Whether it's heatwave or washout, retailers are preparing summer ranges to cover all eventualities and catering for parties of all sizes and tastes Marks & Spencer takes a pragmatic approach to the barbecue. "As the British weather is so uncertain, all our barbecue range is positioned for indoor and outdoor grilling. That gives customers choice, according to the weather," says category marketer Ray Mack. "We've been taking this two-pronged approach for two years, and it's been very successful." Barbecue food and drink is part of the retailer's summer eating range, which aims to provide a solution for every occasion, from picnics to celebrations requiring the full works. This year's theme is about health, convenience, sharing and indulgence, says Mack. One of the forms indulgence will take is much thicker cuts of steak, such as the 12oz portion of dry aged Scotch beef, called the New York Sirloin Steak, at £6.99. But the big emphasis will be on fish. "We're doing a lot more for the barbecue and grilling, such as prepared joints of sea bass and salmon, as well as tuna and tuna burgers, and other exotic varieties," says Mack. "Fish is growing in popularity because it's healthy, but consumers don't like preparing it or know how to cook it, so we're making it easy by doing all the preparation." Also on the health front, the retailer's Count On Us brand is being extended with chicken kebabs in oriental and traditional flavours, plus sausages and burgers, all with a low-fat content. The all-year range of three bestselling marinades will be upped to eight for the summer, with tomato, basil & Parmesan making its debut. Plus there will be new ranges of summer chutneys, Mediterranean-style dips, flavoured olive oils and speciality breads, all geared to outdoor eating. As well as duplicate displays and cross-merchandising to encourage consumers to buy, M&S is stepping up its in-store tasting programme. "We're doubling the number of stores doing tastings to 125, extending tastings from one to three days a week, and doing three sessions a day of different products from the summer range," says Mack. "We'll also be doing tastings of barbecue food cooked in front of customers on specially designed cooking spits. This is one of our first attempts at cooking in front of customers and will create a real sense of theatre. "Tastings are a highly successful tactic, and are extremely effective in converting customers," adds Mack. M&S isn't the only retailer to have rethought its approach to summer selling. Safeway has revamped its red meat, poultry and fish range for the barbecue this year, says meat category buyer Kelly Hathway. "We're putting a lot of effort into the barbecue this year. We've brought in a development chef for the first time, and the results show. We've gone for a mix of traditional flavours that are enduringly popular, like Chinese and spicy BBQ, plus some new ones such as Cajun, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, Caribbean and North African, to reinvigorate the category and bring in new customers. We've taken the flavours right across meat and fish so customers who like a particular flavour on one product will feel confident about trying it on another." Packs will come in a range of sizes aimed at catering for different occasions, from four people up to bumper packs for parties. Safeway is also doing a lot more with sauces and marinades this year, says category buying manager for sauces and marinades, Ian Cambridge. "We will have 63 different lines, covering relishes, mustards, marinades and sauces, which will go into 326 stores on 4ft fixtures. Plus 90 stores will be taking a smaller range. "Core brands are Ainsley Harriott, Bick's, Bar-B-Bar, Nando's, Discovery, Cardini, Newman's Own, Heinz, HP, Stubbs, Lea & Perrins, French's and Taylors. We will run the range until late September and then we will make the five or six bestsellers into year-round lines," says Cambridge. Promotions will be mostly on-shelf and money-off, supported by a barbecue feature in Safeway Magazine and POS material for the summer range. n {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}