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Pit Bosses

Retailers that astutely merchandise a variety of proteins that tie in with produce and center store items can break the bank during summer grilling season.


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Each summer more consumers are discovering the joys of outdoor grilling, broadening their palates beyond steaks and burgers to other proteins like marinated pork tenderloins and fish, as well as a garden full of vegetables from guacamole to onions and potatoes.

Since meat supplies are higher this summer, prices will likely be lower, spurring even more would be chefs to fire up the barbecue. 

“We will have an ample pork supply this summer grilling season,” says Patrick Fleming, director of market intelligence and innovation at the National Pork Board, based in Des Moines, Iowa. “We expect to have 1.5 percent more hogs this summer than last summer and pork will be a good value.

“We encourage retailers to think about merchandising specific dishes to consumers as grilling season approaches,” Fleming says. “Think about featuring mouth-watering photography of pork dishes, tempting consumers’ taste buds at the meat case. Pork chops, back ribs, spareribs, St. Louis style ribs and country ribs are all great options. Pork belly is another opportunity for the grill. This cut has a higher fat ratio, making it a delicious option for consumers looking to indulge.”  

Retailers can expect the beef supply to be marginally higher, says Kent Harrison, vice president of marketing and premium programs for Tyson Fresh Meats, based in Dakota Dunes, S.D. “There will be a significant drop in cattle prices, along with boxed beef prices. This should give retailers the opportunity to feature more beef deals at retail,” he says.

Retailers may wish to promote value-added products in their meat case, like Tyson Crafted Creations, a line of uniquely flavored beef, pork and chicken cuts, Harrison says. “Retailers should also promote the versatility of the grill and give consumers new ideas on how to use the grill to make great meals. Many consumers might not be familiar with slow roasting, using dry heat or indirect heat to prepare meat cuts,” he says.  

“Summer barbecues are a perfect opportunity for backyard enthusiasts to showcase their talent,” says Jay Theiler, executive director of marketing at Agri Beef, based in Boise, Idaho. “The value of a knowledgeable and passionate associate in the meat department shouldn’t be underestimated. Providing customers with recommendations and tips that will impress their guests goes a long way for building trust and establishing loyalty,” Theiler adds.

Among Agri Beef’s brands are Snake River Farms, Double R Ranch, St. Helens and Rancho El Oro. Buying branded beef is a great way for consumers to ensure that the product matches up with their personal values, Theiler says.

“Every brand has a story and a connection to a unique supply chain,” Theiler says. “This story and supply chain, along with the associated values of the brand and company is what differentiates a brand from a no-name commodity.”

Brand names also signify quality, manufacturers say.

“Grilling season is the perfect time for the meat department to be the center of retailer marketing, and the Certified Angus Beef brand is certainly a key differentiating brand within the department,” says Tara Adams, director of supplier and account marketing at Certified Angus Beef, based in Wooster, Ohio. 

Steaks and ground beef remain the summer cornerstones, but other cuts are becoming more popular for grilling Adams notes. “Retailers are introducing more end cuts for grilling, like skirt, hanger and flank steaks, as well as short ribs and chuck flaps,” she says. “When you grill these end cuts, it’s more important than ever to have premium marbling, which Certified Angus Beef delivers.” 

​Creekstone Farms, an Arkansas City, Kan.-based supplier of premium pork and beef is building its name recognition through a partnership inked this spring with International Speedway Corp. (ISC), an operator of 13 racetracks around the country. The partnership includes a national online sweepstakes offering race fans a chance to win Creekstone Farms meat products, along with promotional items distributed during participating motorsport events.

“At Creekstone Farms, we strive to deliver superior quality products to every single one of our customers, and so does the ISC,” says Jim Rogers, vice president of sales and marketing for Creekstone Farms. “When they wanted to upgrade the quality and range of their offerings, we were more than happy to work together to achieve that goal.”

Smithfield is driving pork sales this summer by teaming up with Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser and Bud Light, and The Clorox Co.’s Kingsford Charcoal and KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce brands.

“It has been an exciting process working with these iconic brands that we call the ‘holy trinity,’” says Roy C. Johnson, senior brand manager at Smithfield Foods, based in Kansas City, Mo. “We will have significant in-store signage in 15,000-18,000 stores, complementing that with social media support from all three brands to talk about the partnership.”

Implemented in three phases, the promotion runs all summer, starting with the Budweiser & Burgers program that kicked off on April 27 and runs through Memorial Day. “We are going to highlight our Signature Ground Pork, which is an alternative and more flavorful than beef,” Johnson says.   

Later efforts focus on ribs and marinated fresh pork. “A lot of folks think marinated fresh pork can only be made in the oven,” Johnson says. “We offer marinated tenderloins, loin filets and sirloins that consumers can cut up and use in kabobs or sliders made on the grill.”

At sister division Smithfield Packaged Meats, Nathan’s Famous Franks is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. From a single hot dog stand on Coney Island, Nathan’s has grown to be sold in 53,000 retail and foodservice locations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Cayman Islands and 10 other foreign countries.

 

Seafood sensations  

According to industry surveys, 28 percent of consumers like to grill seafood. 

“With the trend being healthy eating, more consumers are incorporating seafood into their grilling habits,” says Bluzette M. Carline, marketing director at Beaver Street Fisheries, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based manufacturer of the Sea Best brand. “From fish fillets and sea scallops, to farm and domestic shrimp, we have many options that are perfect for grilling.”

Beaver Street Fisheries is further capitalizing on the grilling trend with its Grillman’s Franks brand. Introduced as a line of all-beef franks in 2014, Grillman’s is now offering a pork and beef blended frank, an oversized variety and two bite-size frank options. The entire line is produced with fresh—never frozen—meat.   

“We realized there was a need for a true premium frank, and we fulfilled that need,” says Mark Frisch, executive vice president of Beaver Street Fisheries.  

“Beaver Street Fisheries has been in the food industry for more than 60 years, and we have incredibly high standards for the products we produce. Our top quality franks are no exception,” says Frisch.

This summer, Land O’Frost is rolling out a food truck that will be sampling, among other products, Simply Savory, a line of pre-cooked sausage sold in the hot dog/dinner sausage case.

“The truck will be visiting different stores around the country and grilling out in the parking lots, as well as at community events, like parades, street fairs and apple festivals,” says Shanta McGahey, senior brand manager at Land O’Frost, based in Munster, Ind.  

With Simply Savory—available in Italian with Mozzarella and Peppers, Bacon and Cheddar, Chipotle and Roasted Red Pepper, and Polish—sampling is key to building sales, she adds.

“When people taste it everybody’s response is, ‘I can’t believe this is only 140 calories’ because it tastes just like a full-fat sausage,” McGahey says. 

An extra draw for barbecuers is that Simply Savory is fully cooked. “Grilling raw sausages outside can be a problem knowing when they are done,” McGahey says. 

Man Cave Meats markets brats made from 100 percent pork shoulder, along with other grill-friendly items like burgers and turkey patties.

“We are getting the word out about the quality of our meats,” says Brandon Miller, media/PR manager at Man Cave Foods, based in Minneapolis. “Historically, bratwursts were made with the scraps of meat left at the end of the day, so sometimes they would have a grizzly bite, but ours are made with 100 percent pork shoulder. Our most famous is our Buffalo Wing Style with Bleu Cheese Pork Brat.”

Currently distributed throughout the Midwest, Man Cave Meats have gained distribution into Safeway and 600 Kroger stores, and the company is in talks with Target. “Our products are sold fresh and frozen, but we are finding more retailers are putting them into the fresh section, and some are even putting them into the service butcher case, using little Man Cave Meats name placards that we supply,” Miller says.       

Grilling aficionados are also turning to the produce aisle, where many will pick up RealSweet Vidalia onions grown by the farmers of Shuman Produce. 

“This summer grilling season, Shuman Produce is partnering with brands inside and outside of the produce department including packaged salads, refrigerated salad dressings, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and meats through our on-pack coupon program,” says John Avola, a spokesman for Shuman Produce, based in Reidsville, Ga.   

“Displays drive sales and that’s why we provide bags, bins and boxes that work to complement each other and feature the product with bright and colorful imagery to draw consumers’ eyes and attention,” Avola says.  

Look for potatoes to be a big seller in June, thanks to Black Gold Farms and its Father’s Day promotion focusing on grilling as a healthy and flavorful way to prepare red potatoes. “We’ll be providing retailers with a full suite of merchandising materials including iron man posters, shelf signs and Kwik Lok tags on Black Gold Farms, as well as store-brand red potato bags. We are also encouraging produce managers to work with their meat departments to cross-merchandise red potatoes near the meat case,” says Don Ladhoff, director of fresh sales and marketing for Black Gold Farms, based in Grand Forks, N.D.

“Consumers can cut potatoes into slabs or planks,” Ladhoff adds. “They cook faster and are like meaty grilled French fries. Our Father’s Day promotion also teaches shoppers how to turn their grill into a smoker to make ‘Smokin’ Red Roasties and Chili Pork Rub’.” 

Fresh guacamole also fits well into summer grilling, says Nikki Fisz, brand manager at Saginaw, Texas-based Wholly Guacamole. The brand’s new “Live Wholly” campaign is launching digitally, socially and experientially this summer. 

“Wholly Guacamole works great in summer grilling promotions,” Fisz says. “Obviously Wholly Guacamole is a great dip for carrots, etc., but it’s also a great topper for burgers and hot dogs.” 

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