The Virtual Party


Fresh operators need to get their game on to reach a new breed of tailgaters.

Thinking about tailgating promotions to tie in with the kickoff of fall football season? Think outside the tackle box.

Tailgating is no longer tied to charcoal grills at football stadiums, and grocers’ strategies must go way beyond that image to reach all of the places where food and sports intersect for their customers, according to several industry watchers.

With the new phenomenon of “virtual tailgating,” consumers are looking for food tie-ins to entertaining all year long, and their parties are taking place before, during and after events — many times at home, where a whole family or group of friends can enjoy the experience.

“The image of guys only outside a stadium, grilling on charcoal, is not the reality,” explains T Fuqua, brand manager for Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods. “Tailgating is an all-family entertainment activity, and Dad wants to be part of the interaction, not always attached to the charcoal grill. It’s time that is sacred and time for family fun.”

It’s also a time when consumers are typically willing to spend their money on good, quality food. The U.S. tailgate annual spend is estimated at some $20 billion, according to the Tailgating Industry Association, based in Tampa, Fla.

Black Pearl Intelligence, a San Antonio-based firm that uses proprietary software and analysis to “listen in” on the digital and social stratosphere to uncover findings about millennial behavior, recently expanded on the “virtual tailgating” phenomenon in a report shared with Progressive Grocer.

“Given its popularity, tailgating can occur at a wedding, barbecue, the backyard, inside the family room in front of a wide-screen TV, or … online. That’s the relatively new phenomenon of virtual tailgating,” the firm notes.

Black Pearl Intelligence conducted a study of virtual tailgating, which found that online tailgating chatter is “exploding.” The study captured more than 2 million “discussions” or posts related to tailgating during the height of the tailgating season, a seven-month period from Aug. 1, 2012, to Feb. 28, 2013.

How in the game are grocers? According to Black Pearl, a July 2013 Google search of the keywords “tailgating” and “recipes” pulled up only one grocery store website in the first 20 pages of results. Several packaged goods manufacturer sites, and even cooking guru Rachael Ray, were among the dozens of team, stadium, media and fan sites. Keep in mind that most consumers will only go one or two pages deep into a web search.

Black Pearl advises grocers: “Virtual tailgaters are in the pleasure zone of anticipation. Often, expectation can be greater than the actual event. They seek out products and recipes to heighten the event experience. And all of this activity occurs against a backdrop of deep engagement and built-in loyalty. Consider how your brand can meet their needs. Social media can be tapped to better understand what those needs and product preferences are. The goal is to connect with fans on the right social media channels in the right way with the right messages.”

Digital Touchdowns

Savvy regional chains such as San Antonio-based H-E-B and Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets are among the retailers that have already realized the power behind digital media when it comes to attracting new shoppers and offering resources to get more customers in their stores. Both chains offer dedicated “Tailgating” sections on their websites.

H-E-B’s tailgating section includes “Tailgating Must-Haves,” a checklist featuring 20 items often used during tailgating events; “Go Green at Game Time,” a series of tips on how to tailgate the earth-friendly way; and, of course, tasty “Tailgating Recipes.”

Likewise, Publix, recently named the “Official Supermarket” of the Jacksonville (Fla.) Jaguars football team, has a webpage titled “Publix Ultimate Tailgate Party” that showcases recipes, tailgating tips, “sensible alcohol facts” and even an online tool that lets users estimate how many servings they’ll need for a party. The grocer also touts its catering options, including trays of assorted deli meats and cheeses, and offers a downloadable .pdf file with information about grilling.

As fall 2013 quickly approaches, retailers would be wise to team up with their supplier partners on tailgating promotions via their own websites, Twitter and Facebook.

“Think about how to eat, drink and conduct co-branded promotions,” Black Pearl Intelligence advises. “Savvy retailers and manufacturers want to be part of all that positive chatter connected to good eating during tailgating. But you have to be in the game to be part of the conversation.”

Co-branded promotions and at-stadium giveaways are among the tactics that can help encourage social media buzz and brand-name mentions that live beyond game day, the group notes.

Bad to the Boneless

Tyson’s Fuqua notes that no matter where tailgating takes place, prepared foods continue to play a major part in the activity. “The preference in deli prepared foods grows every season,” he says.

In-store promotions are proved to drive incremental top-line sales, he adds. Meanwhile, the deli continues to outperform many areas of the store, and deli shoppers typically spend more than the non-deli shopper.

This fall, Tyson is offering savings on chicken wings, considered to be the No. 1 football game snack. Shoppers will find instantly redeemable coupons for $1 off 2 pounds or more of Tyson Wings or Tyson Boneless Wings in the deli. In addition, customers may visit Tyson Deli’s consumer website,, and register to download a coupon for $2 of 2 pounds or more of Tyson wings or Tyson Boneless Wings from their grocer’s deli.

To increase the excitement in store, Tyson will provide deli operators with point-of-sale tools, including a full-color counter card, an eye-catching pop-up floor display, a header cling and ad slicks for fliers.

Speaking directly about the growing boneless-chicken trend, Fuqua explains: “There is no doubt that the boneless demand has impacted retailers thinking about boneless fried chicken. KFC embraced this innovation in prepared foods with national media and distribution, and developed a proven story about growing store sales with new products that do not cannibalize existing unit sales. Many supermarkets have introduced and will introduce boneless fried chicken this fall — it’s a proven success story.”

“Given its popularity, tailgating can occur at a wedding, barbecue, the backyard, inside the family room in front of a wide-screen TV, or … online.”
–Black Pearl Intelligence

“Many supermarkets have introduced and will introduce boneless fried chicken this fall — it’s a proven success story.”
–T Fuqua, Tyson Foods

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