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Grocers Get Ready for Hot Grilling Season

Retailers can update fresh meat departments with new earth-friendly products using innovative merchandising and marketing ideas
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Grocers Get Ready for Hot Grilling Season
To help shoppers kick off summer grilling season, food retailer Aldi will showcase a variety of new food items like seasoned skirt steak — which is ideal for fajitas.

With COVID mask restrictions easing from coast to coast, an increased number of consumers are feeling more comfortable about attending gatherings and celebrations. According to Numerator’s recent Consumer Behavior & Sentiment Survey, COVID-19 concern is falling fast. Thirty-three percent of consumers said in March that they’re highly concerned about COVID-19, compared with 42% in February and 50% in January. This new level of comfort comes at an ideal time for food retailers: summer grilling season. 

And with 74% of Americans describing themselves as meat eaters, according to 2022’s “Power of Meat” report from FMI — The Food Industry Association and The North American Meat Institute, this summer is expected to experience a rise in fresh protein sales as larger numbers of friends and family members get ready for outdoor entertaining around the grill.

Merchandising Arounds Meals 

Grilling season this year comes at a time when consumers are watching their wallets amid record high inflation, so they’re eating out and ordering in from foodservice less often, opting instead to recreate restaurant experiences at home. As a result, consumers will be looking for outdoor cooking ideas when they head to the grocery store as warm weather arrives. 

At the same time, Dana Ehrlich, founder and CEO of Woburn, Mass.-based beef provider Verde Farms, points out that busy shoppers are looking for an easy dinner when they go to the store — not just ingredients. “Retailers who provide value-added items to consumers, like grass-fed pre-made burgers with steakhouse seasoning — or who can merchandise all the components of a great meal together, like protein, fajita veggies and tortillas — can boost consumers’ confidence to create elevated meals at home this grilling season that feel more special,” says Ehrlich. 

Bread is also a staple for grilled meats, and brioche provider St Pierre Bakery is ready to provide merchandising solutions. 

“To help retailers maximize grilling season this year, we are launching branded ‘knee-knockers,’” notes David Wagstaff, VP North America at St Pierre Bakery, whose U.S. office is in Cincinnati. “These new display solutions mean that we can take that in-store branded experience to new sectors of the store. It makes perfect sense to place premium buns with premium meats and grilling ranges. Some stores aren’t set up to do this, so we’ve created a solution to help increase basket spend at a key time of year.”

Wagstaff explains that if retailers place their premium bread offering next to fridges, not only are they saving the shopper a trip to the bread aisle, but they’re also making it more likely that shoppers will spend more dollars on these premium offerings rather than on basic buns or hot dog rolls from the commercial bread aisle.

St Pierre recently secured new distribution with ShopRite Supermarkets Inc., which operates stores across New York and New Jersey, offering a selection of the bread brand’s grilling range.

“Providing recipes and grilling tips alongside merchandise can also be helpful for consumers, offered through a tear pad on the shelf, or a QR code driving to recipes on the brand’s website,” adds Verde Director of Marketing Sarah Crowley. 

Retailers need to adjust their strategy for merchandising meats to online this grilling season as well. The 2022 “Power of Meat” report found that more meat consumers shop online than ever — 61%, up from just 39% in 2019 — and nearly half of meat shoppers (46%) today shop online regularly. Crowley recommends delivering recipes digitally via retailer reward programs and apps.

Grocers Get Ready for Hot Grilling Season
Currently available in New York and Los Angeles, Silver Fern Farms' new USDA-approved Net Carbon Zero Angus beef is a step forward in meeting environmental and consumer demand.

Meat Marketing Goes Digital

The annual ”Power of Meat” report proves that more consumers are shifting to digital sources for recipe inspiration for their proteins. More than half of meat shoppers (51%) say that websites, apps and social media are their top resources for meat preparation advice. Of those who search online for meat cooking tips and ideas, 72% use Google or another search engine, and 57% use YouTube. The social media platforms Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok are particularly popular with Generation Z and Millennials — they’re used by around half of shoppers in those demographics for discovering meat preparation inspiration. For example, 53% of Gen Z find meat inspiration on TikTok, compared with just 4% of Boomers.  

Crowley agrees that social media content, like meat tips, how-tos, and inspirational photos and recipes, definitely influences preference and purchase decisions. “Grilling can be such a social activity in the way that it brings family and friends outside to share in not only the meal itself together, but the prep and process,” she says. “Pro and weekend barbecuers alike will also be proudly sharing their own grilling pictures via social media, a great opportunity for brands to engage with an enthusiastic community.”

Some of the marketing programs that Verde will be developing this grilling season include partnering with foodie and grilling social media influencers to broaden marketing reach with credible and trusted content providers; encouraging followers to post their favorite grilling ideas and recipes; partnering with meat thermometer and other grilling brands to develop Instagram and Facebook giveaway programs; sharing unique grilling ideas, such as kofta or ground beef kabobs, on social media; and providing recipes for the rising number of consumers following a keto, Paleo or Whole30 diet.

Grocers Get Ready for Hot Grilling Season
Verde's new 100% Grass-Fed Beef Burgers tout more heart healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and antioxidant vitamins than grain-fed beef.

Keep It Fresh

New products will also help attract more consumers to the fresh meat department this summer. 

Food retailers like Aldi are excited to unveil new products to help shoppers kick off the 2022 grilling season. “This year, our customers can get a variety of new items available all summer long, like seasoned skirt steak, which we love for fajitas, and bacon-wrapped pork loin filets,” says Kate Kirkpatrick, director of communications, for Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi US. “We’ll also have all your traditional grilling needs covered, with favorites such as smoked brats, sausages and hot dogs, delicious baby back pork ribs, and deluxe beef patties. And because no barbecue is complete without sides, we’re bringing fun new flavors like fried pickle ranch or loaded bacon-and-cheddar potato chips, along with essentials like potato and macaroni salads.” 

Meanwhile, as consumers are more conscious than ever of the environment in which their food is raised, one of the growing areas of interest in the red meat department is sustainable options. 

In March, New Zealand-based Silver Fern Farms debuted its USDA-approved Net Carbon Zero By Nature beef. According to the red meat producer, which has been supplying the U.S. market with its grass-fed product for four decades, its Net Carbon Zero By Nature product is a further step in its journey to being climate-positive and regenerative by 2030.

Silver Fern’s approach uses “insetting,” which means that the carbon credits needed to offset the emissions of the product are found by working with farmers to optimize the role that the farms where the animals are raised can play in acting as carbon sinks, rather than having to rely on purchasing carbon credits from other projects.

“We are not outsourcing our emissions; rather, we are recognizing and incentivizing our farmers for their efforts to create farm environments that are better able to capture carbon, increase biodiversity and support nature-positive food production,” notes Silver Fern CEO Simon Limmer.

Net Carbon Zero By Nature branded Angus Rib-Eye and New York Strip steaks, ground beef, and other cuts are currently available at supermarkets in New York and Los Angeles. Silver Fern says that these new products will have exactly the same bold, nutrient-dense profile and unmatched texture of its 100% grass-fed suite of meat cuts. “Nothing has changed in terms of our famous 100% grass-fed taste profile,” affirms Limmer. “All of our cattle browse outside in nature all year round on a diverse diet of rich clover and rye grasses, on farms that can increasingly offset the emissions they produce. This is truly beef made better.”

New in the grass-fed segment is Verde’s 100% Grass-Fed Beef Burgers and 100% Grass-Fed Steakhouse Marinated Steak Tips. The beef burgers are ready to grill, as they are conveniently lightly seasoned with steakhouse spice blend. The pre-marinated steak tips — ideal for kabobs — are also ready to cook. Both grass-fed products will arrive at BJ’s Wholesale Clubs in early May, just in time for Memorial Day grilling occasions. 

Verde’s beef is 100% grass-fed on pasture where cattle roam free 100% of the time, with no feedlots. For health-conscious consumers, the company cites some healthy attributes of grass-fed beef compared with grain-fed beef, including more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, more omega-6 fatty acid (linolenic acid) and more antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E. Plus, Verde touts that its beef doesn’t contain added growth hormones. 

  • The United States’ Most Popular Hot Dog and Sausage Cities

    In 2021, Americans spent more than $7.5 billion on hot dogs and sausages in U.S. supermarkets. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC), Los Angeles was the top dog of total hot dog sales, followed by New York and Dallas. Chicago; Philadelphia; Boston; Houston; Atlanta; Washington D.C.; and Phoenix rounded out the top 10.

    However, when looking at sales per capita, Buffalo, N.Y., earned the top spot, making the argument that upstate New York may host the most passionate hot dog fans. Multiple North Carolina cities also proved their frankfurter fandom by cracking the top 10 in per capita hot dog sales, including Raleigh/Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte.

    “Upstate New York and the south each have great hot dog traditions, with popular local hot dog brands that drive demand in those communities,” notes NHDSC President Eric Mittenthal. “Buffalo is the only city with a baseball stadium named after its hot dog brand, Sahlens Packing Co., while Carolina Pride dogs are a celebration of their local history dating back more than 100 years.”

    Dinner sausages like bratwurst, Italian and andouille show a similar pattern when it comes to their top overall markets. This year, though, New York City earned the top spot, leapfrogging over Los Angeles and Dallas in total sausage sales. Louisianans proved to be the biggest sausage fans per capita, however, with Baton Rouge placing No. 1, and New Orleans coming in second.

    NHDSC used Nielsen data for total sales and per capita sales from 2021 for the rankings.

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