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Going the Extra Yard


There’s no reason for grilling season to end when summer does. With outdoor cooking enjoying solid popularity, even among the all-important Millennial demographic, grocery retailers have the perfect opportunity to carry that momentum into fall with initiatives to support the great American pastime of tailgating.

To be sure, tailgating, along with the concurrent and following fall and winter holidays, presents a golden opportunity to rally the entire store — from meat to snacks to spirits — behind delivering solutions for shoppers eager to cheer their team on to victory or reflect on the past year with family and friends. Especially for grocers in towns with enthusiastic professional or collegiate sports fan bases, autumn leaves can translate into more dollars dropped at the cash register.

Indeed, the food industry loves football season, affirms Jim Rogers, VP of sales and marketing at Arkansas City, Kan.-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef.

“The very first tailgate party of the year has become the unofficial beginning of fall, and always involves food and beverages,” Rogers says, “and fans that prefer to watch from home also need to eat. The classic holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are equally important because they offer a great excuse for consumers to pull out all the stops and create a memorable holiday feast.”

These special events provide cross-promotion opportunities throughout the store, Rogers asserts. “Popular grill-ready cuts are appealing to the tailgaters; recipes and suggestive selling for in-home cooking are targeted to the sofa watchers,” he says. “The same rule applies for the holidays: Turkeys, hams and beef roasts are always at the top of everyone’s must-have lists.”

Promotions are a key component in boosting sales across the store. “The best way to leverage these events is to be prepared,” Rogers advises. “Adjust your product mix to cuts you know customers will be looking for. Also, offer convenient options for them.”

For example, burgers are popular for tailgating, but Rogers suggests also promoting small roasts, such as teres major or coulotte. “They are easy to cook and feed a large group while maximizing grill space,” he says. “Creating a grab-and-grill’ section featuring multiple items, like burgers and kabobs with complementary items like chips, buns and paper products, is another simple way to bump up your sales.”

To help shoppers hosting house parties for the big game, offer recipes that are easy to make and can feed a lot of hungry mouths. “Putting everything in one easy-to-find location not only makes their shopping experience faster, but it also presents an opportunity to sell add-on items that may not have been on your customer’s radar,” Rogers says. “For the holidays, put together ‘party packs’ that are basically classic party items bundled together.”

For extra impact, bundle items that shoppers might not expect, like a better-for-you party pack featuring hummus, pita chips and celery.

Grocers should harness their digital initiatives by creating a checklist or suggested menu for special-event periods, make the lists easily downloadable, or provide printouts in store to help with planning. “In-store instruction videos are another industry favorite around the holidays,” Rogers says. “For example, a video that demonstrates how to cook and carve a roast can help a customer feel more confident in investing in a costly item such as a whole beef roast.”

For its part, Creekstone Farms helps retailers create promotions that extend to their entire customer base. “We also offer seasonal cookbooks with recipes that are approachable to the average amateur chef and feature cuts that might not be in their usual weekly lineup,” Rogers adds. “These recipes are designed to showcase a wide variety of meals with mass appeal — from the first-time football party host to moms looking to create a new family-favorite dish.”

Rob Kirchofer, director of retail marketing and innovation at the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, notes that fresh pork products are a great value to consumers amid rising prices in the rest of the meat case.

“Particularly in the fall and winter months, we encourage retailers to merchandise standing rib pork roasts, pork ribeye roasts and loin roasts, as these cuts are a great value, easy to prepare, and elegant and flavorful choices for holiday meals,” Kirchofer says. “They are easy to slice and can be topped with a variety of sauces.”

Fall is also a great time to merchandise hams for their ease of preparation, adaptability for leftovers and host of new flavor options, such as chipotle, molasses and bacon.

Of course, hot dogs are a perennial favorite for tailgating, an opportunity that Jacksonville, Fla.-based Beaver Street Fisheries hopes to capitalize on with the launch of its Grillman’s brand of franks, including Angus beef and uncured varieties.

“Holidays and sports seasons are opportunities to partner with grocers on promotional strategies that drive sales,” says Bluzette Carline, Grillman’s director of marketing. “Offering programs specific to event purchases, grocers can work to increase sales, with hopes that consumers will stock up on items to get them through these seasons.”

Tastes Like Team Spirits

Football season usually means a new crop of beer commercials, signaling one of the most important sales periods for beverage manufacturers looking to make their products an integral part of consumers’ tailgating and fall holiday celebrations.

Matt Dzarnowski, director of channel solutions at Chicago-based brewer MillerCoors, notes that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, including the weeks leading up to each holiday, are the largest beer sales weeks of the fourth quarter.

“Shopper interest in beer styles and education has never been greater, and the opportunity to deliver solutions that pair beer with recipes, or include beer in the recipes, is timely,” Dzarnowski says. “There’s a real culinary exploration movement in America today, and beer fits nicely in that movement. What often goes overlooked is the fact that beer outsells wine most weeks of the year. So leveraging the beer-and-food occasion is a great way to drive conversion and basket size.”

That culinary exploration includes wide public interest in celebrity chefs, providing new opportunities to leverage. For example, MillerCoors’ Miller Lite partnership with Guy Fieri features holiday recipes that include Miller Lite as an ingredient.

“Recipes from Guy, like Holiday Stuffed Pork Loin with Red Pepper Relish and Smoked Turkey Legs with Cranberry BBQ Sauce, are examples of how Miller Lite can help our grocers build their basket with powerful, relevant shopper solutions,” Dzarnowski says.

Also, Pints & Plates is a shopper solution that pairs MillerCoors craft, cider, import and specialty brands with chef-inspired recipes. “A mobile-enabled website allows shoppers to download recipes and ingredient lists in the pre-shop or in-store, providing shoppers with immediate holiday meal solutions paired with flavorful beers,” Dzarnowski says. “Both solutions do a great job of building the basket beyond beer category sales and provide our grocers a real advantage against other class-of-trade retailers.”

Recipes for Success

Retailers are partnering with other suppliers on recipe concepts as well, designed to drive interest and traffic through the store.

West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s teamed up with Engage Organics, a Kelseyville, Calif.-based purveyor of salt-free seasonings, to create simple, flavorful recipes that inspire shoppers. Perfect for tailgating or game-day gatherings is Raley’s Game Time Chili, which combines the store’s own grass-fed beef, beer, organic veggies and Engage’s Mexi-Mix Seasoning, notes Patty Mastracco, food editor for Raley’s Something Extra magazine.

Engage offers a host of tailgating recipe ideas of its own on its website, including salt-free marinades for grilled meats, and snack dips for chips, vegetables and fruit, made with ingredients like light sour cream and Greek yogurt, for folks looking to remove some of the guilt from their game-day feasts.

Of course, snacks are a huge part of tailgating and other special occasions. Munchies like chips and pretzels are ubiquitous, with many new versions boasting gluten-free status and made with ancient grains, popcorn, beans, and even kale, beets or seaweed.

Meanwhile, protein-rich foods are in high demand, so the folks at Jack Link’s are prepared to help grocers take advantage of this trend at holiday snack time. Mark Baranczyk, director of trade marketing for the Minong, Wis.-based maker of jerky and other meat snacks, says grocery retailers should take advantage of special occasions with signage and displays. “Providing cross-merchandising solutions throughout the perimeter of the store could also help the grocery retailer take advantage of impulse purchase occasions in heavy traffic areas,” Baranczyk says.

Jack Link’s has promotions throughout the year, accompanied by custom displays to attract consumers to purchase its products — including new chicken and bacon jerkies — during certain occasions. “By partnering with grocery retailers on custom promotions, we will provide them with unique, innovative merchandising solutions,” Baranczyk says.

For example, this fall Jack Link’s is partnering with Red Bull on a promotion giving shoppers $2 off a 2.85-ounce bag of Jack Link’s with the purchase of a 4-pack of Red Bull. “We are also conducting a back-to-school promotion that focuses on protein on the go. If two bags of 2.85-ounce Jack Link’s jerky are purchased, shoppers can save $1.50,” Baranczyk adds. “Jack Link’s jerky is a great lunchbox or backpack stufer and after-school snack.”

Producing a Victory

Not to be outdone by other store categories, produce growers have their own tailgating and fall promotions.

Irving, Texas-based Avocados From Mexico (AFM) is launching several fall programs, including Fiestas Patrias Guacamoments, running Aug. 30 – Sept. 26 to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month. This partnership with Coca-Cola aims to provide Hispanic shoppers with value-priced meal solutions and will offer consumer savings, along with bilingual POS materials.

Additionally, AFM and national partner Ro-Tel, a brand of Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, are running their Tastiest Tailgate promotion Sept. 15 – Oct. 31. This promotion will be centered on the Rockin’ Guac recipe, described as a “speed scratch” guacamole made using AFM avocados and Ro-Tel Original Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies. Supported by consumer incentives and unique merchandising, the campaign also offers retailers a chance to win prizes for creative displays. Further, the Tastiest Tailgate will be featured on an electronic billboard in New York’s Times Square and will go on the road with the Tailgate Tour of six college football tailgate events.

“Big-name partnerships, creative displays, consumer incentives and retail contests, as well as event and ad support, will help increase sales during this crucial period,” says Alvaro Luque, AFM president.

Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Farms & Produce — a potato grower and wholesale distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables — is planning this fall to repeat its 2014 collaboration with its home-state team, the Green Bay Packers, on the What’s On Your Grill fan promotion.

Last fall, fans were invited to submit a photo of themselves gathered around a grill featuring some of their favorite game-day eats. Nearly 425 Packers fans submitted photo entries, and the lucky winner received a new gas grill; a $100 gift card to a retailer grocery partner to purchase meat, potatoes and other vegetables for the fan’s next tailgate party; and an Alsum apron and grill tongs.

Life of the Party

Creekstone’s Rogers says 2015 is going to present “some unique challenges such as a tight supply for turkeys; however, that will present an opportunity to see stronger ham and roast sales.”

MillerCoors’ Dzarnowski says product innovation presents a “timely and relevant” opportunity for grocers: “Growing segments like cider and flavored beverages are blurring the lines of beer, wine and spirits. Brands like Redd’s Apple Ale and Blue Moon White IPA allow the consumer to explore new flavors and styles of beer, generating incremental sales during holiday occasions. The opportunity to deliver solutions for food-and-beer pairings is important to meeting shopper expectations.”

Meanwhile, special occasions provide a chance for grocers to help consumers create “a memorable and visual party experience,” says Baranczyk, at Jack Link’s. “People are looking for unique foods and flavors in their appetizers and snacks through unexpected items outside of typical party food,” he says. “Technology and social sharing also play large roles in recent party-planning changes. Both brands and grocery retailers can take advantage of these social media trends to build new ideas and experiences attractive to shoppers.”

“People are looking for unique foods and flavors in their appetizers and snacks through unexpected items outside of typical party food.”
—Mark Baranczyk, Jack Link’s

“Putting everything in one easy-to-find location not only makes their shopping experience faster, but it also presents an opportunity to sell add-on items that may not have been on your customer’s radar.”
—Jim Rogers, Creekstone Farms

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