LIGHT MY FIRE

Britain's appetite for a good barbecue, and the growing involvement of women, looks set to fuel a market boom for the next five years.

CONSUMER AFFLUENCE, moves towards informal eating, premiumisation? and growing female participation will contribute to a 42% value increase in the UK barbecue sector to £449m over the next five years, forecasts Mintel, with meat leading the way.

Taking food inflation into consideration, this would mean a growth rate of 30%, according to the report Barbecue Foods UK, published last month. Continued affluence, growth in spontaneous barbecuing as the travelling/café culture continues to boost the popularity of al fresco eating here, and an increase in premium choices as women get more involved are all cited as contributors to the predicted boom.Other factors include the extension of the barbecue season from its traditional June-to-August slot into spring and autumn, and the increased availability of affordable gas-powered and charcoal barbecues, patio heaters and garden canopies.

Meanwhile, although barbecuing is still predominantly a weekend activity? reads the report, a high proportion of consumers like the idea of having a spontaneous cookout. This has led to a growth in the number of barbecues during the week with those held after work hours emerging as summer eating occasions to rival the popularity of the everyday evening meal. 2005 sales were valued at £285m up 40% since 2001, with further growth expected this year. More than 100m barbecues were estimated to have been held in the UK last year, pushing Britain ahead of Germany as Europe's biggest barbecue nation.

Among other notable features of the findings is the apparent declining popularity of vegetarian processed foods such as sausages and burgers. Previous consumers may have been tempted back to meat-based products by improved quality measures, Mintel suggests.

GOING UP, DOWN

Sausages, poultry and burgers account for more than half of the total barbecue foods market, but their share is diminishing, while growth is noted in fish, vegetable products, prepared sauces and marinades. Mintel notes growth in premium sausages, which have benefited from the perception they are healthier, based on higher meat content than standard and economy ranges. UK sales of poultry for the barbecue were put at £38m last year, up 40% on 2001, driven by multi-pack promotions. While sales of turkey steaks and kebabs and whole chickens have increased, the most popular items remain chicken portions, especially thighs and legs.

BURGER RECOVERY

Total sales of meat burgers have experienced something of a recovery in recent years after stagnating in the early part of the decade, according to the report. The main reason has been the move towards premium ranges, which address consumer requirements for healthier options, including burgers with lower fat and salt content. Big names, such as Ross and Birds Eye, have gone even further, targeting ethnic tastes by producing spicier products while removing artificial colours, flavours and preservatives and lowering salt and fat levels.

Sales of other meats - steaks, chops and ribs - account for about a fifth of all barbecue food sales, boosted by sales of higher quality cuts such as fillet steak as well as growth in marinated products. Kebabs have also benefited from consumers trading up from basic sausages and burgers, assisted by the availability of ready-to-cook products supplied with a range of accompaniments.

HEALTHY OPTIONS

Health concerns and the growth of the organic sector have been primary drivers of new product development in the meat industry for years now with certain red meat products - burgers and sausages among them - regularly subject to negative media attention and criticism over high fat and salt levels. However, at the barbecue, the healthy eating trend is not that much of an issue, says to Mintel. The concept of barbecuing, as a whole, benefits from its wider association with the outdoor lifestyle and the perception that barbecuing is a natural, wholesome way to cook. For this reason, it is one meal occasion where consumers are prepared to loosen their belts and put aside the reservations nor-mally reserved for red meat products, to indulge themselves a little. The organic sector, meanwhile, is doing well out of the healthy push.

Tesco has reported that sales of its British organic pork sausages rose 70% in the summer of 2004, partly attributed to outdoor eating.

SUPERMARKETS' ROLE

A breakdown of Mintel's report shows that multiples dominate retail sales of barbecue foods, the result of the convenience factor and heavy summer promotions. Consumers like to browse and it is this human trait that makes multiples so effective in selling the whole barbecue idea, using dual positioning to cross-sell products, such as marinades and glazes, which consumers may not be so familiar with.

Customers also seem to identify with the multiples' private labels. This is particularly important in the case of barbecue meats, where many fresh products are prepared in-store and carry the retailer's livery. Accounting for over 80% of barbecue meat sales by value in 2005, the supermarkets dominate burger sales, thanks to the continuing significance of frozen burgers. They do lose out to butcher shops in the sausage category, however.

HEAVY HITTER

Marks & Spencer punches above its weight in this sector, benefiting from its upmarket profile and the success of its Cook! barbecue range. Specialist retailers and independents, including butchers and farmers' markets, retain a foothold owing to their ability to meet niche/bespoke requirements, continues the report.

Specialist stores and other independents continue to be squeezed by the growth of the multiples, but butchers have shown that the big boys are not invincible and providing greater consumer choice through new recipes as in the sausage sector, offer them more than a fighting chance.

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