Retailers will be crossing their fingers for a repeat of last summer’s heatwave as barbecue season approaches. The UK’s love-in with al fresco casual dining shows no sign of abating and barbecues provide a great cross-category opportunity for increased sales, including meat, vegetarian and vegan barbecue food, alcohol, soft drinks, snacks and sauces, as well as disposable barbecues and charcoal.

The organisers of National BBQ Week, which this year runs from May 27 to June 2, say the number of barbecue occasions in the UK has grown from 9 million in 1997 to an estimated 137 million last year, with an estimated consumer spend of £1.6bn.

In the past decade, the average number of barbecues held by UK households over the course of the summer has risen from 2.5 to 9.5, and the average spend on food and drink for each occasion is upwards of £40.

Barbecuing has become a more moveable feast as well. According to number-crunching website Statista, the number of disposable barbecues sold grew by 6.8% between 2016 and 2017, faster than that for both gas burners and charcoal barbecues as more Brits looked to be mobile in their barbecuing habits by having them in parks or on beaches, not just at home.

While meat still dominates most barbecues, vegan and vegetarian food is increasingly becoming a fixture of British al fresco dining.

The IGD says one in 10 UK consumers follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and an Ipsos Mori poll for the Vegan Society showed the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2018, to 600,000.

Mintel said the UK had the highest number of vegan product launches in the world in 2018.

Quorn launched a 227g Ultimate Burger pack in March with the barbecue market in mind. The brand says the 18 weeks to September 1 last year accounted for 29.3% of annual meat-free sector sales in convenience, an increase of 28.5% annually.

With such varied barbecue tastes, bundling together products from different categories, either through merchandising or multibuy purchases, is a great way of increasing basket spends.The Institute of Grocery Distribution says its Shopper Vista research shows that 43% of store customers feel that in-store barbecue events save them time by putting key products in one place.

Unilever, whose brands include Heinz tomato ketchup and Hellmann’s mayonnaise says table sauces, dressings and condiments should be linked to ’host’ foods such as chicken, red meat and fish through signage or secondary siting.

"Summer is a very important season for the table sauces, dressings and condiments category because of barbecues and summer parties," says channel category manager Matthew Trembath.

"That’s why it is so important to have the top sellers available. If the customer can’t see them or they’re not available, they will simply shop elsewhere."

He suggests retailers visit Unilever’s Partners for Growth retailer advice website for tips on ranging and layout.

Unilever also notes a growing market for hot and spicy sauces and speciality dressings, with taste the number one motivating factor behind consumer purchases in the category.

Artisan preserves and chutneys producer, The Bay Tree, launched new packs for five table sauces and nine dressings for last summer’s barbecue season and added Sticky Chinese Barbecue Sauce to its range. The product is designed to be a condiment, glaze or marinade to go with ribs, pork steaks, chicken or tofu.

Maximise opportunities

For the very best results during barbecue season, retailers should try to get all of these various al fresco dining strands to come together, as the Eurospar forecourt at Hardford Link, in Newtownards, County Down, has done. The store exploits the fact that it has an in-store butcher to maximise these opportunities, says store manager Nigel Walker.

"It does help that we have an in-house butcher and we do really well during barbecue season," Walker says.

"We do special deals on fresh meat with three packs for £10 and two packs for £7, and then we’ll try to incorporate something else into the offer as well, which could be baps from one of the bread suppliers, or a cheese, or extras like onions. We’ll try and put a promotion together which will be round the bread or butchers area.

"We also have a big range of sauces and we have a barbecue aisle-end where we display them with barbecues, charcoal and condiments."

Barbecues are good news for cider

Barbecue season is a great time for sales of beer, rosé wine, Pimm’s and pre-mixed spirits such as ready-to-drink gin and tonics.
But one category is more sensitive to uplifts in summer temperatures than others and that’s cider. In its 2019 Cider Report, Westons says total off-trade cider sales rose 5.3% in value to just under £1.2bn last year.
This year, producers are using digital outdoor ad campaigns that are activated by good weather to respond to peaks in summer demand.
Daryl Hinksman, head of business development at Westons, which markets the Stowford Press and Henry Westons brands, says: "We can do things at very short notice if we know the temperature’s going to hit certain temperatures probably 19C or 20C in certain areas. Digital activity allows you to do that and is much more flexible."
Philip McTeer, Thatchers head of marketing, says it will use the medium to support its Haze cloudy cider brand.
He adds: "Last year we ran a thermal campaign where the idea was that the ad only went live when we hit 2C above the average temperature in a target area. Then we went into the heatwave and we had to start restricting it to 4C because we were running through budget faster than we’d care to mention."
Thatchers is also sponsoring barbecue playlists on the music streaming service Spotify. The company is currently rolling out its new Rosé pink cider which competes against the fast-growing fruit cider segment but is actually made only from apples.