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It might be a bit of a stretch to cross-merchandise face paint and fresh pork chops, but when it comes to tailgating promotions, there are plenty of opportunities for grocers to capitalize on Americans? penchant for pre-game parties.
As football season kicks off around the country in professional stadiums as well as college campuses and high school fields, fans are readying their grills and coolers. While tailgating goes back to the game?s early days, one might argue that what goes on before the game in the parking lot or grass is now almost as important as what happens during actual play.
According to the Tampa, Fla.-based Tailgating Industry Association, there are almost 50 million tailgaters in the United States. In its own findings, Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance reports that up to $12 billion a year is spent on tailgating, with 40 percent of tailgaters spending upwards of $500 or more on tailgating food and supplies. Meanwhile, the most recent Weber GrillWatch survey from Palatine, Ill.-based Weber-Stephen Products LLC shows that 20 percent of U.S. grill owners have attended a tailgate party during the past year, up from 14 percent the previous year.
Moreover, not all tailgaters make it to the game. In the Weber GrillWatch survey, 57 percent of respondents said they?ve gone to a tailgate party in the past year without actually entering the stadium.
Retail analysts agree that not only is tailgating a big part of the big game, but also that the ante has been upped in terms of fare. ?There is a wide range of people who are taking part [in tailgating,] and there is more culinary ambition and sophistication,? observes Jim Hertel, managing partner of Willard Bishop Consulting Ltd., in Barrington, Ill.
Indeed, pride in the home team is one thing; pride in one?s tailgate fare is another, especially when it comes to fresh food that is prepared on site.
Shawn Harris, director of marketing for fresh red meat with Duncan, S.C.-based Sealed Air/Cryovac, which supplies packaging materials for a variety of meat and poultry products, underscores the one-upmanship of tailgating. ?It?s an event ? meals are planned around this, and they?ll try to top the event they had last time,? he says.
Grilling, for instance, is as much a part of tailgating as the pigskin is to the football game. ?There is still a big contingent of people who cook on grills and make their own food,? says James Hyland, VP of investor relations, corporate communications and public affairs for Milwaukee-based Roundy?s Inc. ?It is a significant part of the social aspect of tailgating, and there is friendly competition among grillers as well. So that form of food preparation is not going away.?
To some degree, traditional tailgating foods remain on the many shoppers? grocery lists. According to the GrillWatch survey, the top five tailgate proteins are burgers (71 percent), hot dogs (47 percent), brats (40 percent), chicken (29 percent) and steak (25 percent).
Retailers agree that to a large extent, such classic fare is still popular. ?We do not see any major shift in favorite tailgate products such as burgers, brats or beer. Some younger tailgaters are including hummus, guacamole, salsa and the like, but we still see mostly traditional product selection for tailgaters,? notes Hyland.
That said, and to Hertel?s point, when it comes to parking lot grilling, a greater variety of meats is being tossed on portable grills and cooktops, either alongside basic frankfurters, burgers and chicken wings, or in place of them. ?You still have folks grilling brats and that kind of stuff, but there are a lot of [other] wonderful things that people are grilling,? says Hertel. ?I?ve seen some elaborate setups, including some people in Texas who had a rolling barbecue trailer.?
From a sales point of view, retailers can benefit by featuring a greater variety of proteins for tailgating season. ?We believe the fall tailgate season extends the grilling selling season with items such as fresh meats, and frozen items such as burgers and sausage,? says a representative for the Chicago-area Jewel-Osco chain, owned by Boise, Idaho-based New Albertsons Inc.
Grocers are also touting the convenience and food safety aspects of case-ready fresh meats that can be transported to a site and then prepared outdoors. ?The biggest things for retailers are space and convenience, and making sure they are able to deliver something safe,? says Cryovac?s Harris, adding that meats sold in the company?s vacuum packaging offer benefits to users like tailgaters. ?Vacuum packaging takes up the least amount of space in transporting and eliminates cross-contamination between raw proteins, whether you?re doing a whole roaster for beer-can chicken or steaks. Keeping that microbial contamination away from things like salty snacks or fruits is paramount.?
Cryovac also makes it easier for end users through easy-open Grip & Tear bags that don?t require a knife or utensil to access the product within.
On the Sidelines
Beyond fresh meats, retailers can capitalize on other fresh food for tailgate parties. ?There are a lot of wonderful things in the produce department for grilling, like vegetables that really caramelize on the grill,? points out Hertel.
Another hallmark of tailgating that affects fresh food retail merchandising programs is where the dishes cooked up in parking lots and fields hail from. ?Tailgating is often a regional thing, and there are hotbeds of college football that are an example of that regionality,? notes Hertel.
As Harris puts it, ?I?m in South Carolina and a native Texan, and can say here is a lot of pride in regional foods.?
During tailgate season, many grocers promote various supplies to complement food and beverage sales. Hyland, for instance, cites charcoal, lighters, lighter fluid, beer, buns and paper plates. ?We also see floral purchases in team colors, which add a nice touch to tailgaters? tables. And our bakeries create football-themed cakes and cupcakes in team colors as well,? he notes.
Results from the Weber GrillWatch survey support the seasonal merchandising of tailgating supplies. According to the survey, in addition to a grill, food and alcoholic beverages, must-have items for consumers include coolers and chairs.
Finally, while tailgating at the game is hotter than ever, others like to tailgate at home while they?re watching the matchup on television. Jewel-Osco?s rep notes that more shoppers are purchasing foods for stay-at-home parties, and the grocer has seen a correlating uptick in party-related products and appetizer items like frozen breaded chicken, meatballs, and that Chicago-area favorite, Italian beef.
Likewise, Harris says that while tailgating is event-specific, party fare and supplies can be extended to other types of fall entertaining: ?Any occasion you can get people together ? like family picnics and Labor Day ? what works for tailgating works for those events as well.?
?We do not see any major shift in favorite tailgate products such as burgers, brats or beer. Some younger tailgaters are including hummus, guacamole, salsa and the like, but we still see mostly traditional product selection for tailgaters.?
?James Hyland, Roundy?s
?We believe the fall tailgate season extends the grilling selling season with items such as fresh meats, and frozen items such as burgers and sausage.?