Britain’s barbecue plans were doused by record rains last summer. As a result we fired up our barbies on 106 million occasions, 2.5% fewer than in 2011 [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 30 November 2012]. Then up trotted a new challenge for the sector: the contamination of beefburgers with horsemeat.

The backlash against burgers has already begun. Sales of frozen burgers slumped 43% year-on-year in the weeks after ‘Horsegate’ hit the headlines [Kantar 4 w/e 17 February] and some fear sales of chilled burgers and other processed meat products and barbecue staples - such as sausages, the undisputed king of the grill - could also suffer as a result.

Given that burgers are increasingly popular - on the menu at 41.1% of barbecues in 2012, up from 38.9% in 2011 [Kantar] - such concerns are justifiable, but while Mike Whittemore, head of trade marketing for Eblex, concedes that the frozen burger “has a lot of work to do to regain consumers’ trust,” the early signs are that fresh meat suppliers will avoid, in the medium term, the negative associations that have hit sales of frozen processed meat.

“We’ve been pushing the message that shoppers can have confidence in fresh, assured red meat” Nick Allen, Eblex

“We’ve been working hard, along with other industry organisations, to push the message that shoppers can have confidence in fresh, assured red meat products, like those with the Red Tractor label or Quality Standard mark, where the provenance and traceability are clear, and it does appear the message is being heard,” says Nick Allen, sector director for Eblex.

To encourage consumers to trade up this season, Eblex is launching a campaign for the retail sector under the umbrella theme Cook-In, which will encourage consumers to buy cuts perfectly suited to the BBQ. A Steak Bar range will highlight new and traditional beef and lamb steaks, while Chop House will include a range of bone-in beef and lamb cuts, which offer enhanced flavour and succulence. A Gourmet Burger, range, meanwhile, will utilise chuck, rump and lamb mince.

They’re not alone in trying to grow the market for posher burgers. Last week, New Zealand meat exporter Anzco Foods announced the launch of its Angel Bay frozen gourmet lamb and beefburger range, featuring melting sauce centres, in the UK. And Laverstoke Park Farm, the organic producer owned and run by former F1 champ Jody Scheckter, is reporting a roaring trade in its new line of wild boar & chorizo and buffalo & horseradish gourmet burgers through Waitrose.

“People recognise that when you pay more for something you are more likely to get quality” Jody Scheckter, Laverstoke Park Farm

This is being driven in part by the horsemeat scandal, suggests Scheckter. “This has helped people recognise that when you pay more for something you are more likely to get quality and when you buy cheap stuff you’re not,” he says. “We use everything fresh and our chef Stuart Busby makes our own stock for the burgers from recipes that he has created. People recognise this. The buffalo burgers are selling especially well.”

Lamb stands to be another big winner in this year’s season, says Eblex. Not only does it have the opportunity to capitalise on any lingering scepticism over beef products but a recent fall in price has also made lamb more affordable for consumers. It’s also perfectly suited to slow cooking, inside or out.

“Lamb will feature prominently in our new NPD ranges,” says Whittemore. “It’s a delicious option for the barbecue and customers are certainly taking note of this. Whole shoulder of lamb, slow-cooked in the oven and finished off on the barbecue, is a great-value cut for families and larger groups.”

Chicken


Value is, of course, still vital. And the star performer of the last couple of years has been chicken, which since August 2011 has overtaken pork to become the second-most popular BBQ meat after pork [Kantar]. Chicken has benefited from its relatively low price point to challenge beef’s pre-eminence, says Chloe Agache, brand manager at Bespoke Foods, UK distributor of the French’s sauce brand. “It’s cheaper, leaner, and far more versatile than other meats, especially when it comes to barbecues,” says Agache. And the ‘Horsegate’ scandal will “likely only propel the popularity of chicken further this year”, she adds.

“Restaurants like Nando’s have introduced customers to a new world of marinating” Scott Dixon, Flava-It

The boom in chicken-focused restaurants such as Nando’s, Tramshed and Chicken Shop is also having a positive impact on demand. “Not only do most of these restaurants grill or barbecue the chicken in a fashion not too dissimilar to the BBQ enthusiast, but they’ve also introduced consumers to a whole new world of marinating and basting chicken with flavours from all over the world,” says Scott Dixon, brand manager for marinade supplier Flava-it.

Sausages

Even the humble banger is going international. Thanks to extensive NPD on the own-label side, as well as its obvious value connotations and easy cookability, the sausage is more popular than ever as a charcoaling staple - increasing its share from 41.8% to 45.5% of BBQ occasions [Kantar].

But brands are getting in on the act too. Last April, Unearthed unveiled a new range of Continental sausages specifically for the barbecue season, featuring bangers from Germany, Italy, France and Spain. Some varieties sold better than others, says Unearthed brand manager Simon Day, but the range had enough of an impact to convince Waitrose to stock a new range of international sausages for this season. The details are currently being finalised.

“There’s definitely room in the market for more products like this,” says Day, adding that the impact of ‘Horsegate’ on public perceptions of burgers may play to their favour. “Last year, we perhaps didn’t make enough of a splash with the whole range, but we did keep the successful ones - the Spanish chistorra chorizo and the smoked chorizo - as permanent lines. We probably didn’t get enough space because of the big burger boys but that could change this year because of everything that’s gone on.”

Even at the value end, the horsemeat scandal means demand for sausages could soar. The rule of thumb, says Denhay Farms marketing manager Richard Hogg, is: “If, like chicken and sausage suppliers, you’re disassociated with beef, you’ll benefit.” And having extended its Spoilt Pig brand into sausages last summer, Denhay intends to cross-promote Spoilt Pig’s bacon range with its sausages to drive sales. “Many consumers have never thought about using bacon on the BBQ, but I think there’s a cross-selling opportunity there,” says Hogg.

“People are experimenting with home-smoked food at their backyard BBQs” Ben Merrington, Grillstock

Bpex, meanwhile, will continue to push less traditional pork cuts this season, in particular belly, collar, shoulder and leg. “Consumers just need simple recipe ideas and cooking tips to be encouraged to try them,” says Bpex butchery & product development manager Keith Fisher. “And should the weather be a washout, most of these can be cooked in a conventional oven or grill.”

‘Low & slow’

The use of less conventional cuts chimes well with the growing popularity of ‘low & slow’ barbecuing, a style of cooking from the US, so-called because often cheaper cuts of meat are cooked slowly on charcoals kept on a low heat. Signature dishes include 18-hour smoked lamb shoulder and slow-cooked pulled pork or beef brisket - marinated, rubbed or seasoned with American flavours.

“The increasing popularity of low & slow is likely a reflection of the recession,” says Geraldine Marks, international sales & marketing manager at Baxters Food Group, which makes a range of barbecue sauces under the Jack Daniel’s brand. “It means consumers can barbecue a full joint of meat, which is easier to work with, and allows budding chefs to use cheaper cuts, as slow-cooking tenderises the meat, breaks down fats and infuses flavours.”

As Marks says, low & slow’s attractions are not purely economic. Indeed, some aficionados have spent thousands on equipment to ensure their brisket ticks the right boxes, and many say the attraction of events celebrating US barbecuing is that they provide great food without the pretentiousness associated with other gourmet or foodie movements.

There are signs that the movement is starting to go more mainstream, too. “The opportunity is massive,” says Ben Merrington, co-founder of barbecue festival Grillstock, which is now in its fourth year (see left).”You can now see it coming in to the mainstream with supermarkets selling lines like pulled pork. The popularity of low & slow has grown hugely over the last few years with various brands getting involved, and TV shows like Man v. Food have been a huge influence. People are experimenting with home-smoked food at their backyard barbecues.”

Of course, not everyone will have the time to spend 12 hours smoking a pork shoulder every time they want a barbecue, nor the inclination. But that doesn’t mean your average Joe can’t get a taste of barbecue, US-style. Not if the growing number of US-style brands have anything to do with it, anyway.

“We’ll take recipe development back to barbecue basics for 2013, drawing on US-style low & slow cooking and traditional barbecue recipes,” says Baxters’ Marks, pointing to the two new limited-edition Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauces - Hot Pepper and Extra Hot Habanero - launched this month. “The trend towards hotter and spicier flavours continues, as customers get creative in the kitchen with more adventurous world flavours.”

That’s also why Grillstock is developing a range of sauces, seasonings and meal kits for retail. And earlier this month US celebrity chef Guy Fieri brought a four-strong range of barbecue sauces, including Bourbon Brown Sugar and Kansas City varieties, to the UK (see right). The range is set to be added to later in the year with a root beer-based barbecue sauce, as well as a range of pasta sauces in the summer, says distributor Stateside Candy Co.

Clouds on the horizon

Others say they’re already benefiting from the growing adventurousness of UK barbecuing. Encona has recently expanded its range with new West Indian Extra Hot Pepper and African Peri Peri variants, and Newman’s Own - a sponsor of Grillstock - says the current US trend is spurring interest in its range of sauces, dressings and marinades.

“The growing interest in Americana is a good thing and it really helps us,” says Sally Newman, brand manager at Newman’s Own UK. “The more authentic US dressings such as our ranch and smoky BBQ sauces are particularly strong sellers.”

There remain clouds on the horizon, however. And whatever happens with the horsemeat scandal, the biggest challenge - especially in the case of prepared barbecue meats - remains the weather.

Retailers and brand owners are always battling to maximise the big peaks associated with a hot spell while supply chains will once again be tested to the limit to minimise the impact if the heavens open. One area of success has been weather-related advertising. “Yes, there were fewer barbecues last year. However that doesn’t have as direct an impact on the sauces category as you might think,” claims Jane Jeffreys, marketing director at Heinz, which last year ran a weather-activated campaign for its Summer Sauces range that helped factor out the worst of what the climate threw at them. “Despite the weather, we saw a strong performance.”

Other, smaller players may be able to benefit from the growing adventurousness of consumers but they’re still at the mercy of the weather. “Ultimately, a spirit of adventure is what I would most like to see at a barbecue,” says Gavin Roberts, owner of the Cornish-based Kernow Sausage Company.

“That, and a few rays of sunshine.”

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