Retailers and manufacturers alike are keeping their fingers crossed that this year's summer will be long and hot. Budgens, which makes an important feature of the barbecue in all its stores, says sales grew 10% last year due to the good weather. Thanks to the UK's increasingly warmer climate and growing consumer affluence, the barbecue is now firmly ensconced as a summertime tradition. Industry reports suggest that one in two households have barbecues, with each family holding between three and five outdoor cooking occasions a year. AC Nielsen claims that nine million households reach for the barbecue at least six times a year ­ offering 54 million cooking opportunities. Even property companies such as Wimpey and Barratt are building in barbecue grills to patios. The UK market is now worth about £165m and is expected to reach £200m this year, according to barbecue specialist BMI. Last year the multiples accounted for 68% of all barbecue goods, worth around £112m, a figure set to increase to £152m by 2001. Giving the market a push will be National Barbecue Week between May 22-29. BMI originally developed it to promote its Bar-B-Bar programme. It has now become a significant event in its own right supported by major brand, retail and media sponsors. Budgens will be using the event to promote its new summer barbecue range. It says: "We will be launching a new, improved selection of barbecue meats for summer 2000, while other products will be a mixture of tried and tested brand and own label lines." A lot of activity will be concentrated on the summer bank holidays which are the prime sales periods. Sainsbury will also have a wide selection of barbecue lines in stock from mid April. The company says it has worked with manufacturers to create 50 new flavours for the sector this season. The Easter weekend is now widely regarded as the start of the barbecue season, though manufacturers such as BMI are attempting to make it an all year round occasion with indoor barbecue style products. Certainly meat consumption rises significantly from Easter onwards, peaking in May and June, with bank holiday weekends doing especially well. As a result, the barbecue has become an increasingly important focus for the Meat and Livestock Commission's development work. MLC has developed a range of beef, lamb and pork products for the coming season. Butchery product development and presentations manager Keith Fisher explains: "We have responded to the demand for innovative products by developing a range of rustic beef, lamb and pork cuts that are ideal for the barbecue but can just as easily be grilled or chargrilled indoors." The MLC has also created marinades ranging from a smoky US style flavour for beef to the more traditional rosemary and garlic for lamb. An early summer promotional drive in the form of Quality British Turkey month in June is planned by the British Turkey Federation. Chairman Ron Wales of the organisation's publicity and marketing committee says it will highlight turkey's potential as an ideal barbecue meat. Despite the growth of new meat and poultry cuts and marinades, sausages continue to be an indispensable barbecue feature. According to Kerry Foods, which works with the Wall's brand, nearly one in 10 of all sausages sold each year are eaten at barbecues, and 98% of households cook sausages on the barbecue. Its latest research shows consumers think barbecue products lack variety, that packs are often too small to be practical, but that consumers keep products such as sausages in the freezer to raid' when the weather favours barbecuing. As a result it has introduced Summer Selection, a frozen pack of 18 sausages in pork, Lincolnshire and smokey barbecue flavours. Wall's marketing manager Kathy Hayward says: "Summer Selection fills a gap in the market, providing the larger pack size and variety consumers need as a stand by for barbecues." Geo Adams marketing manager Nigel Wilcox endorses this view. He says: "The jumbo sausage market grew 30% last year, with main increases coming in the key July and August periods. Our jumbo Lincolnshire pork sausage developed specifically for the barbecue has proved extremely popular because it's the right size for hotdog rolls." Dickinson & Morris scored a hit with Sainsbury's customers last summer with a large size barbecue sausage. This year it plans to extend listings of the premium pork sausage, which has an rsp of £2.19 for 400g. Pork Farms Bowyers is promoting its premium Porkinson Banger with an on pack promotion running from April to July offering the chance to win top of the range Weber gas barbecues. Burgers' popularity is rising once again through the commitment to quality' meat programmes run by Birds Eye Wall's and other producers. BEW says consumers are shying away from economy burgers since the BSE crisis, and the main growth is coming from premium burgers. Trading director Neil Jones says adult consumers are looking for burgers that are less processed with higher meat content. "Our new Homestyle burgers meet this need, using a minimum of 95% beef, together with simple ingredients that bring out the premium taste of the meat. They have a loser, crumblier texture than normal burgers, with greater visual appeal and aroma." Homestyle comes in two variants, with a hint of horseradish, and garlic and parsley. Introduced in March, they are being promoted with £1.75m media spend beginning in July. Jones says BEW has been working closely with retailers to grow the barbecue category with point of sale prompts and appropriate product groupings. "In large supermarkets, the best way to exploit the barbecue occasion is to bring products from different frozen categories together so they are easier for consumers to find." Dalepak says consumers are more likely to trade up to quarterpounders when buying for the barbecue, with its flamegrilled quarter pound beefburger among its bestsellers. Marketing controller Colin Brown says tastes are becoming increasingly sophisticated with sales rising for its Chinese and smokey barbecue ribsteaks, peppered beef grills, and minted lamb grills. The company has also seen increasing demand for its vegetable grills as a barbecue product among vegetarians and reduced meat eaters. Says Brown: "One in four people use vegetable burgers at their barbecue, 16% use vegetable sausages and 5% other vegetarian fare." The firm is introducing a barbecue bumper pack with four vegetable burgers and four vegetarian sausages. Similarly, Goodlife Foods has seen sales rise in its vegetarian products. These include nut cutlets and burgers and herb bean bangers in plain and spicy variants. Commercial director Nick Hamlett says: "As the vegetarian market is growing ­ it is currently worth more than £168m with grills and burgers claiming more than £50m of it ­ most barbecues will need to meet the requirements of these consumers. Our products offer a tasty alternative to meat." Sauces and marinades is, without doubt, the most dynamic area of the barbecue market with growth of more than 20% a year, according to BMI, which says speciality rather than general pour on, barbecue sauces have done the best, achieving 34% share growth last year. It has repackaged its Bar B Bar range which now includes five new thick 'n rich combined sauces and dips ­ Kansas City, New Orleans, Bushman's Tucker, Out of Afrika and Caribbean Calypso ­ plus three multipurpose marinades and two barbecue rubs. The company also has three unusual salad dressings, which include rasp-berry, basil & walnut, and smoked hickory and chilli mayonnaise. The Newman's Own range moved into barbecue marinades last year with the launch of Smokin' Hickory and Sizzlin' Cajun. Sales and marketing director Paul Rowlands says they are doing so well, the company plans to add a new line this summer. Now in its third year in the UK, the Stubbs brand of Texas barbecue sauces from General Food Trading, has sales approaching £2m. Sainsbury, Tesco and Safeway will be featuring the Stubbs line this summer, with Waitrose stocking it for the first time supported by consumer tastings. GFT says Stubbs original and spicy sauces and chicken, pork and beef marinades are now beginning to be recognised as all year round products. With the barbecue season starting earlier in spring and extending well into autumn. This makes barbecues less of a seasonal event, and more lucrative to those retailers who permanently stock barbecue products. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}