Much like diehard golfers, who are dusting off their clubs as soon as they see the first blades of grass poking up through the late-winter snow, dedicated outdoor chefs start itching to fire up their grills as soon as weather forecasts start heralding warmer temperatures.
But according to the latest consumer trend studies, savvy grocers should cast a wider net with their grilling promotions.
“The grill is not just a summer pleasure anymore,” asserts the 2015 edition of Acosta Sales & Marketing’s “The Why? Behind the Buy” report. The 12th installment from Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta reveals that 61 percent of shoppers who grill reported that they’re doing so eight or more months of the year, with that figure jumping to 68 percent for the all-important Millennial demographic.
Indeed, grills are near the top of the list of Millennials’ most favored cooking devices, according to The NPD Group’s David Portalatin, who presented earlier this year at the Annual Meat Conference, hosted by the North American Meat Association (NAMI) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI).
Still, summer reigns as a key sales period for grocery retailers, from meat and vegetables to sides and accessories. According to the Acosta study, hamburgers and chicken are the most popular foods to grill. Grocers looking to maximize American consumers’ love for outdoor cooking should keep that in mind, as well as leverage this year’s key trends, including bold flavors, creative recipes, unique cuts and renewed attention on an old favorite, beef.
Grills Boldly Going
“This year, we expect to see a twist on traditional summer grilling flavors,” says Adam Golomb, director of marketing for Pittsburgh-based supermarket chain Giant Eagle. “Look for smokers to grow in popularity, and for barbecue sauces and dry rubs to feature bold flavors like bourbon and bacon.”
That trend is also anticipated by Wichita, Kan.-based meat supplier Cargill Inc. “Consumers are looking for a range of bold flavors, and there are many seasoning options they can use for turkey and beef that will deliver delicious and diverse eating experiences straight from the grill,” says Mike Martin, Cargill’s director of communications.
More shoppers are seeking assertive, international flavors such as those from Asian and African spices, Martin confirms. “These flavors are perfect for beef and turkey marinades this grilling season,” he says. “In a recent study of fresh meat consumers, Cargill identified an important consumer group which represents approximately 25 percent of red-meat sales. Sixty-four percent of this consumer group reported they want meats seasoned with international sauces.”
Martin advises retailers to launch promotions that “highlight beef and turkey cuts together with displays for bold seasonings, flavorful sauces, and bright, fresh produce.”
Those flavors and colors will help enhance another trend Cargill has identified: foodie photography. “Food-centric photo sharing is on the rise in social media, as reported by a 2015 Mintel study. This growing trend has increased the importance of visually appealing meals with bold colors and artful plating,” Martin says. “Inspiring point-of-sale materials help sell ready-to-grill meats, and free grilling recipes enable shoppers to prepare fabulous, Instagram-worthy dishes at home.”
Tracy Sinclair, chief marketing officer for Chicago-based grass-fed beef purveyor Pre Brands, views original recipe content featuring unique ideas to be the key to grilling season for retailers. “Shoppers are always looking for ways to up their grilling game,” she says. “Retailers can win with shoppers by creating the content with a partner brand like Pre to provide quick and easy recipes utilizing new ingredients.”
Consumers are increasingly moving beyond burgers and steaks into experimenting with all kinds of cuts and foods on the grill, according to Christine Tanner, marketing brand manager for Creekstone Farms, based in Arkansas City, Kan. “As more and more people purchase grills every year,” she says, “this sector will continue to grow, and it is important that retailers formulate a strategy to take advantage of this opportunity.”
With beef prices stabilizing after several years of limited supply, the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) expects the wider availability of beef to be this summer’s biggest trend.
“In general, when it comes to summer grilling season, all of the focus is on ground beef and steak,” says Lance Zimmerman, market analyst with Centennial, Colo.-based CattleFax. “Meat buyers should expect their wholesale costs to be similar or cheaper than a year ago for most of those items.”
Cuts like ribeyes and strip steaks will likely be priced closely to year-ago levels, Zimmerman predicts. “The same could likely be said for top butts,” he adds. “Items like flat irons are going around 10 cents a pound cheaper, and the tri-tip might be the bargain of the middle meats for retailers.”
The NCBA’s Beef Checkoff is employing digital marketing efforts that help inspire more beef meal occasions throughout the entire purchase lifecycle and drive traffic to stores, explains Lindsay Kearns, the association’s coordinator. “Some partnerships involve couponing to lead to beef purchases and redemption data, and others offer metrics on purchase intent,” she says.
For example, the North East Beef Promotion Initiative (NEBPI) has an upcoming retail partnership with Ahold USA banner stores and digital coupon app Ibotta. In the May-June-July promotion, featuring strip steak and ground beef, Ibotta users complete educational tasks for meal inspiration in exchange for purchase incentives.
The folks at Wooster, Ohio-based Certified Angus Beef (CAB) also anticipate a good summer for beef. “The market will allow retailers to be quite aggressive on particular subprimals, so a lot of beef will be featured on front-page ads,” says David MacVane, CAB’s assistant VP for business development. “Some outside cuts for grilling — like London broil and western griller — should join all-time favorite steaks and burgers as grilling solutions.”
Premium ground beef has also become a key point of differentiation for retailers, MacVane notes, as consumers seek restaurant-quality burgers and other dishes. “Modern solutions for packaging also bring new ways for customers to enjoy signature grilling steaks with added convenience,” he says.
Getting the Message
Grocers and suppliers would be wise to team up for a multichannel promotion targeting grilling consumers on multiple fronts.
“We have created a Summer Grilling Event that provides our supplier partners the opportunity to reach millions of Giant Eagle customers during the key summer months through incremental in-store display, radio, circular presence, digital activation, targeted direct mail, and more,” Golomb says. “One of the most important factors in a successful promotion is to ensure a store-wide execution. Partnering with multiple vendors and featuring a variety of products make the promotion more engaging and appealing to different customers.”
CAB’s MacVane advises retailers to stay close to the market and work with packers to take advantage of feature opportunities. “The last two years have been challenging for all retailers because of beef pricing and availability,” he notes. “Now is the time to drive meat department sales with beef again. We’re helping our retailers develop comprehensive marketing tools, from meat case signage to social media content, to explain the benefits of high-quality beef.”
Cargill’s Martin advises cross-merchandising strategies targeting busy, convenience-minded consumers. “For example, setting up a special cheese and fresh produce display near the meat case offers a convenient opportunity to inspire customers while encouraging additional purchases,” he says, also recommending seasonal tie-ins and themes.
Creekstone Farms works with its retail customers to pull together individual marketing plans that raise awareness of different cuts and how they can be used on the grill, via print ad promotions, grill-giveaway sweepstakes and coupons.
“Education and communication are key to successful promotions,” Tanner asserts. “Knowledge of preparation is one of the key barriers to meat purchases, so a retailer who can offer advice and resources for their customers will stand to benefit.
“In addition, we provide educational support for consumers through grilling how-to videos on our website,” she continues. “Another strong trend is consumers looking for more information on where their meat comes from. We offer transparency to consumers, and our variety of products, from subprimals to sausages to case-ready cuts, gives retailers added options to really appeal to consumers across all segments.”
Read more about grilling at progressivegrocer.com/grilling.