Grilling Goes Beyond Meat

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Grilling Goes Beyond Meat

By Jim Dudlicek - 05/08/2017

While much of the country is gearing up for another season of summer grilling, some folks are able to partake in outdoor cooking practically year round.

That provides some grocery retailers, like Arizona-based Bashas’, ongoing opportunities to drive sales by appealing to al fresco chefs. And, it gives such grocers unique insights for retailers across all climes looking to up their game as charcoal gets smouldering nationwide.

“It’s important to think of outdoor cooking across department lines,” says Ashley Shick, director of communications and public affairs at Bashas’ Family of Stores. “Ensuring we have a variety of selections in produce, meat and seafood is key, but our deli offerings are also just as important. Fresh, quality ingredients in easy-to-grab displays are great suggestions for our customers who are planning outdoor meals.”

Working together as a collective merchandising team, Shick asserts, “ensures that we can meet the needs and requests of our customers, all while providing them with the support and encouragement to try new things and expand their culinary interests.”

Grilling Trends

What’s motivating outdoor cooks right now?

One of the leading conversations is around home smoking, Shick observes. “With the accessibility of home smoker systems and the continued popularity of food shows and cooking competitions, we see things like whole-beef briskets, pork shoulders and ribs leading the charge for barbecue throughout the year,” she says. “These long-time favorites are enhanced using different techniques, seasonings and side pairings.”

Another key area is seafood. “While grilling seafood isn’t a new concept, this category continues to grow, and it’s led by salmon, swordfish, halibut and shellfish,” Shick says. “The versatility of these items, combined with the growing interest in different cooking methods -- such as smoking, grilling and sous-vide -- pushes us to ensure that we offer a wide variety of products at the highest quality.”

And don’t forget about the veggies. “The grilling of fresh produce has gained a lot of traction recently, and particularly during Arizona summers, when the heat can be extreme,” Shick notes. “Grilling produce is a wonderful way to satisfy the desire for the grill taste and texture yet remain light and refreshing for summer. Everything from your classic sweet corn and asparagus to bell peppers, mushrooms, veggie skewers and one of our favorites, chili peppers, make an appearance on Arizona grills.”

Additionally, Bashas’ has seen items like pineapple continue in popularity, along with summer peaches, cantaloupe and honeydew. “Even some of the most unexpected, such as avocado and citrus halves, are part of the grilling equation. When grilling fruit and vegetables, color and variety are king,” Shick says.

With such diversity, merchandising concepts abound.

“A wide variety of food and cooking interests, coupled with year-round grilling in many parts of Arizona, opens a whole new world of recipes and cross-merchandising opportunities,” Shick notes. “It’s not enough to place hot dog buns next to ketchup and mustard; we’re constantly pushing ourselves to take it a step further, thinking about flavor combinations and meals as a whole.”

In addition to merchandising fresh produce and grilling items together, Bashas’ places some classics, like corn and potatoes, next to the meat department. “As our customers are grabbing their meat and seafood items, the most classic combinations are right at their fingertips,” Shick says. “Additionally, we ensure that grilling spices and marinades are placed close to the meat and seafood cases so that customers have new ideas for different flavors and textures.”

Steering Sales

The Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, is working to promote beef into the summer grilling season.

Beef prices have been falling and this trend is expected to continue through the summer months, suggesting beef may be making a significant showing beyond burgers on grills this year. “Retailers have been more aggressive in their price mark downs than restaurants, and that is showing up in stronger year-over-year sales,” says CattleFax analyst Lance Zimmerman.

David O’Diam, director of retail for Wooster, Ohio-based Certified Angus Beef LLC, says retailers and consumers can anticipate an abundance of beef cuts and pricing options.

“In years past, it has been challenging to place classic grilling steaks and premium ground beef on feature. A resurgence of tried-and-true grilling favorites, from strip to ribeye, and burgers will be in demand and available to drive retail profits through summer,” O’Diam says. “At the same time, retailers should embrace newer cuts like chuck eye steak and thin meats. Younger generations enjoy experiencing other cultures through food. Thin meats satisfy this need and also give consumers more options for preparing easy weeknight meals. Retailers today have the opportunity to be on the forefront of bringing thin meats to the meat case.”

O’Diam further notes that quality is growing in importance with consumers, especially with expected pricing options this summer. “Premium levels of marbling, as required for the Certified Angus Beef brand through modest or higher marbling, helps to ensure best performance for grilling,” he says.

On the national level, the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” social media campaign will share a variety of educational and inspirational videos to help consumers take advantage of beef-centric opportunities, from quick-style recipes with burgers and steaks to monthly Facebook Live sessions offering tips from culinary experts.

“Retailers can leverage the checkoff-funded content for free on their own websites, social platforms, email marketing, in-store merchandising and more,” says Alisa Harrison, NCBA’s senior VP of global marketing and research.

Certified Angus Beef assists retailers with grilling tips, recipes and promotions to engage their teams and drive traffic to the meat case. “Our resources for retailers that offer Certified Angus Beef brand products include comprehensive tool kits for summer promotions,” O’Diam says.

With shoppers increasingly tuned into social media channels, Certified Angus Beef works with retailers “to be fresh and current in their social media approach,” O’Diam says. “Meat can help retailers communicate with customers in new ways and establish credibility for quality, recipes and meal solutions. Some of our retailers have held customer promotions to win a package of steaks and burgers, beef for a month or a grill. Promotions like these bring shoppers and excitement to the meat case.”

The company also is helping retailers develop more intentional approaches to their beef promotions. “More than percent growth in the overall beef category, we are helping retailers identify specific cuts with greater sales and promotional opportunities for their customer base,” O’Diam says.

State beef councils are also hard at work to promote beef locally. The Texas Beef Council, for example, has a promotion with Ibotta and Sam’s Club through May that features ribeye steak and a Caribbean Ribeye recipe. The council also is supporting beef sales in Texas this summer with two in-store promotion programs on steaks and burgers with partners Ste. Genevieve wine, Pabst Brewing’s Lone Star beer and Fiesta Brand spices.

“Retailers can never underestimate the residual value that a premium-quality beef product or brand brings to the meat case and ultimately store reputation,” O’Diam declares. ”A consistent, high-quality product at a reasonable and fair price will drive repeat business. The mindset used to be that retailers needed the lowest price on the block. This focus has transitioned to featuring higher quality because that’s what customers enjoy.”

Flocking to the Meat Case

Poultry is a key factor in summer grilling as well.

In fact, June is Turkey Lovers Month, and on its website, the Washington, D.C.-based National Turkey Federation has a page dedicated to the occasion, along with many grilling recipes featuring turkey.

“This summer, look for the continued renaissance of cooking techniques, such as the rotisserie, to evolve with ‘newer’ and more unexpected vegetables and proteins, like turkey,” says Patrick Cassata, corporate executive chef of Westmont, Ill.-based Standard Market and member of the NTF’s advisory board.

Retailers can leverage NTF’s summer slider promotion, that offers shoppers $2 off a pound or more of ground turkey with the purchase of any bottle of Kenwood Vineyards wine. In fact, burgers in general can be an easy way to cross-merchandise products across multiple departments, notes Karen Buch, registered dietitian, nutritionist and member of the NTF advisory board.

“Place recipe tear pads and cross-merchandising signage throughout the store to highlight key ingredients needed to make Blended Turkey with Avocado Mushroom Burgers,” she advises for a promotion featuring a recipe tie-in. “Begin in the meat case near the ground turkey and repeat in fresh produce near the avocados, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, garlic and red onions, in the dairy case near the eggs and in center store near the Mexican seasoning blend, bread crumbs and sesame seed buns. Showcase the full recipe with an appetizing image in your print ad or simply include a QR code to link shoppers directly to the recipe via smartphone. Include a few simple grilling tips, such as applying a thin coating of non-stick vegetable cooking oil to the unheated grill rack to reduce sticking, or grilling turkey burgers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit using a food thermometer.”

Grilling season can be an opportunity to target time-starved customers as well, Buch adds, noting that even by 4 p.m., many consumers still don’t know what to serve for dinner. “Barbecued Turkey Pizza is a quick, easy and unexpected meal to make on the grill. Retailers can use signage or an in-store demo program to suggestively sell this meal solution,” she says.

Spice is Nice

Seasoning suppliers also are providing inspiration, as well as further cross-merchandising opportunities to attract consumers looking for bold flavors to shake up their summer menus.

In the annual McCormick Flavor Forecast 2017: Grilling Edition, the Sparks, Md.-based company offers ideas ranging from seared Hawaiian poke to tangy white BBQ sauce and sticky sweet wings with bold black pepper.

“This summer is all about bringing new inspiration to grilling favorites like burgers, barbecue sauce, potatoes and wings,” said McCormick Executive Chef Kevan Vetter. “Add a twist to your burgers by mixing Korean flavors like sesame, garlic, soy and honey into the patty, then top with an easy grilled kimchi and ginger garlic mayo. Or put that cast iron skillet to work on the grill and create the ultimate sausage and egg hash.”

Meat Sales Strong Amid Changing Demands

While vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets are trending, consumer demand for beef, chicken, pork and other animal protein continues to drive food industry sales.

Rockville, Md.-based market research firm Packaged Facts, in its report Meat & Poultry: U.S. Retail Market Trends & Opportunities, forecasts that total retail sales of meat, poultry, and meat substitutes will be just shy of $100 billion in 2021. Due to its higher price point, meat will dominate dollar sales despite still trailing poultry in per-capita consumption volume. Meat substitutes will account for less than $2 billion of the projected total.

Yet despite meat’s popularity and projected growth, this is not an industry without its fair share of scrutiny, said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “Meat continues to evolve and be re-evaluated by consumers in the wake of years of consciousness-raising on several topics, including humane animal treatment, meat processing and nutrition,” Sprinkle said.

As has already been observed, Packaged Facts predicts consumers will become increasingly mindful of their meat consumption, whether for economic, caloric, dietary or ecological reasons. For those who seek out sustainable meat and poultry, specialty products like grass-fed or local beef, heritage poultry and even wild boar will be on point. Consumers will look to meat professionals to connect them with these products, explain the product benefits, and educate on how these products are best prepared and served.

Consumers minding their pocketbook will take cues from how cultures around the world make less-expensive cuts like brisket taste great. Likewise, retail sales of meat will also receive a boost from growth in consumption of pork, which is expected to maintain its low cost advantage over beef. In addition, many previously overlooked cuts of pork (such as pork shoulder) are experiencing a resurgence in popularity both at retail and in restaurants.

Meanwhile, retail sales of poultry are expected to increase over the ensuing five years, supported by poultry’s cost advantages relative to many types of meat. A further advantage for chicken: health authorities such as the American Heart Association continue to encourage consumption of poultry and seafood as alternatives to red meat.

With convenience and portability a trend across the food and beverage industry, consumers seeking high-protein meat snacks will find a plethora of meat jerky, meat snack bars, and meat sticks available, as well as crunchy cracklings from high-quality pork, plus plant- and nut-based meat substitutes.

Chicago-based Nielsen notes consumers' growing appetite for “clean” meat labeling.

Among Nielsen’s observations:

- Natural, minimally processed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free and organic meat products account for a relatively small piece of the total meat department. Buthese products represent a significant amount of sales because the total meat department pulls in more than $50 billion in U.S. sales annually.

- Sales growth for some of the meat label claims with the highest shares (natural, antibiotic-free and hormone-free) is rapidly outpacing that of conventional meat.

- From 2011 to 2015, conventional meat posted compound annual sales growth of 4.6 percent.

- Comparatively, products with a natural label posted growth of 14.6 percent, products labeled antibiotic-free posted growth of 28.7 percent, products labeled hormone-free posted growth of 28.6 percent and products labeled organic posted growth of 44 percent.

- Meanwhile, sales growth of products labeled “minimally processed,” another top claim, declined 1.6 percent from 2011 to 2015.

Among purveyors leveraging current meat trends is Chicago-based Pre Brands, which has launched a line of 100 percent grass-fed hamburger patties.

Recently expanded to New England in Shaw’s and Star Market and online at, the ⅓-pound beef patties, sourced from Australia and New Zealand, come from pasture-raised cattle free of added antibiotics and growth hormones.

“Ideal for the spring and summer grilling season, each 85 percent ground beef pub style patty is a hearty 1/3 pound and packs heart healthy fatty acids like omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA),” the company boasts. Adds Pre Brands’ founder and CEO Lenny Lebovich, “A juicy hamburger is one of the most classic American foods there is, and deserves constant innovation.”