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Cool Fall Promos Tap Tailgating, Friday Pizza Nights


Although summer offers more opportunities for fun in the sun, fall is hardly a time without celebration.

From tailgating burgers and beer to pizza and movies at home on Friday nights, Americans have plenty of opportunities to kick back, relax and enjoy comforting eats with family and friends as the months cool down and lead into holiday season. In turn, grocers have a tremendous opportunity to lift sales dramatically by offering the right products and activating creative promotions with their supplier partners.

Long known as a popular time for people to get their grill on, summer sees eight in 10 grillers planning to grill outdoors during holidays, new research from Jacksonville, Fla.-based marketing agency Acosta Sales & Marketing reveals. But fall isn’t the time when the urge to grill goes into hibernation: Most of those who grill still plan to do so when the weather starts growing crisper, with seven in 10 grillers expecting to grill in the autumn.

“Our research shows shoppers choose to grill for two primary reasons: It provides a better flavor than other cooking methods, and also gives them a chance to enjoy the outdoors,” says Josh Pelham, director of insights and strategy at Acosta. “However, it’s the flavor factor that shows why many people are opting to grill throughout the year, even when the weather might not be as ideal.”

A Time to Tailgate

Much of this fall grilling occurs as a result of the beginning of football season, when the national pastime of tailgating takes place. Acosta’s research shows that 61 percent of people who grill bring that experience to tailgating, with 29 percent grilling at a sports stadium or arena, and 40 percent doing so at home.

Meat has long been central in the world of grilling, with 45 percent of tailgate grillers choosing hot dogs or sausages, and 46 percent selecting hamburgers. What’s new, though, is the continued growing interest among consumers, particularly Millennials, in foods with higher protein content. This provides retailers with a powerful marketing message, according to Christine Tanner, brand manager at Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, in Arkansas City, Kan.

“Although alternative sources of protein continue to expand, meat is still the best source of protein, and we need to be telling that story,” Tanner says. “The story can be told through labeling, but a great strategy is to develop meat personnel as customer consultants to offer information, from cooking and grilling tips for tailgaters to explaining nutritional benefits.”

Tanner notes that her company works with retailers to pull together individual marketing plans that spotlight the meat department, raising awareness of different cuts and explaining how they can be prepared. It also serves consumers directly, providing educational support for them via how-to videos on its website.

“For instance, during tailgating season, we publish tailgating tips and videos through our social media that our retail partners can utilize as well,” she says. “We also offer a wide variety of products to enhance their assortment.”

Educational support for consumers can be critical, as some manufacturers and retailers are experimenting with nontraditional cuts of meat that can require a higher level of cooking skill than that required by basic grilling. For instance, Tracy Sinclair, chief marketing officer of Chicago-based meat wholesaler PRE Brands, sees a rising interest in “elevated peasant fare” that incorporates cuts beyond the classic New York strip and ribeye.

“That’s one of the reasons that PRE Brands is introducing two new items — stew meat and chuck roast — perfect for casual tailgate fare like pulled beef and hearty chili,” she says. Both items will be available in stores Sept. 6, in time for autumnal cooking.

Pair Up

Side dishes, too, are an important component of tailgating promos and can help develop incremental sales. Acosta data show, in order, the most popular side dishes as chips, pretzels and other salty snacks (67 percent); dips/cheese dips (52 percent); vegetables/veggie trays (51 percent); salads (51 percent); desserts/treats (49 percent); salsas (47 percent); chicken wings (45 percent); fruit/fruit trays (44 percent); and macaroni and cheese (41 percent).

“Retailers and brands should keep these occasions and foods in mind when developing seasonal displays and creating meal solutions for shoppers,” Pelham says.

Promotionally, franks and beef also pair surprisingly well with breakfast foods. For instance, beef pairs well with bacon, and franks make a great match with ready-to-eat cereal, notes Sarah Schmansky, director of account services at Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm Nielsen.

Several of these products, such as veggie trays, certain salads and fruit trays, tend to be more healthful than some of the more traditional tailgating foods, which can be high in calories, sodium and fat. Retailers looking to support such foods in their merchandising should play up the health-and-wellness factor, as consumers today are more interested than ever in eating better.

“Familiarizing yourself with the consumer on a store-level basis is key to understanding whether or not they’ll be seeking healthier options during tailgating season,” Schmansky says.

But no matter what the product, merchandising should focus on making the shopping trip quick and easy, she advises. Retailers and their suppliers should work to provide displays where shoppers can grab all of the products or ingredients they need for popular recipes or to feed large groups, and place them in conveniently located spaces in the store.

Prime Time for Pizza

Of course, fall selling season is about more than just football and grilling. With summer and the vacation mindset over, kids and parents are hard at work in school and at the office, respectively. This often means less time for dinner preparation. Additionally, with cooler temperatures, families are more likely to turn on their ovens than they would in warmer weather, suggesting that frozen pizza could be a quick, easy and warm solution to fall family meals. And while it might not be as strong a tailgating food as burgers and hot dogs, frozen pizza can be an ideal meal while watching football at home.

“Between ‘Friday Night Lights’ — high school and local games — and more days of the week airing football games — for example, mid-tier conferences playing during the week [and] NFL games playing Thursday, Sunday and Monday — there are ample opportunities to eat pizza and watch football,” says Tracy Fleischhacker Quigley, senior marketing manager at Schwan’s Consumer Brands Inc., the frozen food division of The Schwan Food Co., in Marshall, Minn.

With pizza consumption, in general, on the rise — the average U.S. consumer eats pizza four times a month, and Millennials eat it even more than that — pizza is still a “very relevant meal,” Quigley insists. Further, as Millennials’ buying power grows, it’s important for retailers and manufacturers to work together to help the frozen pizza category capture some of those meal occasions.

Nearly half (48 percent) of frozen pizza consumption takes place on weekdays (Monday through Thursday), while more than half (52 percent) takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — Friday being the single largest frozen-pizza-consuming day, with 24 percent occurring then.

This suggests that while retailers and pizza manufacturers could see some success promoting frozen pizza any day of the week, Friday clearly marks the sweet spot. Many Midwestern grocers, in particular, could see better success with frozen pizza promos: Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Louis are the four biggest frozen-pizza-consuming markets in the country.

Appealing to football fans, Red Baron frozen pizza, a Schwan’s brand, historically has executed unique football-themed packaging graphics; funded a national beer partnership; supported consumer engagement tactics such as a website with games, promotional activities, recipes and more; and provided direct-store-delivery teams with in-store signage to help build displays. Additionally, the brand has a fully integrated marketing campaign that encompasses national television, digital and social media, public relations and additional components, which helps drive trial and awareness of the category and brand.

“We are focused on maximizing our shopper marketing budget dollars by plugging into retailer-led game-day activations, rather than trying to create our own,” Quigley says. “This enables retailers, Red Baron and consumers to get the best activation; by plugging into retailer programs, we help those programs feature grocery store traffic-driving brands at a great price value for consumers.”

Bulk packaging and BOGOs also are critical during the fall season. With tailgating events, consumers are focused more on group entertainment versus individual entertainment, with a similar mindset prevailing during the ensuing holidays, according to Alicja Spaulding, director of marketing with Aurora, Colo.-based baked goods supplier SROriginals. Larger pack sizes help lift sales, while BOGOs help products stand out. Both communicate value.

But such products and promos for the fall shouldn’t be focused on just savory courses — there’s a place for sweets, too, particularly seasonal ones. Here, colorful, seasonal colors — such as those of autumn or local sports teams — help attract shoppers and generate sales lifts. Party packs with a variety of flavors also help.

As an example, Spaulding points to a recent partnership between the Kroger Co.’s King Soopers banner in Colorado and SROriginals, which produced a bakery program catering to Denver Broncos fans.

“So you would see cake balls in the colors of orange and blue … and Broncos cookies,” she recounts. “Things of that nature are really bringing that customization and fandom to what people are eating and consuming. And really, the only market we played in with that was Colorado, but it did exceptionally well. That probably has a lot to do with the team doing really well.”

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