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While much of the country is gearing up for another season of summer grilling, some folks are able to partake in outdoor cooking practically year round.
That provides some grocery retailers, like Arizona-based Bashas’, ongoing opportunities to drive sales by appealing to al fresco chefs. And, it gives such grocers unique insights for retailers across all climes looking to up their game as charcoal gets smouldering nationwide.
“It’s important to think of outdoor cooking across department lines,” says Ashley Shick, director of communications and public affairs at Bashas’ Family of Stores. “Ensuring we have a variety of selections in produce, meat and seafood is key, but our deli offerings are also just as important. Fresh, quality ingredients in easy-to-grab displays are great suggestions for our customers who are planning outdoor meals.”
Working together as a collective merchandising team, Shick asserts, “ensures that we can meet the needs and requests of our customers, all while providing them with the support and encouragement to try new things and expand their culinary interests.”
What’s motivating outdoor cooks right now?
One of the leading conversations is around home smoking, Shick observes. “With the accessibility of home smoker systems and the continued popularity of food shows and cooking competitions, we see things like whole-beef briskets, pork shoulders and ribs leading the charge for barbecue throughout the year,” she says. “These long-time favorites are enhanced using different techniques, seasonings and side pairings.”
Another key area is seafood. “While grilling seafood isn’t a new concept, this category continues to grow, and it’s led by salmon, swordfish, halibut and shellfish,” Shick says. “The versatility of these items, combined with the growing interest in different cooking methods -- such as smoking, grilling and sous-vide -- pushes us to ensure that we offer a wide variety of products at the highest quality.”
And don’t forget about the veggies. “The grilling of fresh produce has gained a lot of traction recently, and particularly during Arizona summers, when the heat can be extreme,” Shick notes. “Grilling produce is a wonderful way to satisfy the desire for the grill taste and texture yet remain light and refreshing for summer. Everything from your classic sweet corn and asparagus to bell peppers, mushrooms, veggie skewers and one of our favorites, chili peppers, make an appearance on Arizona grills.”
Additionally, Bashas’ has seen items like pineapple continue in popularity, along with summer peaches, cantaloupe and honeydew. “Even some of the most unexpected, such as avocado and citrus halves, are part of the grilling equation. When grilling fruit and vegetables, color and variety are king,” Shick says.
With such diversity, merchandising concepts abound.
“A wide variety of food and cooking interests, coupled with year-round grilling in many parts of Arizona, opens a whole new world of recipes and cross-merchandising opportunities,” Shick notes. “It’s not enough to place hot dog buns next to ketchup and mustard; we’re constantly pushing ourselves to take it a step further, thinking about flavor combinations and meals as a whole.”
In addition to merchandising fresh produce and grilling items together, Bashas’ places some classics, like corn and potatoes, next to the meat department. “As our customers are grabbing their meat and seafood items, the most classic combinations are right at their fingertips,” Shick says. “Additionally, we ensure that grilling spices and marinades are placed close to the meat and seafood cases so that customers have new ideas for different flavors and textures.”
The Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, is working to promote beef into the summer grilling season.
Beef prices have been falling and this trend is expected to continue through the summer months, suggesting beef may be making a significant showing beyond burgers on grills this year. “Retailers have been more aggressive in their price mark downs than restaurants, and that is showing up in stronger year-over-year sales,” says CattleFax analyst Lance Zimmerman.
David O’Diam, director of retail for Wooster, Ohio-based Certified Angus Beef LLC, says retailers and consumers can anticipate an abundance of beef cuts and pricing options.
“In years past, it has been challenging to place classic grilling steaks and premium ground beef on feature. A resurgence of tried-and-true grilling favorites, from strip to ribeye, and burgers will be in demand and available to drive retail profits through summer,” O’Diam says. “At the same time, retailers should embrace newer cuts like chuck eye steak and thin meats. Younger generations enjoy experiencing other cultures through food. Thin meats satisfy this need and also give consumers more options for preparing easy weeknight meals. Retailers today have the opportunity to be on the forefront of bringing thin meats to the meat case.”
O’Diam further notes that quality is growing in importance with consumers, especially with expected pricing options this summer. “Premium levels of marbling, as required for the Certified Angus Beef brand through modest or higher marbling, helps to ensure best performance for grilling,” he says.
On the national level, the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” social media campaign will share a variety of educational and inspirational videos to help consumers take advantage of beef-centric opportunities, from quick-style recipes with burgers and steaks to monthly Facebook Live sessions offering tips from culinary experts.