The Met office has predicted that temperatures will continue to rise this year after Britain's warmest year on record in 2006. Bad news for global warming; good news for the barbecue industry.
Outdoor eating is now big business. According to market analysts Mintel, last year more than £3bn passed through the tills on barbecue food and drink items alone. This was an increase of 10% from 2005.
Current trends in barbecuing have also been positive news for convenience retailers. Mintel found a high proportion of consumers hold barbecues as a spontaneous event, with after-work and school summer eating rivalling the everyday evening meal.
National BBQ Association (NBA) president Brian George said: "Now up to 50% of barbecues are spontaneous events decided on the day. If you've been stuck in a car or an office and you've had a bad day, the last thing you want to do when you get home is go into the kitchen and prepare a meal."
But George says the convenience sector is missing a trick. Indeed, Mintel reports that the major multiples still account for 85% of barbecue food and drink sales. "You could argue that c-stores should be owning that category," says George. "There's a tremendous opportunity which many retailers are not taking full advantage of. If you are driving home and suddenly fancy a barbie, it's much easier to pop into your local c-store than spend hours at the supermarket."
Heinz marketing manager Paul Harvey agrees: "The barbecue season is really driven by the weather and spur of the moment decisions to eat outside, and that's when having a local shop that stocks the core ranges is very important. Nearly a quarter of people go into their local store to top up on their groceries and a barbecue is a classic example of when they'll want to buy those top-up products."
Meat and greet
According to Mintel, consumers are still barbecue traditionalists and so sausages, poultry portions and meat burgers continue to be the mainstay of the market.
However, their share is diminishing and the fastest growth in percentage terms has been seen in new products including fish and vegetables, while prepared sauces and marinades have also increased share as consumers trade up and try out new recipes and products.
The National BBQ 2007 campaign is tapping into consumer desire to be more adventurous and aspirational when it comes to alfresco eating and barbecuing in general, with the theme 'Gastro Alfresco'.
According to Mintel, the major growth in recent years has been in more sophisticated and higher value proteins such as more exotic meat cuts, which have seen a growth rate of nearly 60%. Other areas of major growth have been sauces, seasonings and marinades, up to 91% to £21m, prepared kebabs with an increase of 78% to £16m, and fish, with a growth of 64%, making it now worth £18m. All these product categories add to the sales opportunities.
Says Heinz's Harvey: "The key thing we have seen from our research over the past 12 months is that people are looking for a range of products so they can give guests the basics as well as showing that they are the 'hostess with the mostest'. Consumers are still buying the sausages and the burgers, but equally will look at cooking fish and prawns."
And the demand for something different extends through to marinades and sauces. The ever-increasing range brings Caribbean, African and Creole flavours onto the UK barbecue.
Sharwood's brand manager Victoria Swing says: "Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their tastes, wanting the same eating experience at home as they would have encountered during their holiday abroad." Swing says that this provides a huge sales opportunity for ethnic products, which are designed to introduce consumers to more exotic foods in an accessible way. Sharwood's range of sauces and glazes can be used for barbecue marinades such as hoisin, plum and sweet chilli sauces.
Even ketchup is being given a bit of a makeover ready for the summer season. Heinz has recently launched the Heinz Tomato Ketchup with a Twist range which includes chilli, garlic or sweet onion. The new ketchups are available in 320g squeezy plastic bottles, rrp 99p.
Patak's commercial director Jonathan Bye agrees that BBQs are getting more adventurous: "Britain is a nation of barbecue lovers, but many are bored with the usual barbecue staples and want to bring some of the same exotic flavours they enjoy the rest of the year to the outdoor eating occasion."
Patak's range of condiment sauces uses traditional flavours from the Indian subcontinent and includes tandoori BBQ, mint & coriander, spicy tomato sauce, tangy fruit sauce and the hot Kashmiri chilli sauce.
Schwartz is timing its latest new product development in seasonings to catch the summer season. From mid-May five new variants hit the market, along with improved recipes on the existing range. The additions are: extra spicy Cajun; hot'n'spicy BBQ; salmon seasoning; mustard mash; and vegetable sprinkles.
Healthy eating trends have also found their way onto the barbecue with an increase in salads and vegetarian options. Gone are the days when the staple iceberg lettuce dominated salads and consumers are now prepared to pay extra for prepared bags with a mixture of leaves and styles. The UK's prepared salad market is now worth more than £450m, with year-on-year growth of more than 9.5% (AC Nielsen). Florette managing director Mark Newton says: "Barbecues and summer go together like salads and dressings. Summer is the prime season for salads and rising temperatures are linked to heightened demand and strong sales."
Warm weather over the Easter period helped to increase Florette's salad sales by 20%. Soleco, owner of Florette, hopes to boost its fortunes further by taking advantage of what Newton describes as the "eating out" trend with recipe ideas and salad kits such as the 'A Taste of...' and 'You are what you eat' ranges.
National BBQ Week (28 May-June 3) overlaps National Vegetarian Week (May 21-27). Manufacturers are now offering more adventurous choices in the vegetarian sector to tempt both vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Alongside sausages and burgers, Cauldron Foods produces a range of barbecue-suitable products including Organic Courgette & Tomato Bake and Organic Black Bean Burgers with tomato and twists of chilli, cumin and coriander. Sales in this category have increased by 200% since 2001, according to Mintel.
But summer eating also affects year-round products such as snacks. IRI figures show the crisps and snacks convenience market value is worth a massive £497m with 42 packs of crisps and snacks purchased every second.
Procter & Gamble trade communications manager Paul Lettice says: "To make the most of warm weather opportunities retailers should use point-of-sale material to create standout and encourage impulse sales. Creating a barbecue area and cross-merchandising products such as wine and Pringles in a designated area will also help draw consumers in and maximise summer sales."
P&G relaunched its range of Pringles Dippers earlier this year with new-look packaging.
Create some theatre
When it comes to merchandising, it's all about being seen. Heinz's Harvey says: "Making sure products are clear and visible is important, and if accompanying products are visible it prompts customers to purchase. For instance, people may buy a BBQ sauce once or twice a year, but if it's there it reminds them to pick it up and buy it."
The NBA's George says that retailers don't have to go to great lengths to attract attention: "It doesn't even need to involve stocking new brands because in many respects standard barbecue products can be used at any time of the year," he says. "It's now arguably the biggest and longest grocery promotional event of the year and there is still a huge opportunity for c-stores to capitalise on the whole impulse element of barbecues."
Harvey says it's important for retailers short on space to stock the classic staple products such as tomato ketchup, HP BBQ sauce, salad cream, mayonnaise and pickle. If there is more space retailers could include different variations on the BBQ range such as marinades or different salad dressings.
The NBA is currently working on putting together a pack to help independent retailers take advantage of the season. In the meantime, George recommends that retailers introduce a dedicated barbecue section and suggests a display could be as simple as using a barbecue to display products.
With the UK now the biggest barbecue nation in Europe, more than half of households are owners of barbecues, while 16% claim to have at least two useable grills with a further 9.8% owning at least three barbecues. In the past 12 months, 4.4% of all households invested in a new barbecue (Mintel). Given these statistics, the summer barbecue season looks set to be a hot one.
David Beese, Budgens, Southam, warwickshire
"The barbecue season makes an enormous difference to a smaller retailer like me. It's also a great opportunity to show customers what good-quality products we have available. The recent Easter weekend is a perfect example - the barbecue season hadn't even started yet, but the weather was good so we took a chance and put out some early barbecue stock and we sold it all.
"The must have items for the season are charcoal, briquettes and barbecue grills on the non-food side, and classic food items like burgers, sausages and chicken. Fish, particularly sardines, is also growing in popularity.
"As a retailer, you really need to talk to your customers to find out what their needs are, especially as customers are becoming more adventurous. They are using traditional meat and fish options as a base and treating products in a different way, particularly spicing up their cooking with hot sauces and Mexican-style flavourings.
"I'm setting up a special 8ft display and putting in an extra 9ft of refrigeration space, a juice bar, a 'grab and go' section serving cooked chickens and hot pies, and a wrapping machine to seal and preserve fresh produce."
Products & promotions
Warburtons has launched Healthy Harvest Rolls with added fibre, low fat and sugar.
BIC has launched the new MegaLighter this year featuring push-button ignition and visible level of gas. Rrp is £1.99.
Scan Foods UK is targeting the barbecue season this year with its meatballs which contain a minimum of 69% meat. The meatballs come in 359g packs with an average of 28 meatballs.
RH Amar & Co has a range of marinades, dressings and dips including new Cardini Dressings and Walkerswood range of Caribbean flavours including jerk marinade.
Seasoned Skewers from Buddha Brunch are made from 100% birchwood and come in six flavours.