The success of the barbecue season is notoriously hard to predict. Sales vary depending on whether the summer brings hot days and balmy nights or is an extension of a typically rainy Wimbledon fortnight.
But England's changing climate is only half the story. Optimism surrounds 2006 thanks to occasions such as the World Cup in June, which many companies feel will propel barbecuing to fever pitch as fans celebrate or commiserate with bottles of beer and burgers.
However, even without major sporting events to bolster sales, barbecuing is big business. TNS reveals a combined sales value of £819m for essentials such as red and white meat, vegetarian burgers, grills and sausages, and marinades during the last season [16 w/e September 11, 2005]. Add to that alcohol and the figure soars to £3.2bn.
Although TNS data only covers the traditional 16-week barbecue period, the season is getting longer, according to the National BBQ Association. It says spring and autumn are becoming key barbecue times - weather permitting - which means the season could last up to 25 weeks.
The multiples often dedicate whole aisles to the barbecue theme and this year they will be boosting its presence in anticipation of strong sales.
Sainsbury expects to sell in excess of 300,000 disposable barbecues this season - more than double that of previous years. It also plans to extend its fixture because of the popularity of outdoor living.
The smaller retailers are also ramping up activity for what they see is a key market. While many people plan barbecues in advance and visit multiples for provisions, others decide to barbecue on the spur of the moment and shop in convenience stores.
David Nice, Nisa retailer, says stores need to be flexible to the capricious nature of the weather. "I rearrange the fixture in-store every weekend if good weather is predicted, including tagging on wines and beers," he says. "You have to be flexible and adapt accordingly."
Nice echoes Sainsbury's view that disposable barbecues will be a big hit as occasions become more varied. "People are having barbecues away from home and disposable barbecues sell amazingly well."
Dual-siting products is another universal sales tactic. It is particularly effective with sauces and marinades that may otherwise be overlooked by customers unfamiliar with the products, says Phil Linus, managing director at The Grocery Company, which supplies Nando's sauces.
"Some retailers focus on key brands and every few years they use the fixture as a platform to try new products," he says. "Retailers should stay focused on major brands because these are impulse purchases and consumers recognise big brands. If there is a proliferation of unknown brands it becomes a distress purchase. Consumers like to get hold of favourite brands."
Walkerswood Caribbean Foods' sauces first appeared as trial products, but have since attracted a loyal following. "Consumers like to browse because it provides a good opportunity to trial new products - risky for the multiples, but for Walkerswood the effect was positive," says Sam Deacon, product marketing manager at distributor RH Amar.
Burgers and sausages are still the nation's favourite to sling on the grill, says Chris Leeman, English Beef and Lamb Executive retail sector manager. However, the National BBQ Association has identified fish, such as salmon, sardines and tuna, as upcoming favourites, with prawns, bananas and even marshmallows following.
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