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Two glorious Bank Holiday weekends have got the barbecue season off to a blazing start, offering plentiful opportunities for butchers to add value and gain a competitive edge, with expert advice and greater spontaneity in their offering.  

Two glorious Bank Holiday weekends have got the barbecue season off to a blazing start, offering plentiful opportunities for butchers to add value and gain a competitive edge, with expert advice and greater spontaneity in their offering.  

British barbecue occasions are expected to exceed 130 million this year, up from 120 million in 2010, with around five million estimated over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and seven million following on the Royal Wedding Bank Holiday weekend, according to the National BBQ Association.

“There has been so much of a swing towards alfresco living,” says Brian George, president of the Association, which organises National BBQ Week. “Many people are treating the outside as inside and, with petrol prices and cutting back in general, people just aren’t going out as much.

“Everyone is more cautious, as retail figures show, and the only area where people aren’t being as cautious is with barbecues and alfresco living,” he says. “There is this move — despite the tough climate — to viewing barbecues as an affordable indulgence.

“Independents have the opportunity to steal a march on spontaneous mid-week barbecue occasions,” adds George. “On a hot day, if there is no suitable food in the house, people can pick something up from their butcher and just cook it outside on the barbecue. Independent retailers can keep an eye on the weather and have a wheel-out fixture with food and drink for consuming alfresco.”

Mixed weather conditions and an early exit for England in the World Cup failed to quell barbecuing in 2010, according to Eblex, which cites Kantar Worldpanel data, highlighting a 30% increase in year-on-year barbecue occasions (52 weeks to 12 August, 2010).

Burgers are eaten at 40% of all barbecues, constituting 47 million occasions in summer 2010, while kebabs feature in 7% of occasions.

Adventurous choices

Alongside the alfresco trend, consumers have become more accustomed to cooking on barbecues and have greater sophistication in their knowledge of food, contributing to more adventurous choices of meat for their barbecues. “It’s still about burgers and sausages, but people are just as likely to move on to posher cuts of meat too,” says George. “They are becoming more confident on the barbecue.

“National BBQ Week focuses on getting the message out there that you don’t have to do anything posh, but barbecuing is not that difficult and you can move beyond the basics,” he says. “As long as you have a hooded barbecue, you can do anything. It’s like an outside oven, and is all about temperature control.”

Barbecue equipment

Research by the National BBQ Association suggests 14% of British consumers have two barbecues — typically one gas and one charcoal model, with the latter used more on the weekend to achieve a better taste. A further 8% have three or more barbecues, while a small number now boast a complete outdoor kitchen. Entrepreneurial butchers have also expanded into catered barbecues or hog roasts, which continue to be a popular choice for catered events.

“Pork is still the cheapest meat by a long way,” says Bruce Hunter, managing director of Derbyshire-based Tasty Trotter, manufacturer of hog roast ovens and griddles, among other catering equipment.
Lancaster-based Cinders Barbecues manufactures commercial catering barbecues, including the
Slimfold Caterer TG160, which offers 7,312sq cm of long presentation frontage for cooking theatre and optional accessories, such as the Universal Griddle, converting one side of the TG160 to a flat cooking surface, and the pan support with two holding containers for hot and cold food.

“Making use of your outdoor areas will increase the capacity of your venue, and barbecues are a great way of generating profits and impressing diners,” says Brenda Lavelle, marketing manager UK at Cinders Barbecues.

Burger sales boosted

Sales of popular barbecue choices, such as burgers and grills, peak over the summer months, with Kantar Worldpanel data also pointing to higher peaks for those products in summer 2010 than over the previous two years.

Eblex identifies the UK barbecue market for burgers and grills — led by beef products — as an ideal opportunity for butchers to differentiate from their competitors, with quality handmade burgers using different seasonings and flavours.

However, while burger sales were buoyant, more expensive cuts of beef — particularly steak — fared less well and pushed down total consumption of beef by 3% year-on-year in the 52 weeks to 12 August, 2010. High prevailing prices for steak cuts in summer 2011 are likely to continue a trend of consumers trading down to cheaper cuts, according to Eblex, which has been developing a range of alternative added-value beef steak cuts, aimed at preventing cost-conscious customers from abandoning the category.

Seam butchery techniques have been used to produce six alternative steak cuts — all subjected to rigorous and ultimately positive consumer testing, according to Eblex. The six options include three cuts taken from the rump — Bistro Rump Steak, Prime Rump Steak and Picanha Steak; a Centre Cut Steak from the thick flank and two cuts adapted from the US market, a Flat Iron (feather blade) Steak and Denver Cut Steak from the chuck.

Eblex said consumers have rated the steaks favourably in comparison to traditional rump steak, with positive responses, in particular, for visual appearance, taste and leanness — the latter meeting rising demand for healthier food.

Despite the important role played by indulgence in British barbecue occasions, health as a driver in purchasing decisions rose by 1% in summer 2010. “The research has shown that by introducing alternative steaks to the market, not only will industry enhance the overall value of the carcase, but the gain to be had in retail sales would sit somewhere in the region of £6m,” says Mike Whittemore, retail project manager at Eblex.

The calculation comes from separating the rump primal into three distinct muscle blocks to produce the Bistro, Picanha and ‘Premium’ Prime Rump Steaks and adapting the knuckle primal into premium frying steaks, with 20% of the rump and knuckle processed using seam butchery techniques; thus producing a 13% (£6m) uplift in market value. “We are now working to help introduce the new steaks to the market,” says Whittemore. “So far feedback has been extremely positive and our work now is focused on ensuring that consumers will understand and buy into the new range.”

Lamb repertoire grows

For lamb, 2010 barbecue sales included a 2% increase in types of cuts used, but overall consumption was relatively static, according to the Kantar Worldpanel data (52 weeks to 12 August 12, 2010). Eblex believes scope exists to extend the repertoire of lamb cuts used on British barbecues further.

"Lamb is hugely versatile and performs well on the barbecue, from cutlets to steaks, chops or leg dice used for kebabs,” says Whittemore. “However, there is further scope to promote lamb as being ‘perfect for the barbecue’ and take advantage of the opportunities to sell quality pre-prepared, ready-marinated products or highlight cuts and cooking ideas.”

Further, many beef and lamb cuts are well-suited to larger events and celebratory occasions for the catering trade or consumers entertaining at home, such as kebabs and brochettes produced from well-trimmed, prime ‘off-cuts’ in marinades, according to Eblex.

Among such dishes recommended by the organisation is a whole boneless spatch-cocked shoulder of lamb for slow cooking in the oven, with fresh herbs and garlic, before finishing on the barbecue. Roughly sliced and served in rolls or with salads, the dish is simple to execute, tasty, generates theatre for caterers and hosts and is an ideal way to promote shoulders of lamb when they are in plentiful supply throughout the summer months, says Eblex.

A further recommendation as an alternative to hog roasts is spit-roast lamb, with boneless whole served rotisserie style offering an easier option than whole lamb. “Quality and value for money are always important considerations, and this is no different when it comes to outside dining,” says Whittemore.

“Maximise sales by ensuring your fresh meat displays reflect demand and promote the assurances of the beef and lamb on sale.”

Pork for convenience

In the pork category, popular barbecue choices include steaks, chops, spare ribs, kebabs and sausages — all benefiting from ease of cooking, but delivering great taste and satisfaction, according to Bpex.
For spontaneous barbecues, Bpex recommends convenient solutions such as pre-prepared kebabs using cubed lean cuts of pork from the shoulder, collar or leg steaks. Taking only 12-15 minutes to cook on a preheated barbecue, pork kebabs can also be enhanced with marinades, such as spiced mango and yoghurt or a lemon, dill, garlic and oil mix.

With sausages showing no signs of waning as a barbecue favourite, butchers can shake up the category by, for example, skewering four different varieties together. In addition to jazzing up display counters, the innovation can also serve to introduce customers to more products and thus boost sales.

Butchers could recommend their customers cut the cooked sausages and serve all four flavours on one kebab to guests, with a honey vegetable and tomato salsa accompaniment.

For caterers or entertaining consumers with kettle or gas barbecues with lids, meanwhile, large cuts or mini joints of pork from the shoulder, belly, collar or leg can be cooked for around 30-40 minutes and again offer extra theatre for special occasions.

“As the popularity of barbecuing continues to grow, so does the opportunity for butchers to make additional profit,” says Keith Fisher, butchery development manager at Bpex. “Being flexible with your range of pork cuts and products and going the extra mile will really make a difference to your customers and, most importantly, your revenue.

“Seasonings are a great way to add value and, as such, butchers should check with their supplier to find out what barbecue seasonings are available. These not only add flavour, but also keep the meat moist when cooking on the barbecue. Pre-marinated pork chops, steaks, joints and even whole tenderloins are increasingly growing in popularity.”

Bpex also recommends butchers both source and promote pork products, offering quality and welfare through assurance, particularly the Red Tractor logo.

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