of Tickhill in South Yorkshire, says BBQ shoppers tend to shop very much with that one mission in mind, and they are savvy as to where the best place is to get what they need. “There are two types of barbecue shopper: the planned barbecue shopper; and the impulse shopper. Both tend to know that the best place to stock up on a bag of charcoal is the local filling station. They will have seen it stacked up outside the store and it’s the first place that will spring to mind.”
A good supply of charcoal placed in a prominent position inside or outside the store can therefore pull in a generous supply of barbecue shoppers.
Billy Khinda, who owns a Today’s Extra in Northampton, keeps some charcoal and fire-lighting products in stock throughout the year so people know that his store is the place to come for BBQ supplies.
He says: “We keep at least one bag of charcoal in stock in the household section of the store throughout the summer. Believe it or not, we do get some people buying products for barbecues throughout the year, mostly Eastern European shoppers.
“Then in the summer we bring the charcoal and other barbecue fuels to the front of the store and increase our stock so we have a range of sizes available, and this makes shoppers fully aware that we have this.”
Mukesh Patel, of Capel News in Dorking, Surrey, loves a barbecue and even has three of his own at home, so he knows how to drum up interest in this area.
“We have all the products you need for a barbecue throughout the year, everything from charcoal to chicken thighs, to a range of skewers. Eastern Europeans will have a barbecue any day that the sun is shining. Whenever I go to a cash and carry I look out for new and interesting products within this category.
“We have charcoal, firelighters, disposable barbecues, and different flavours of charcoal which flavour your meat with the smoke. I’ve tried these different products myself and I know which are the best. These come with a higher price point, plus they provide a point of difference to other local stores and they show that I’m serious about the mission.”
Mukesh sold several freestanding barbecues last year and it seems they’re just as, if not more, popular this year.
“I brought in three last weekend and we sold one before we’d even assembled it. These can come with an rrp of anything from £6 to £30, so they are a good way to get a big cash sale.”
His brother Kamlesh Patel reports that they sold all but one of their bags of charcoal during the first hot weekend of the year in April, as well as selling lots of other barbecue food such as burgers, sausages, chicken dippers, bread rolls, drinks and beers, giving the business a good start to the summer to come.
Harry Goraya, of Rosherville Post Office in Gravesend, Kent, also sold out of lots of products during this weekend. “Apparently, we were the only outlet in the area that had the whole range, so everyone was coming to us! We had the skewers, charcoal, firelighters, plastic cups, plates and cutlery, and the disposable barbecues. And every time someone bought a disposable barbecue from us they’d buy all the other products they needed for the meal, too.
“We placed all the items next to each other to inspire the shopper to grab something extra that they hadn’t thought about.”
Billy says the main element of the barbecue is always the meat, and the rest of the products are merchandised around this to increase basket sales.
“We sell a range of meats which you can put straight on the grill, many of which are ready in their marinade and others are sited next to an accompanying marinade. Shoppers want something simple to cook and something they are confident about cooking, so burgers are the most popular item.
“Other products are pork chops, chicken marinated in herbs and spices, and sausages.
“I tend to find that when a shopper has a good experience with one meat product, that customer will come back again and again for that product as they like to cook with something that they know and trust.”
With a category which is both weather dependent and perishable, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse to ensure you keep up when a rush is on the horizon. Mukesh says he has BBQ meat products in stock throughout the year, but keeps an eye on the forecast throughout the summer and increases the stock in the run up to a hot weekend.
Mukesh also stocks a range of products which particularly appeal to Eastern European shoppers. “They like things such as fish, ribs and spicy sausages. But it’s important to keep a good balance of those along with the usual Richmond sausages and burgers.”
Marc Jones, of Hoffnant Stores, in Llandysul, near Cardigan, says it’s essential to offer a good range of meats, including high-quality meat from the local butcher. “Through Londis we can get four British quarter-pounders for £3, which is great value for money. We also have our local butcher range which covers similar products to those Londis provides, as well as a range of kebabs, steaks and other meat joints.”
Melanie Higgins, national account manager at Bar-Be-Quick, the instant barbecue brand, says last year saw the beginning of the ‘clean eating’ trend seeping into the barbecue occasions. “This saw people incorporate more fish and vegetables to offer an alternative to the traditional sausages and burgers,” she explains.
There’s a wealth of evidence to show there has been an increase in the number of people choosing a vegetarian or meat-reduced diet. In fact, veganism has seen growth of 350% in the past 10 years (Allergy UK Research 2016), so it’s important to offer more than just meat to please those consumers.
Vegetarian sausages and burgers aside, Marc says there’s one simple and popular solution that can be provided for those wishing to avoid meat. “For the non-meat eaters we stock halloumi cheese. That’s very popular as it can be sliced and grilled very easily.”
Chris Taylor doesn’t sell meat in Taylors of Tickhill, in South Yorkshire, due to the presence of a very popular local butcher within close competition to his store. However, he does increase his range of one particular item for this BBQ season.
“People will come in searching the shelves for specific BBQ sauce. They will ignore the mustards, ketchups and the other condiments in their search for a marinade. We increase our range of products with this specific name on the label as we know it’s those exact words that shoppers are looking for.
“Some shoppers know how to make a marinade using other ingredients, but others need to see the words ‘BBQ marinade’ on the pack.”
Dressings can also be used as a marinade or even a sauce, and are an absolute essential for barbecues, adding a dash of flavour to a burger, sausage or salad. Billy says the top three sauce flavours to go with barbecue meats are BBQ, peri peri and chilli, and garlic sauce.
Unilever advises retailers help shoppers by separating the display into three sub-categories: table sauces; dressings; and condiments. If space allows include lighter variants, it points out, as these have become increasingly popular as people have become more health conscious. The firm adds that retailers can capitalise on the BBQ season by having a specific BBQ fixture including mayonnaise, salad cream and dressings.
Marcus Blowers, category insight manager at RH Amar, says the barbecue occasion may already be huge, but it appears to have even more scope for expansion through the expanding number of countries of origin accepted within the category and the opportunity to meet demand from those shoppers after different flavours and tastes. He says: “The enduring popularity of American-inspired food and a growing trend of eating fired and smoked meats during the barbecue season is leading to a surge in interest in authentic ingredients that add value to the overall occasion, while an interest in new flavours that are often associated with dining al fresco – including Brazilian, South African braii or barbecue, and Korean – all add to the sense of occasion and encourage shoppers to trade up to premium, quality ingredients, especially when entertaining,” he says.
“Many shoppers see the barbecue as the perfect opportunity to try new foods and ingredients, with 64% of consumers saying they find it fun to try new types of table sauces at the barbecue (Mintel Table Sauces Report, December 2014),” adds Blowers.
In line with this assertion that consumers want to try products which originate from countries other than America, Grace Foods UK urges retailers to stock up on market-leading Caribbean products and ingredients to maximise the barbecue opportunity this year. And what better way to bring an interest and flavour to the aisle than with the hottest ever mainstream table sauce?
Encona, the UK’s number one hot pepper sauce brand (IRI UK Table Sauces, chilli & BBQ), unit sales MAT 52 w/e 25 February 2017), has created a limited-edition Carolina Reaper chilli sauce, the hottest ever to be produced by a mainstream table sauce brand.
Launched in April, the sauce is available in 142ml glass bottle format (rrp £1.49/case sizes of six), featuring the Carolina Reaper chilli, blended with tomatoes, garlic, cumin and orange, to create a well-rounded, fiery and fruity flavour.
An impactful limited-edition label and striking pack design aims to create standout on shelf, with a bold heat warning, daring consumers to take on the chilli challenge.
“This is the hottest sauce that Encona has ever produced, using the Carolina Reaper chilli – a chilli renowned for being the hottest in the world,” says Grace Foods UK brand manager Sam Bidgood.
There has been significant growth and popularity of hot and chilli sauce, which has seen it become one of the fastest developing trends in the barbecue category. In the UK, consumer spend on hot sauce has increased more than 20% over the past three years to £43m (Euromonitor and Nielsen Answers, Total Coverage data to 28 January 2017).
Heinz Chilli Sauces have grown rapidly since their launch and Heinz has now the second best-selling product (Nielsen Answers, Total Coverage data to 28 January 2017) in the sweet chilli sub-category alone.
While the meat or vegetarian substitute may be the focus on the plate, it’s essential that retailers put as much thought into their offer of side dishes in order to provide everything in one place and build basket spend.
Shah Khan, marketing manager for Aviko UK & Ireland, says fries are the traditional accompaniment to barbecued meats such as burgers, but adds that in recent years the firm has seen increased demand for more premium styles of potato sides which consumers have enjoyed in their favourite gastro pubs.
“All five products in our retail range – Thick Cut Super Crunch Oven Chips, Rib Cut Sweet Potato Fries, Bite Sized Hash Browns, Golden Hash Browns and Herb Diced Potatoes – boost appeal and give consumers restaurant-standard sides they can enjoy in their own home throughout barbecue season.”
He adds that the explosion in growth of the sweet potato market is another area retailers should be aware of when it comes to barbecue season. “Sweet potato in any form has become the potato of choice for many consumers thanks to its perceived health benefits and unique flavour, and has been driven by the foodservice market.”
Although consumers are looking for true indulgence which mimics that found in a gastro pub, health is also proving a significant consumer trend that sees no sign of slowing down, especially in the potato products category, where Aviko has seen growing demand for healthier products. Aviko’s retail range is made using heart-healthy sunflower or canola oil, and all the products are also low in saturated fat and bring out the natural taste and goodness of potatoes.
Marc Jones points out that barbecues are actually a great way to have a tasty and healthy meal, and says it’s essential to stock a good supply of salad bags and vegetable sides to provide that lighter option.
“With a barbecue you’re getting your healthily-cooked meats – on a grill and so without too much fat – along with a salad and some vegetables, so it can actually be a very nutritious and low-fat meal.”
With so many elements to consider when it comes to barbecues it can be tricky to get right. Manjeet Singh Sembhi, in Leicester, sings the praises of Partners for Growth category merchandising advice via partnersforgrowth.unilever.com.
“We update the store regularly to be sure it continues to meet our customers’ needs – this includes reviewing the range on offer, ensuring it is well merchandised so it is easy to shop and ensuring we have up-to-date POS.
“We cover a number of categories and having put into practice the advice and recommendations from Partners for Growth, we noticed a sales increase of 30%.”
Khan at Aviko says meal deals featuring all the elements needed for a well-rounded BBQ plate are a great way to help drive basket spend and remind shoppers what they should be purchasing for a complete barbecue experience.
“Communicating the meal deal using posters and other point-of-sale material is essential, particularly when you consider most people eat with their eyes. Plus, this raises awareness of side options such as fries or other potato products to complement the meat and increase sales.”
Mukesh Patel adds that deals don’t have to just be with food. “We do deals with our freestanding barbecues. For example, we might say to shoppers if they buy that with the charcoal and firelighters we’ll give them a good round price of £30 or £40, or if they buy a few products we’ll throw in a free 2ltr bottle of drink or something like that.”
This price point sounds about right for what customers are willing to spend. According to www.nationalbbqweek.co.uk, the average consumer now spends £35 on food and drink related to a BBQ, which is double the amount compared with five years ago .
Mukesh adds: “I’m always asking customers what they think of the products and asking if they’d like me to sell anything else. People know that they can get everything they need from my store and if I don’t have it I’ll do everything I can to get it in for them.
“It’s one of those missions you have to be well prepared for. Have the products available throughout the year so shoppers know you are the place to come. If you do it properly and offer the full range of products then you can make a good margin.”