Independent butchers are well-placed to benefit from a bumper barbecue year, according to the National BBQ Association (NBBQA), which forecasts record trade on the back of favourable weather and the recession.
With greater flexibility to respond rapidly to sunshine and innovate with meat cuts, flavours and other barbecue accompaniments, NBBQA claims butchers have the edge over their multiple retail competitors. The promotional body is forecasting that an end to the El Niño wave of weather - making the summers of 2008, and 2007 in particular, a washout - together with a return to home entertainment for cash-strapped consumers will bolster barbecue occasions in the UK.
"Independent butchers can do regional dishes and generally think outside the box," says NBBQA president Brian George. "There is no doubt that this year will be the biggest market yet, and people will be outside more than ever. Butchers have got to jump on that or the supermarkets will."
While fish is becoming an increasingly important part of the barbecue scene, it is not growing at a sufficient rate to threaten the dominance of meat in the category. "Meat is such a barbecue-friendly product and a lot of it isn't expensive," says George. "Game, which is healthy, is growing in popularity too and, for all meat, there is a huge opportunity to ramp it up.
"If it's cost-effective, looks good and is something different, then you'll feel better about the whole eating outside occasion. The credit crunch isn't just about individual's budgets - it's not to be seen to be too flashy. But people still want to have a good time."
Keith Fisher, butchery and product development manager at BPEX, agrees. "Barbecue really is a big opportunity for independent retail butchers," he says. "If a butcher knows the forecast for the weekend, he can very quickly gear up to provide a whole barbecue range. Supermarkets have to take more of a chance, whereas butchers don't have to go for any one thing but can put out a wide variety of cuts and flavour profiles."
Hog roasts, meanwhile, continue to grow in popularity, offering an opportunity for butchers to create a lucrative sideline in outside catering. "It creates a lot of theatre," says Fisher, and butchers can also generate returns from their investment in hog roasting equipment by renting it out to others.
There are numerous hog roasting ovens available for sale or rental, Fisher adds. But he recommends that butchers thinking of moving into hog roasts for the first time should first hire the kit and see how it goes.
"Retail butchers are weathering it better than most, says Mike Whittemore, retail project manager for EBLEX. He cites IGD data, which highlights consumers are shopping locally and looking for bargains, due to their straitened financial circumstances.
"If they get their shop in order, butchers should be well-placed. Last year was better than the year before; people are more accustomed to outdoor dining and dusting down the barbecue with the first rush of summer weather," he says. "The multiples start stocking their barbecue range before the Easter holidays, but Easter was very early last year and they may have got their fingers burnt."
The latest Mintel report, Barbecue Foods - UK - November 2008, estimates British barbecue occasions were 101 million during 2008. This was a rise of almost 9% on the disastrous summer of 2007, but represents only a partial recovery on the 110 million barbecue meals in 2006.
Mintel estimates retail sales of barbecue foods at £371m in 2008, of which meat constitutes 77% and sauces, seasonings and marinades a further 8%. Excepting the poor performance of 2007, barbecue food sales are growing by over 10% on average year-on-year.
Meanwhile, the wider British barbecue/summer eating/alfresco market is valued at over £6.7bn, representing the longest and third-largest grocery promotion year-round. "We all want to live alfresco and echo that Mediterranean lifestyle," adds George.
With no major sporting events lined up for summer 2009, beyond the British Lions rugby tour and the Ashes, "retailers and butchers now see this sector as a summer lifesaver", according to NBBQA.
The alfresco concept of eating and entertaining has proved popular and offers opportunities for butchers to boost their barbecue sales with accompanying cold meat platters and deli produce.
"Consumer interest in outdoor living and alfresco dining is stimulating the consumption of a wider range of foods at the barbecue and the extension of barbecues out of the traditional summer/weekends occasion," says the Mintel report. Representing an important social occasion for both families and friends, barbecuing is most popular among younger consumers, but extends appeal across all age and socio-economic groups, according to the market analyst.
Further, barbecues are often spontaneous, weather-driven events, highlighting the importance of shop window display or drawing passing foot or vehicle traffic's attention to barbecue ranges. Mintel forecasts continued growth in the barbecue market as greater interest in food and cooking and more sophisticated barbecue equipment "continue to fuel a broader range of eating styles'. The report also claims growing numbers of British consumers are barbecuing year-round; a trend taken on board by NBBQA, which organises a winter barbecue week from Halloween to Bonfire Night.
"If we have a good, long summer this year, we can expect to see some pretty good growth in barbecue occasions," says Richard Cullen, research and insight manager at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board. "There can be a spurt at Easter but again it is weather-dependent."
While economy cuts of meat and old favourites are expected to undergo a revival in the economic downturn, the meat industry is not expecting a complete halt to growth in premium barbecue foods. Cheaper meat products such as sausages, poultry and burgers have always represented the largest segments of the barbecue market, and "thinking of how to dress these up will be key to success in the current climate", according to NBBQA. The promotional body believes the British barbecue market could actually benefit from the financial downturn, with alfresco living at home likely to be more popular than ever among cash-strapped consumers looking for a fun alternative to eating out.
"Staying in is the new going out," says George, "It's about making the home the centre of leisure activities, whether chilling out with a drink and a snack or a more elaborate dinner party. It has been a tough year for a lot of people and, with home entertaining, people can relax more and it's more cost-effective. No-one wants to live in a doom and gloom society. The credit crunch actually offers butchers the opportunity to bolster up their offer and encourage people to cook at home more.
"The whole barbecue and alfresco concept is a cost-effective way of providing great, healthy meals. Latest figures from Mintel back this up too - an average of £3.67 per head is spent on each barbecue occasion in the UK. And, best of all, the experience isn't just confined to the weekend. Over 40% of barbecue occasions are accounted for mid-week, with after-work barbecues becoming one of the top barbie hot-spots."
BPEX and EBLEX are both taking the opportunity to promote cheaper, lesser-known red meat cuts, likely to appeal to cash-strapped consumers, with the added benefit of maximising carcase use. "In the current difficult climate it is also worth considering promoting alternative cuts of pork, which offer consumers more value for money," says BPEX head of marketing Chris Lamb. "Modern belly cuts or pork collar, for example, are economical cuts taken from the forequarter, but which also perform equally well on the barbecue. It is important that retailers seize the opportunity to increase sales of products such as this through effective merchandising and labelling."
EBLEX has developed a barbecue kit for its Quality Standard Mark butcher members, promoting a flat iron steak and flank cut, with a specific lamb cut to be added in June. "It's something different - adding value to a lesser cut," says Whittemore, referring to the inclusion of the flat iron steak. "We've never really featured a cut like this before."
A range of products, concentrating on the forequarter, are to be demonstrated at a launch event in Stoneleigh, followed by the distribution of 2,000 retail support kits to help butchers sell the cheaper forequarter cuts and push sales of lamb mince. The first 1,000 butchers calling into a hotline will receive a kit, but more will be produced as needed. Each kit will contain posters, consumer information leaflets, product stabbers to highlight the cuts in the butcher's cabinet and window POS material, as well as cutting specifications and costing breakdowns for the lamb cuts.
Market analyst Mintel forecasts slower growth in the barbecue foods market in 2009, due to tightened consumer budgets. "Tougher times may also increase the appeal of frozen foods," it says. "Already, perceptions of frozen foods are improving, but under more difficult economic circumstances, their value for money and potential for reducing waste come more into play in consumer buying decisions."
However, Mintel concludes, "Barbecues may well avoid the worst impacts of the credit crunch since they can be seen as a comparatively low-cost form of enjoyment in comparison with eating out and other leisure activities."
Richard Cullen of AHDB believes continued growth at the premium end of the barbecue market will be influenced as much by the weather as the economic situation. "People are trying to do better meats or quality sausages, but how much it grows or not is down to the weather," he says. "Premium cuts like steaks have not been doing fantastically well, but if the weather comes back, consumers will start using those again. It's a cheap way of cheering themselves up."
NBBQA also sees no reason for the burgeoning premium barbecue trade to come to an end. "Rather than going for all the old tried-and-tested sausages, burgers and kebabs, butchers should try something different," says George. "There is an opportunity to innovate. If you offer barbecue packs with all the usual products in them, people will buy that. But if you offer butterfly lamb or something different, people will go for that instead."
NBBQA identifies a "burger to brochette evolution" and growth in gastro grilling in the British barbecue sector, driven by young, trendy and more affluent consumers.
Premiumisation has also aided the popularity of burgers, which have lost market share in recent years, despite continued popularity among 18-30-year-old males, says the association.
With the recession inspiring more home cooking, sales of mince through butchers and other retailers are expected to grow, as consumers make their own premium burgers. Mintel's 2008 barbecue foods report highlights the increasing sophistication of the market, driven by foodie culture and, in particular, women and affluent consumers. As well as using more interesting and globally-inspired sauces and marinades, consumers are also becoming more adventurous and using meats such as venison, ostrich and duck on the barbecue, according to the report.
BPEX and EBLEX, meanwhile, offer their respective assurance schemes as a mark of quality for consumers across price ranges from mince and sausages through to more premium cuts. "For an occasion that is focused on entertaining and enjoyment, quality is increasingly important," says Lamb. "Fresh premium lines and sausages that carry evidence of assurance, such as the pork Quality Standard Mark, perform well during the barbecue season, and we can expect this trend to continue as consumers get more switched on to welfare and quality assurance."
And Chris Leeman, retail project manager for EBLEX, says: "Quality and enjoyment often go hand in hand and this is no different at the barbecue occasion.
Burgers made from Quality Standard mince will do well, as consumers increasingly look for assurance about the meat they buy and, certainly, research tells us that they are more likely to purchase own-label fresh beef and lamb if it carries the Quality Standard Mark."
While barbecues are viewed by many as a time to indulge and forget dieting, fish, fruit and vegetables are among the most rapidly growing foods on the barbecue, according to Mintel, and meat manufacturers are producing leaner sausages and burgers in response.
"Alfresco living is the antithesis of fast food," says George. "The sort of food you eat and the way you eat it is much more diverse. People become more adventurous and they're not chucking it down - it involves more controlled eating, and is therefore healthier."
While exotic meats, seafood and fruit and vegetables may be increasingly making their way on to British barbecues, the old staples - sausages, burgers, chicken, chops, steaks and kebabs - are still the most popular choices. Sausages featured at almost half of all meal occasions, according to TNS Worldpanel Usage data for August 2008, supplied by AHDB. NBBQA attributes the product's barbecue success to its convenience, easy handling, cross-generation appeal and relative cost-effectiveness.
Pork was represented at 36% of barbecue meal occasions in 2008, according to the TNS data, with the number of meals featuring the protein rising by a quarter on August 2007 to 35 million occasions. Usage occasions for fresh pork burgers and grills also rose during the 2008 barbecue season.
BPEX's Chris Lamb says: "Consumers are becoming more adventurous and pork cuts such as chops, ribs and joints are ideal candidates. They are tasty and suit a variety of marinades, keeping the meat tender and moist and allowing for different flavour sensations."
BPEX has been developing a range of new pork cuts for the barbecue this season, including collar steaks and mini collar joints for slow barbecuing. BPEX's Keith Fisher has also been working with 160-180g pieces of 'rustic' pork belly, featuring diamond cuts to allow easy absorption of marinades. "The pieces go crispy and brown and are a good alternative to steak," says Fisher. "Served in a roll or salad, it's a very succulent cut." Loin steaks and heart-shaped Valentine steaks are also great for the barbecue. "Pork is one of the most versatile meats in the barbecue market," he says. "One of the most important things is to make it convenient for the barbecue without too many bones, gristle or waste."
Beef and lamb
Burgers, meanwhile, account for 85% of all barbecue-cooked beef, attributed by EBLEX to its appeal across all age groups, but to children and young adults in particular.
Chris Leeman, retail project manager for EBLEX, says: "The barbecue occasion is still very much about meat products and beef continues to perform well. Indeed, latest figures show that beef appeared at 49 million barbecue meal occasions in 2008. Lamb has also grown in popularity among consumers at barbecues and, according to TNS, featured at 15 million barbecue meal occasions.
"Lamb is hugely versatile and performs exceptionally well on the barbecue, particularly as a kebab. In fact, 60% of total lamb consumed at a barbecue is eaten this way, making pre-packed kebabs or even lamb leg cubes, for example, perfect items for the barbecue fixture."
EBLEX retail project manager and master butcher Dick van Leeuwen, together with master chef Pierre Koffmann, has developed a new range of speciality steaks using lesser-known primal cuts. The 12 cuts - including hanger, skirt and ranch steak, bavette and underblade - are all ideal for the barbecue and adding flavour and tenderising through marinades, says van Leeuwen.
"We are trying to get butchers to take up these lesser-used cuts, which help carcase balance and improve margins," he says.
British Turkey, meanwhile, is embarking on a marketing campaign this barbecue season, aimed at inspiring consumers to think beyond beef burgers and pork sausages and boost the protein's presence in summer eating.
TV chef Phil Vickery (pictured) has been enlisted for the campaign, targeting food writers with demonstrations of recipes, such as whole turkey drumstick cooked for several hours on the barbecue and served off the bone in a roll. And around 50,000 consumers visiting the Taste of London food fare at Regents Park in June will be offered samples of turkey burgers, kebabs and sausages cooked on-site by a chef, with the aim of demonstrating turkey's versatility on the barbecue.
The initiatives are part of British Turkey's push to boost year-round turkey usage, and the promotional body also includes a Best Barbecue Product in its annual awards. British Turkey is hoping to build on its healthier credentials in comparison with many other meats, as well as encouraging consumers to look for Quality British Turkey assurance and Red Tractor accreditation.
However, according to Mintel's 2008 barbecue report, "Despite premiumisation, the poultry sector has done no better than retain its value." Factors include the bird flu outbreaks of 2007 and 'increased competition from fish, which is capturing a larger share of the health-influenced barbecue purchase.
Flavours and marinades
Marinating not only increases consumer appeal but adds that all-important competitive edge and more premium feel to traditional cuts of meat, according to the NBBQA. Last year, the category accounted for half of all barbecue NPD, with trends including ethnic and exotic flavours from the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa.
The Association's suggestions for butchers to maximise the potential of their barbecue and meat fixtures include stocking a good range of both traditional, cheaper staples and healthier, premium products. "Product positioning is also key and provides retailers and butchers alike with great margin, enhancing opportunities to provide complete meal solutions and drive incremental sales," according to the Association. "Incorporating marinades, seasonings and sauces, for example, on to or alongside the barbecue fixture, most certainly encourages consumers to pick up those all-important added extras and enhance their barbecue occasion."
Premium growth has been notable in sausages, with more exotic flavours such as Thai spice and leek and stilton boosting the product's popularity with younger consumers. "People's tastes have become naturally spicier," says NBBQA president Brian George. "Popular choices include Indian and Chinese and, increasingly, Caribbean and South American. And it has yet to come through, but South African is one to watch, with Cape Malay flavours working well on the grill."
Picking a regional or ethnic theme for barbecuing inspires customers. "It's all very much about trying something new, and widening opportunities on the grill," he says. "It is that innovation, difference and exotic edge that will get people through the summer." NBBQA offers recipes on its website, which butchers can download.
Sauces, seasonings and marinades represented the fastest growing segment of the barbecue market over the last few years, according to Mintel, with trends including both authentic, ethnic-style sauces and brand-driven spin-offs, such as Budweiser and Jack Daniel's barbecue sauce ranges. Combining marinades with the kebab format also provides an opportunity to use meats not typically associated with the barbecue, such as, for example, overcoming consumers' fears around cooking duck on a barbecue, adds the research firm.
"With travelling, people are now trying every flavour from Mexican to Greek and Thai, looking for something a little bit different, to add excitement." says BPEX's Keith Fisher. "There is also a tendency towards smoked flavours, such as apple, pecan, oak and hickory, representing the next step up as people become more sophisticated and understand the different woods that can be used to add flavour. They are available as wood chips, so it is not beyond the realms of everyday people."
One impact of the credit crunch, however, may be a return to more conventional formats, in line with the wider revival in comfort foods. "It will not quite be back to basics," says Gordon Wicklow of Scobie & Junor, "but people may be a wee bit more cost-conscious and use more traditional flavours, such as smoky and barbecue sauces."
Scobie & Junor has recently invested in new packaging, including easy-to-use tubes and sample pots allowing butchers to trial its range of sauces and marinades without cost. The Scottish supplier has also introduced cleaner labelling, taking out artificial ingredients and offering low-salt and gluten-free lines.
And organic line sales are holding up. "Customers are a bit more cautious, but organic demand hasn't collapsed the way people said it would," says Wicklow.
The NBA's barbecue events
13th Gastro Alfresco - National BBQ
Gastro Alfresco 2009 is the National BBQ Association's 13th annual celebration of summer alfresco eating, entertaining and barbecuing, although the Gastro Alfresco theme was first introduced in 2007.
Among 2009 sponsors is new addition and official bakery partner, tortilla and wrap manufacturer Mission Foods.
Ian Job, European marketing director for Mission Foods, says: "Via the partnership, we aim to show consumers how versatile and tasty Mission Deli Wraps are and demonstrate that they are a perfect bread alternative and a great carrier for any meat, adding a twist to any barbeque or picnic favourite."
National BBQ Week
The National BBQ Association is encouraging retailers to put together an eye-catching barbecue fixture for its 13th National BBQ Week, from 25-31 May, ideally offering a 'one stop barbie shop' by stocking drinks, snacks and bakery alongside barbecue staples such as charcoal, woodchips and skewers. A free-to-download pack, including POS, BBQ tips and a planogram, is available from mid-April on the website: www.nationalbbqweek.co.uk.
2nd Alfresco Food Fortnight
Aimed at encouraging consumers to barbecue and eat outdoors more, the 2nd Alfresco Food Fortnight, from 20 July to 2 August, will include recipes, tips, advice and competitions. Central to activity will be the 6th Alfresco Experience RoadShow, promoting 'staying in as the new going out' via large demonstration trailers with a full catering kitchen, patio-themed stage with a barbecue and chef, and a garden-style setting for visitors.
The Roadshow will take in over 140 Tesco Extras, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose superstores across Britain between mid-May and early September, as well as including 40 Gastro BarbiBooths in Co-op and Waitrose stores. The 7th Britain's Best BBQ'er competition, meanwhile, will include 10 regional heats and a London final, while the third Have a Better Barbie Day will be held on 30 August.