How to master the Great British BBQ

03 June 2021, 12:38 PM
  • Following last summer’s barbecue bonanza, another banner season for al fresco dining is on the cards. We discover how indies can capitalise on outdoor eating
How to master the Great British BBQ

As a staple in Britain’s seasonal dining playbook, barbecue-ready food is always a winner for the summer months. But in 2020, thanks to consumers being stuck at home, the closure of foodservice outlets and the sunniest spring on record, the humble barbecue reached new heights.

Between April and August last year, 100 million barbecue occasions were recorded, up 44% year-on-year, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). The resulting increase in spending boosted the barbecue market to £12.4 million, according to Kantar’s research. Where can the beloved barbecue go from here? In 2021, the focus will turn to exploration, provenance and togetherness.

The main event

The centrepiece of any barbecue is the meaty main course, and AHDB’s retail insight manager Rebecca Gladman says meat, fish and poultry volumes are expected to be elevated compared to a typical year. But even in these traditional areas, retailers can push the boat out by viewing the barbecue as an event rather than a meal. “It’s really important that all retailers remind consumers of what barbecues can offer as an occasion – so a focus on treats and together time with friends and family,” Rebecca says.

To this end, AHDB is launching a campaign to encourage Brits to elevate their barbecues by trying premium cuts, such as steaks, as well as moving into the joints market to create tender crowd-pleasers such as pulled pork and beef brisket through low and slow cooking.

This push for premiumisation aligns with consumer behaviour trends, wherein shoppers are keen to trade up in order to recreate the restaurant experience at home. Consumers have also shown a stronger preference for sourcing their meat locally over the past year. Recent research from Kantar found that 630,000 more households visited independent butchers in Britain in the 12 months to February 2021 and spent nearly 50% more per shopping trip on meat at butchers compared to other retailers.

Sourcing the highest quality locally reared meat for your butchery will curry favour with consumers who are looking to support British farmers. “Highlighting the provenance of barbecue products will not only meet this desire, but it can also act as a quality signal to shoppers,” Rebecca adds.

It will also pay to carry varieties of meat that are off the beaten path for consumers to explore, such as K’s Wors South-African-style Boerie Dogs. Another way to meet this desire for experimentation is by providing transformative spices and marinades. “We should all be thinking laterally about outdoor eating this summer,” adds Maria Whitehead, director of Hawkshead Relish Company. “The boring BBQ is a thing of the past. Now we are eating al fresco and pretending we are in the South of France, with family, friends, food and fun. The retail offering needs to reflect this with lots of inspiration for easy outdoor entertaining and less fiddly creations.”

Spicing it up

Nothing says exciting quite like spice, and this is one trend set to get shoppers talking this year. “Things continue to hot up when it comes to barbecues. Last year’s early hot weather combined with lockdown meant that we saw lots of experimentation with a definite bias to hot products,” says Becky Vale of Tracklements, “which explains why our latest addition to the range, tongue tinglingly Hot Chilli Sauce, sold so well last year.”

Punchy flavours will be key on the menu this summer, alongside “versatility, exciting and thought-provoking flavours”, Becky says. “Barbecues give people a great reason to step outside their usual repertoire and experiment with new flavours and products.” But classic sauces with proven versatility will continue to be favoured staples of the barbecue arsenal. “Our stand-out hero continues to be the incredibly versatile Sweet Mustard Ketchup which consumer research tells us is used as an ingredient, a marinade and a straightforward burger relish,” she adds.

Quality sauces will also play a role in the restaurant-quality cooking trend by offering a simple way to take dishes to the next level. “A tasty sauce can bring a depth of flavour to the barbecue, adding sweetness to the charring of meat or vegetables which balances well to add layers of flavour,” says Hawkshead’s Maria.

Plant-based options

In addition to a well-stocked butchery, growing ranks of vegan and vegetarian customers will be on the hunt for new products to try this summer. To set their selection apart, retailers can offer options with more flavour and health properties, says Marc Coloma, CEO and co-founder of plant-based meat substitute brand Heura. “Heura ‘chicken’ has the same amount of protein as animal chicken – but over 60% less saturated fat.

“With so many looking to make more sustainable choices, independents need to showcase plant-based alternatives as products that are no longer just for vegans but for people looking to reduce their meat consumption,” Marc continues. “21% of the population now identify as flexitarian so independents should market their vegan ranges accordingly.”

More traditional vegans and vegetarians may prefer options that don’t resemble meat. For these groups, consider looking abroad for inspiration. “The rise of Mexitarian – plant-based Mexican food – is set to be the standout trend of 2021 and for the second year running,” says Santa Maria’s Barney. For vegans, tempeh, a fermented soya bean product, offers a simple solution for the barbecue. Chunks can be marinated and stuck on a kebab or cut into strips to resemble ribs.

“Independent retailers are perfectly placed to help customers try out new products,” says Benedict Meade, founder of Tempeh Meades. “Tempeh tastes best when it has been steamed and then marinated. Independent retailers often stock some of the best sauces and marinades and could suggest some fantastic products to pair with tempeh.”

Elsewhere, classics still abound, such as salty and succulent grilled Halloumi. “In answer to the surge in demand for alternative meat choices, hot eating cheese has become a popular option and a credible ‘hero’ ingredient for many dishes; the increasing appeal of continental cheeses is apparent as consumers seek inspiration for meat-free choices or simply wish to experience more variety,” says Rocky Page, foodservice and industrial controller at Eurilait. In line with expectations that demand for these cheeses will only grow, Eurilait has expanded its range to include more choices for outdoor dining, including authentic Cypriot Halloumi Fries, Mediterranean-style baking Feta, Cheese Steaks and a Carbonara style baking Camembert, “all evoking the tastes of sunshine, and a nod to the freedom that we’ve all been longing for,” Rocky says.

Thinking out of the box

To cater to evolving taste buds, retailers must stock fine food products that go beyond the typical fare. “As we are all likely to be staying in the UK this year, I think the barbecue will evolve to be more of an outside kitchen,” says Maria. “There are lots of ways of cooking outdoors rather than just the barbecue – outside pizza ovens, for example, are great for flash cooking fish, stews, flatbreads and jacket potatoes, as well as pizza of course.”

Argos and John Lewis have reported pizza ovens are among the top products flying off the shelf as consumers prepare for a summer of garden parties. “Baking pizzas at home has been such a wonderful way of bringing family together over the past year,” says Karin Andersson of The Real Olive Company. Classic barbecue accompaniments, such as quality olives and sauces, can be ideal for a pizza makeover. “Many of our chutneys work brilliantly on a pizza base, such as the Cheeky Chilli Salsa or even a piccalilli with cheese,” Maria says.

Home chefs who cut their teeth on banana bread and sourdough last year will be willing to experiment with cooking styles this summer. “Not only is the barbecue now a staple of the great British summer, but we have also seen a growing interest in craft fire cooking as more people are experimenting with open flame cooking and world cuisines at home, particularly Tex-Mex,” says Santa Maria’s Barny MacAdam. Karin agrees that experimentation will be on the menu: “We believe people are much more discerning when it comes to home cooking and barbecues after a year with more time spent at home, preparing food a bit slower and perhaps picking up some new cooking skills.”

Food to share

While barbecue mainstays such as meat and marinades will be at the top of consumers’ shopping lists, retailers shouldn’t forget about the all-important snacking platters. “The nibbles are what really set a good barbecue feast apart,” says Karin. Here, too, there is a desire to shake up traditional flavours. “There is a growing appetite for more exotic flavours and nibbles that add a bit of oomph. For most people these days, quality olives are an essential part of the summer barbecue feast. They can really add another flavour dimension – salty, fruity, savoury umaminess which compliments summer salads, homemade pizzas and work perfectly with a cold drink al fresco style.”

Here too shoppers are trading up to wow friends and family. “As a nation, people have really raised their expectations when it comes to quality ingredients. Consumers are much more discerning when it comes to provenance of products, quality and health benefits, as well as wanting to impress with unusual flavours and beautiful packaging.”

Sharing platters filled with plenty of summer cheeses, antipasti and dips will be a big component of this summer’s garden gatherings as reunions and togetherness move to the forefront. “The feeling of food will be paramount this summer, with mealtimes signifying a new opportunity to socialise with dearly missed friends and family,” says Heura’s Marc. “Our Mediterranean culinary heritage finds its roots in the sharing of food, and our products are similarly intended to bring consumers together.”

After many months spent apart, food’s ability to bring consumers together will be a key selling point, and it’s a message that fine food independents can bring home. “If we’ve been reminded of anything over the past 12 months it’s that good food has a vital role to play in keeping up the spirits of the nation, and it’s the reason and the focus of every gathering,” Tracklements’ Becky says.

“Meeting up over food is such a natural way to bring families and friends together,” Karin adds. “When everyone brings a dish and gets involved, it can help us feel connected and part of something, which is so important after the year we’ve had.”

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