The grilling season and consumers’ desire to eat healthier are driving protein sales.
The signs of spring are unmistakeable. Love abounds, birds are chirping, trees are budding and the smells of backyard barbecues permeate the air.
While the first three may not affect grocery retailers very much, the last is quite significant. Whether consumers favor beef, chicken, pork or seafood, most are grilling up some sort of protein—and more often than not that protein is purchased at the local supermarket.
Traditionally the grilling season begins around Memorial Day. However, with an early Easter and unseasonably warm weather, particularly on the East Coast, it seems as if many consumers are looking to fire up their barbecues sooner this year, say industry observers.
The spring is also the time many people really begin to ramp up their efforts to lose a few pound for the coming beach season. The Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board is aiming to help with its Louisiana Seafood Fitness Challenge. Part of the challenge includes promoting eating grilled seafood.
“Everybody seems to kick off their fitness regiment after the New Year,” says Ewell Smith, executive director of the New Orleans-based Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board (LSPMB). “In Louisiana we have this little disruption called Mardi Gras. So for Lent we developed the fitness challenge.”
That includes creating a retailer council comprised of about 10 to 15 members from across the country. “We are going to turn to the council and see what their needs are, as well suggest some things ourselves,” says Smith. He adds that helping the cause is the USDA’s recommendation that consumers eat seafood twice a week.
Officials at the National Pork Board (NPB) are also looking to the USDA to help promote pork. They are hoping the new USDA guidelines to cooking pork will make it a more popular grilling choice. “The accepted cooking time for pork is now 145 degrees with a three minute rest,” says Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the Des Moines, Iowa-based NPB. “That makes us the same as beef.”
Promoting the 145 degree cooking time is going to be one of the NPB’s greater focuses for the coming grilling season. Fleming says the new cooking time for pork is akin to cooking beef medium rare and should enhance the eating experience of pork.
“One of the reasons some people didn’t grill pork is because they thought it had to be cooked until it was dry and well-done,” says Fleming. “That is hard to do without turning it into charcoal.”
Even with USDA approval, Fleming knows convincing consumers that a little pink is an indication of doneness may take some time. To do so, the 145 message will be on all consumer communication including point-of-sale material. “The 145 message will be there forever,” he says. “At some point it will just become part of the background.”
The 145 message is also indirectly getting a boost from celebrity chefs such as those on the Food Network, who Fleming says have embraced not overcooking pork. “Most of them didn’t overcook pork in their own restaurants,” he says. “Consumers think that the more people say it and the more they see we say it, the more accepted it will be.”
Of course beef is still king of the barbecue. Kent Harrison, vice president of marketing and premium programs for Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based Tyson Fresh Meats, a division of Tyson Foods, based in Springdale Ark., says Tyson has a three-stage approach to promoting some of its beef lines for this year’s grilling season.
The first was a ground beef promotion that began in April. Called “Burger Time,” the promotion includes in-store point-of-sale material, which can also be used in a retailers’ circular advertising. The promotion also features a sweepstakes for consumers at store level.
With the unofficial start of the grilling season in late May, Tyson will begin promoting its Star Ranch Angus brand beginning Memorial Day weekend. Finally in July and August, Tyson will promote its premium line, the Chairman’s Reserve brand.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) also provides retailers with materials designed to help during the grilling season. According to Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence, for the NCBA, contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, the Beef Checkoff offers point-of sale materials designed to promote the ease of preparing beef as well as its nutritional benefits. “We also have account specific promotions we can offer retailers,” he adds.
Officials at Certified Angus Beef say education is a key component to driving sales as well. The Wooster, Ohio-based company has developed several customizable campaigns to help retailers show customers which cuts are best for the grill. Tara Adams, assistant director of marketing, says this year an extra focus has been placed on lesser known cuts that are great for the grill.
“Its all about education,” she says. “The more consumers know about beef the better. Be it through signage, labeling, or ready-made recipes that teach consumers exactly how to use a certain cut.”
Until recently, officials at Pederson’s Natural Farms shied away from using in-store signage as a way of promoting its products. After a change of heart the Hamilton, Texas-based supplier intends on redirecting some of its marketing dollars toward doing so this grilling season. According to Cody Lane, president of Pederson’s, in-store demos will also be a big part of the company’s promotional schedule.
“Research may show that demos aren’t always the most effective avenue, we find that it works for us because often we go in and do the demos ourselves,” says Lane. “We’ve found that it really is a combination of strategies that benefits the retailer the most, and we are always looking to improve our offerings.”
Part of Pederson’s program also includes a monthly ad planner that highlights four products per month and extends discounts to retailers on those items. With the grilling season coming up, Lane says Pederson’s is aggressively marketing its sausage lines—traditional, flavored and chicken.
Nutrition has always played an important role at the meat case. In March, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that all packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry as well as popular whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry must feature nutritional fact panels on labels.
The presence of the nutritional information is designed to make it easier for consumers to compare calorie and fat content in-store. The NPB’s Fleming is hoping the nutritional panels will lead consumers back to reading labels, and, in turn, see the value pork has. “We have a good story to tell so we think nutritional labeling helps us in the long term,” he says.
As more consumers are faced with dietary restrictions, the number of consumers paying attention to nutritional labels continues to increase. Some observers say that for muscle cuts and non-enhanced products, there may not be significant value—since it really just provides basic protein and fat content. The real value can be seen with seasoned and marinated items. For Tyson, Harrison is glad the nutritional information is mandatory.
“If you look at our Open Prairie Natural Angus beef line, we are anxious to make sure the consumer knows it goes well beyond the USDA definition of natural, having never been fed animal bi-products, antibiotics or hormones. That is all on the marketing and label materials,” he says.
Watermelon is a summertime staple—but fresh off the grill?
From grilled scallop and watermelon kabobs to a flash grilled watermelon cheddar burger, grilled watermelon is gaining popularity.
“It really has become an interesting phenomenon,” says Stephanie Simek, director of public relations and social media for the National Watermelon Promotion Board, based in Orlando, Fla.
And easy to do. A quick brush of olive oil or balsamic and a 3/4 – to 1-inch slice is ready for grilling. “Its just a flash grill,” says Simek. “Just until you get those grill marks, so the outside gets a bit crispy while the inside retains its juiciness.”
From May through August the Watermelon Board is touting grilled watermelon through a co-op promotion with Hefty in which recipes will be included by in a POS booklet created for retailers.