Barbies are not planned, they are dependent on the weather, so how can beer retailers ensure their sales rise with the heat of the sun? Tim Palmer reports The barbecue plays a big part in home entertaining and is likely to grow in importance this summer. If the weather stays warm and dry most families will get outdoors to eat and to entertain their friends, and the trend could be a critical one for the beer industry over the next few months. This year there are few big sporting occasions for the brewers and retailers to build theatre to encourage consumers to buy in extra. There's no World Cup nor Olympic Games. If sporting and countryside pleasures continue to be curtailed by the foot and mouth outbreak, consumers may well be forced to turn their attention to making the best of their own back garden, and brewers who fail to see this as an opportunity will lose out. Most are conscious of the increasing need to cater for occasion based drinking and the plethora of pack variants is testament to this. The big multipacks cater for bulk consumption with friends, stubbies provide an easy delivery of small quantities and big 660ml bottles offer enough for two to share over a meal. Bass category development director Garry Craft says: "Making beer more occasion based is one of the challenges for the industry. There are few associations with the occasions that you drink. "The way we merchandise beer is very similar to other fmcg products, despite beer being part of the fun, leisure experience." Bass has completed research into shopper behaviour and Craft says: "When people buy beer on a Friday 43% drink it that day, this figure climbs to 65% on Saturday. "When asked if they planned ahead for a barbecue only 6% said they did. Therefore when the sun comes out retailers and suppliers have to be ready." He says this puts forward a strong argument for adding a permanent chilled element to the drinks aisles. "Some of the beer you buy must be chilled. This is a big issue." He suggested the major stores could benefit from rapid response units that can react to short-term weather forecasting and quickly remerchandise key sections so sales will climb as fast as the temperature. Interbrew UK believes that to make the best out of barbecues the emphasis should be on big brands, bulk packs and chillers. It says consumers' purchasing habits change in the summer peak for barbecues. Retailers should consider dual siting of beer close to barbecue items to generate impulse sales. Its research shows the barbecue/ party occasion is one of the top 10 most important drinking occasions in the year, accounting for 8% of drinking occasions for men and 5% for women. Sales director Steve Kitching is keen to put the emphasis on his biggest selling lager brand Stella Artois and its pack variants. "When consumers are entertaining they play safe and go for brands because they don't take chances with bulk." Brian Sharp, marketing director, Scottish Courage Brands, adds: "The barbecue season represents an important element of summer sales. "For every one degree increase in temperature over the average summer mean temperature, which we take to be 20C, beer sales should grow by 3%. That's an extra 400,000 cases of beer for every degree over 20C ­ a significant amount. "Premium lager, big brands, big packs and stubby bottles all have a part to play at barbecues. "Stubby bottles are a popular choice for the hot weather because they fit easily into the fridge "The launch of our Foster's 275ml bottle gives us an added opportunity here." {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}