Forget tea at Buckingham Palace, a backdoor barbie is the place to be seen this summer.
Judging by the publicity surrounding the World Cup, you'd think that everyone in the UK was into football but, of course, that isn't the case. There are people who simply don't like the game and the Scots, Irish and Welsh without a home team to support. So what will these people be doing this summer? At some point or another many are likely to be hosting, or going to, a barbecue.
Indeed, for some it would seem that barbecuing has become another sport. According to the National BBQ Association (NBA), 100 million barbecues took place in the UK last year, making us Europe's biggest barbecue fans. It's all the more surprising because of our rather lacklustre summer weather. Maybe because of this most barbecues are impromptu affairs - the sun's out so family and friends are invited around at short notice. This could be at the weekend but equally it could be on a weeknight, after a hard day at work.
The impulse nature of these gatherings means many consumers rely on their local c-store for supplies so it definitely pays to be prepared.
NBA president Brian George says: "Our research shows that more people are holding unplanned barbecues in the evenings with what we term 'after-work barbies' being the fastest growing area at 29% of all BBQ occasions, up from just 11% three years ago.
"Weekends are also key in last-minute barbies with the decision to hold them taken on impulse. The message here is very clear - that it's profitable to keep in-store barbecue fixtures up for a longer period - and certainly right throughout August."
Consumers will be looking for briquettes and fire lighters, burgers and baps, condiments and something to wash it all down with.
When it comes to stocking burgers, Birds Eye frozen beef burgers are a safe bet. Almost 34 million packs were sold last year, with higher sales forecast for 2006. Best-seller is Birds Eye Original Beef Burgers, which have just been relaunched and are featuring '24 for the price of 20' and '16 for the price of 12' offers. At the same time, Birds Eye is launching a new premium range featuring two new products: Hot & Spicy and Barbecue 100% Beef Quarter Pounders.
Birds Eye trading director John Farrell says: "Retailers can capitalise on Birds Eye's prominent position in the market by making sure they have a selection of Birds Eye beef burgers on shelf, especially on exceptionally hot days in the summer when everyone gets the barbecue out."
No burger is complete without tomato ketchup and Heinz is the obvious brand to stock, particularly as the company claims that households with barbecues are heavier buyers of Heinz Tomato Ketchup than those without.
But as people become more confident about hosting barbecues, so they are becoming more adventurous in their choice of food, and for many a burger with a dollop of ketchup is not enough.
The NBA reports that barbecued bananas, prawns and marshmallows are becoming popular.
For many barbecuers, being adventurous means putting their meat into a marinade. One to try is Nando's, which helps consumers recreate the Nando's restaurant taste in their own home. A new medium-hot Sweet and Sticky Marinade has just joined the range, as well as two spicy dips - Perinaise and Peri-Peri Salsa.
Ben Johnson, marketing director for The Grocery Company, which markets and sells the Nando's range, says: "Convenience retailers have the opportunity to increase the value of barbecue transactions with appropriately placed marinades and sauces which will be purchased on impulse.
"The barbecue market continues to grow and, according to recent independent Nando's research, two-thirds of those questioned now prefer a barbie to a dinner party."
His advice to retailers is simple: "Allocate shelf space according to market share and focus on key brands, ensuring that the products that consumers are looking for do not run out once the sun shines."
He recommends that store managers take note of weather forecasts to ensure they have adequate stock should temperatures rise. He adds: "Barbecue products are often purchased on impulse so retailers could sell more by putting dedicated displays near associated products such as meat and fish, snacks and soft drinks."
Grace Kennedy is one company reporting increased sales thanks to consumers' more adventurous palates. Sales of its Grace range of Caribbean barbecue sauces and seasonings are up thanks to consumers becoming more aware of Caribbean cooking, and jerk seasoning in particular.
Says the company's European market manager William Welch: "Jerk is now firmly established as a versatile seasoning even among those consumers who have yet to try the full range of Caribbean foods. It not only has numerous uses in the kitchen, but is also perceived as a distinctive taste for barbecue meals."
Liquid refreshment
Beer is still the most popular drink at barbecues so it's apt that a beer brand has joined the NBA as a key sponsor. That beer is Brazilian brand, Brahma, which is the sixth largest beer brand in the world, and was launched in the UK last summer. Brahma senior brand manager Jeff Hodgson comments: "Barbecues and beer go hand in hand. In fact, beer accounts for almost half of all drinks consumed on these occasions. As the official beer of the NBA, Brahma will bring the true spirit of churassco - the Brazilian equivalent of barbecue - to the UK for the first time."
As part of the NBA campaign, consumers will have the chance to sample Brahma at BBQ Bus roadshows nationwide.
Another beer brand that likes to be linked with food is Badger. Particularly suited to the barbecue is its Tanglefoot ale, a full-bodied brew that goes down well with sausages. Badger's latest launch is Badger First Gold (4% abv) which has just been voted "World Champion Beer" at the Brewing Industry International Awards in Munich, where it won two gold medals. This one is said to go down well with spiced sausages and also with Feta cheese. Then there's Badger Golden Champion, a refreshing ale that is apparently a perfect match for spicy salads and barbecued white meats.
This might all sound a bit fanciful for a c-store retailer but as consumers get more adventurous with their barbecue food, those looking to impress might want to try something other than bog-standard lager to go with their food. Simple shelf-edge labels, more common to the wine category, that say 'goes well with sausages' might encourage sales.
From ale to cider, and Gaymer's Olde English is running a 'Great British Summertime Giveaway' promotion which gives both consumers and retailers a chance to win prizes. Consumers can scoop a convertible Mini while independent retailers can win a van. To be in with a chance, retailers have to attend selected outlets on special trade days, and guess the answer to a question posted on the back of promotional leaflets.
Gaymer Cider Company managing director John Mills says: "Cider is fast becoming the drink of choice throughout the summer months. With Olde English being one of the leading cider brands in the UK, it is important to stimulate interest and it is an ideal opportunity to attract new consumers to the brand.
"We also wanted to interest retailers with an imaginative competition to win a really worthwhile prize, and for us it helps drive distribution even further."
Cocktail hour
Of course, no summer gathering would be complete without Pimm's and this summer the brand is the subject of a £2m sales drive. Some 85% of Pimm's No.1 is sold in the 14 weeks from May to September (AC Nielsen) so it's an important time for the brand.
This year's campaign includes TV, radio and press advertising, sampling and point of sale material. A new TV campaign continues the successful 'Harry' theme and the Pimm's O'Clock strapline, and builds on the association between Pimm's and barbecues. Sampling will take place in major supermarkets and in Homebase stores and gardening centres to reinforce the barbecue link.
Matt Hunt, marketing manager for Pimm's, Diageo Great Britain, comments: "The ongoing success of Pimm's No.1 has been achieved by associating the brand with summer occasions. Last year saw the highest sales yet of Pimm's and we are confident retailers can again benefit from strong sales."
Not content with the popularity of Pimm's, Diageo has launched another drink that looks set for summer success. Quinn's is described as 'a totally new type of alcoholic drink' because it's a fruit drink where everything, even the alcohol, is made from 100% fruit. As such Quinn's is being called a 'fruit ferment'.
The drink has been developed primarily for people in their mid- to late 20s, who like an after-work/early evening tipple. Diageo says it is its biggest new product launch for five years and will be backed by an £8.5m-plus marketing campaign in its first year.
Quinn's has an ABV of 4% and comes in three flavours: mango & passionfruit, raspberry & blueberry and orange & tropical fruits. Each 250ml bottle contains one unit of alcohol and rrp is £1.50. A 70cl bottle will be available from September.
Diageo has certainly been busy. It has also launched Classic Mix, a range of pre-mixed, spirit-based drinks. The line-up includes Gordon's gin & Schweppes tonic, Smirnoff No. 21 (red) vodka, lime & Schweppes soda, Smirnoff vodka & cola and Morgan's Spiced rum & cola. Packaged in stylish 70cl glass bottles, rrp £4.99, the range is aimed primarily at women aged 25-50 years old. The launch is supported by a £1m spend.
Finally, soft drinks are a must at any barbecue. Research commissioned by Britvic found that soft drinks represent a massive opportunity for retailers during the barbecue season. Apparently, hosts are just as likely to offer soft drinks to guests as wine or beer, with 57% of people interviewed providing them, compared with 61% who buy wine or beer. In addition, 65% of guests also choose to take soft drinks to barbecues.
Large resealable packs of soft drinks, such as 2ltr Pepsi Max, are the most popular soft drinks at barbecues, compared with smaller soft drinks pack sizes, with 38% of people buying the bigger size.
Britvic category director Andrew Marsden says: "When organising or going to a barbecue, people feel it is important to take the right brand. They often want to upsize as they feel the larger packs are better value, will last longer and can be resealed. Retailers can capitalise on this opportunity by stocking the big brands such as Pepsi Max, Tango and 7UP on shelf and in the chiller."