Tracy West reports
The weather is arguably our nation's favourite topic of conversation - and the two major talking points are always about whether we'll have a white Christmas and if we'll get a 'proper' summer. Most of us didn't get the white Christmas, so we're now pinning all our hopes on some sunshine. For retailers and manufacturers, of course, the summer can be just like Christmas - if the sun shines, consumers spend more. Some summers also offer the safety net of big sporting events and although we have the Olympics this year, the European Football Championships (Euro 2008) will not be the cash cow of recent times for the UK trade thanks to the British teams collective failure to qualify.
However, Anheuser-Busch Europe's UK marketing director Vicki Kipling is still optimistic: "Even though England didn't make it into Euro 2008, people are still going to be watching the competition and football and beer go hand in hand. Anheuser-Busch also has the benefit of its established association with football thanks to Budweiser's sponsorship of the Premiership.
We would therefore still urge retailers to stock up with beer during the competition and especially look at stocking larger pack formats for consumers to enjoy in their own homes."
She adds: "It is worth making the most of pricemarked packs which will offer you a competitive edge. If your customers can rely on you to stock their favourite brands at competitive prices then they are more likely to return for more."
Beer and sport go together, but so too do beer and barbecues. Coors' lower-alcohol content beer Carling C2 has been named official beer of the national BBQ campaign as it links in well with the growing after-work barbecue occasion. According to the National BBQ Association, after-work barbies now account for nearly 40% of all barbecues.
David Wigham, portfolio activation director for Coors, explains: "After-work barbecues are appropriate drinking occasions for a 2% abv lager, with a cold Carling C2 providing the perfect refreshment with less alcohol."
Heineken UK is pushing its 5ltr Heineken DraughtKeg as the perfect barbecue line. It's a standalone draught beer system that allows consumers to enjoy genuine, premium draught lager dispensed directly from the keg.
Each DraughtKeg fills an average of 17 half-pint glasses and an integrated CO2 cartridge system keeps beer fresh and under pressure for up to 30 days once opened.
The keg was first launched last summer in Sainsbury's, Thresher and Makro, however it is now available across the trade. Heineken says it has already secured listings in Booker, Nisa-Today's, Costcutter and Spar.
Heineken UK customer marketing controller Chris Duffy says: "The nature of barbecues means that people are usually catering for a larger number of guests than a formal dinner, so there is a real opportunity for retailers to increase the weight of purchase of beer during the barbecue season.
"The DraughtKeg is an innovative pack format which provides an opportunity to bring some much- needed value back into the beer category. Retailing at the recommended retail price of £14.29 means it will deliver £2.86 per litre - 64% more than the average £1.78 per litre for lagers."
Meanwhile, Merrydown managing director Chris Carr reckons there's huge synergy between barbecues and cider: "Both are growing year on year and the season for enjoying them is getting longer. Cider is no longer considered a drink solely for summer. Sales are strong all year round.
"A good quality premium cider is not only refreshing in hot weather, but also stands up well to the robust flavours of barbecue food."
Summer is a key time for spirits, too, and Diageo is pushing sales of spirits and mixers via a Refreshing Tastes for Long Summer Days campaign, which is backed by a £1.4m investment. The spend includes sponsorship of ITV weather's UV updates during the early evening news, free recipe guides on bottles of core brands and in-store pos material and sampling.
Diageo GB category development marketing manager for spirits Ali Wilkes says the company tested the Summer Refreshment campaign in a top three UK grocer last year and, despite the poor weather, a 13% uplift in sales was achieved. "Consumers want refreshing tasting drinks during the summer months and this represents an opportunity for retailers to maximise their spirit and mixer sales," she says.
Diageo will be encouraging retailers to merchandise the relevant spirits and mixers together on shelf, to enable customers to get all the ingredients required for their drinks quickly and easily.
The great outdoors
Thankfully, UK consumers love a barbecue whatever the weather - according to TNS Worldpanel they enjoyed more than 95 million barbecue occasions last year. And with the barbecue market a multi-billion-pound business, al fresco eating, entertaining and barbecuing represent a very significant sales opportunity for convenience stores.
According to Brian George, president of the National BBQ Association, barbecuing has changed significantly in recent years. "Consumers are more adventurous and aspirational in their barbie repertoire, and not just with food and drink. Garden furniture, accessories, charcoal and the barbecue itself all play an integral role in the whole al fresco experience. The demand by consumers for a stylish and quality al fresco-living experience package gives convenience stores an ideal opportunity to maximise non-food sales over the summer period."
This year's National BBQ Week will run from May 26 to June 1 and it will be followed by the first-ever Al Fresco Food Fortnight, which will run from July 21 to August 3. Says George: "We want to encourage consumers to take to eating outdoors during the summer months, whether it's a picnic at lunchtime, a family
al fresco meal in the afternoon, or a sophisticated evening entertaining occasion."
Barbecues may have become more sophisticated eating occasions, but for many consumers a barbie just isn't the same without burgers or sausages.
Birds Eye has beefed up its burger range this summer with the launch of two new products. Simply burgers build on the success of Birds Eye's Simply fish and poultry ranges, which are now worth £55m. The Aberdeen Angus and lamb & mint burgers are described as gourmet-style burgers that have been lightly seasoned with a thicker, more crumbly home-made texture to deliver superior taste.
Meanwhile, the Big Bite burger targets male burger lovers. It is a super-sized burger made with fresh onions and 100% British beef; it is Birds Eye's biggest burger and is guaranteed to fill a bun.
Birds Eye red meat brand manager Matt Richards says: "Birds Eye is committed to driving the burger category through exciting and distinctively targeted offerings. The Big Bite burger will target males who love a 'big eat', bringing the out-of-home 'sports burger' experience in-home, while Simply burgers will tap into the growth of premium burger outlets."
Both new products will benefit from the £20m spend on the Birds Eye brand this year.
On to sausages and Nielsen research shows that 326 million packs are sold every year, with 78% of British households purchasing sausages at least eight times a year. One in five households buy Wall's sausages, making the brand worth £64m. And brand owner Kerry Foods says sales of its sausages can increase by up to 50% during hot weather.
A Jumbo frozen sausage has been added to the Richmond range as well as a new Square sausage just for Scotland. Richmond senior brand manager Mark Brown says: "We are investing heavily in Richmond this year and - weather permitting - hope to maximise sales during the barbecue season."
Richmond sausages were advertised on TV for the first time in nine years in April, with a new campaign featuring the strapline "the taste that takes you back". The TV campaign will be followed by national press advertising.
Consumers who are looking for value for money will be spoilt for choice this summer thanks to a proliferation of own-label barbecue product launches.
The Co-operative is extending, updating and improving its barbecue range as well as launching many new Summer Eating products.
New lines include Tennessee BBQ thighs and ribs, Hoi Sin drumsticks and sweet chilli chicken kebabs.
Its Truly Irresistible barbecue range includes a new Aberdeen Angus burger with vintage farmhouse Cheddar, an Aberdeen Angus beef sausage, and a salmon, lemon & coriander burger. While in the freezer are new lines including hickory-glazed BBQ pork ribs and spicy lamb kofka kebabs.
Spar's fresh meat lines include value-added burgers in three varieties - beef & onion, lamb & mint and pork & apple - as well as BBQ chicken kebabs and drumsticks, and pork ribs in a sticky BBQ sauce.
Following the BBQ theme, Nisa-Today's is building on the success of its Let's Eat In party food range with the launch of a Let's Eat Out frozen food range. Products included in the range are pork kofta kebabs, American BBQ drumsticks, hot 'n' spicy wings, Chinese-style ribs, chicken & vegetable kebabs, jumbo sausages and beef steaks with BBQ glaze.
Nisa-Today's senior buying controller David Stokes says the products will retail at £2.99, with a permanent promotional flash of 'Any two for £5'.
"We unveiled the range at the recent Nisa members' exhibition where retailers got the chance to taste the products. We had a tremendous response and lots of pre-sell orders," he says.
According to Ben Briody, sales and marketing manager at Kikkoman, two trends are revolutionising the way we barbecue: "We want barbecues on impulse as soon as the sun comes out. And we are moving away from the 'burnt burger in a bun' culture towards more sophisticated food," he explains, and he reckons Kikkoman teriyaki marinade meets both needs.
"A marinade that needs 24 hours to work is no good to someone looking for an instant barbecue fix. But Kikkoman teriyaki marinade produces excellent flavour in minutes. Our message to consumers is 'half a bottle, half an hour'. This means you just pour about half a bottle over your food - no need to measure - and 30 minutes later it is ready to cook.
"The other advantage is the versatility of the marinade - it is just as good on food cooked under the grill or baked in the oven, which is quite handy given England's record on rain."
Finally, we're back with Budweiser and RH Amar has teamed up with Anheuser-Busch and Vita Speciality Foods to launch the first range of Budweiser food products. There are six premium barbecue sauces and marinades: Budweiser BBQ sauce, smoked BBQ sauce and honey BBQ sauce, marinade sauce, mild & tangy wing sauce and hot & spicy wing sauce. All come in Budweiser-style PET bottles and contain 5-14% Budweiser beer.
Summertime sales tips
l Plan early. Have a good idea of which beer brands and what space you are going to dedicate to the summer barbecue season
l Take a good look at your customer base and consider which brands and pack sizes are going to appeal the most
l Ensure you allocate plenty of space in your chiller cabinets for leading brands, to capitalise on impulse purchases
l Look at your full product range including crisps, snacks and barbecue foods. Make sure you cross-merchandise your products and flag your chilled beer offering in your snacks section and vice versa
l Let your customers know what you offer - nothing beats a bit of one-to-one advice, so flag your offering in the key summer months.
David Smith, Smith's Corner Stores, Grimoldby, Lincolnshire
"We sell meat all year round, but during the summer we stock more barbecue products - we do a rack of ribs in two different sizes, for example, and have more Chinese- and barbecue-flavoured products. We get our meat from a local company - Curtis in Lincoln. Local people know the Curtis name so it's good for us to have it in the shop.
"We also do cooked and cold chickens and these sell particularly well in the summer to have with salads; we sell a lot of salad stuff, too.
"In the off-licence section white and the lighter blush and rosé wines sell well. We run constant promotions - '3 for £10' or '2 for £8'.
"Sales of the usual summer lines such as ice cream always increase, but both the impulse and the dessert products go well.
"Last summer was not as good as the previous year but, to be truthful, in 2006 we had trouble keeping up with demand for items such as ice cream and water.
"Sales of summer lines have already started for us and that's not because of any good weather - it's because we've had Easter. Easter is definitely the trigger for people to start thinking about summer products."
Raj Sidhu, Pool Hayes Premier Express, Willenhall, west midlands
"Summer is a good time for beer, cider and white wine sales. Sales of red wine die out. I shop around for the best deals at Booker, Blakemore and Batleys. The breweries used to do a lot of summer promotions, but they don't any more. In previous years we've had branded fridges and run sponsored raffles through which we've even been featured in our local paper, but the breweries say they just haven't got the budgets any longer."
A bit on the side
You can't have a barbecue without a bit of sauce. According to IRI data, the barbecue sauce market is worth just over £11m. HP and Heinz are the two main brands with 45% and 15% value shares respectively. Apparently, retailers should stock both brands as the HP sauce appeals mostly to adults, while the Heinz brand appeals more to families.
Another sauce that's a must-stock, not just during the summer but all year round, is Heinz Tomato Ketchup, now a £100m brand. It has recently been given a makeover with new packaging featuring the message: 'Grown, Not Made'.
A new addition to the range is Heinz Special Blend tomato sauce - a premium version of the original containing sea salt, demerara sugar, cayenne pepper and lemon juice.
In the HP range is a new reduced salt and sugar variety containing 25% less salt and 30% less sugar, as well as a new steak sauce.
Heinz's new product development continues with the introduction of Deli Mayo range of four naturally flavoured mayonnaises. The four flavours are caramelised onion, roasted garlic, Moroccan style and sundried tomatoes. The launch will be supported by a £2.5m advertising campaign.