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Often regarded as the jewel in the crown of summer eating, the Great British barbecue is undoubtedly a highlight on the calendars of the UK’s food-loving public. A barbecue is an occasion whatever the weather – us Brits will happily power through a rainstorm for the promise of a perfectly charred burger – and with more shoppers than ever keen to treat themselves to better quality produce, barbecue season offers a tasty opportunity for fine food independents. Indeed, with National BBQ Week on the horizon (4th-10th July), now is the perfect time to cash in.
Al fresco eating became more popular than ever during the pandemic, with the British public urged to only socialise out of doors for a period, and restaurants closing their doors. “Since the beginning of lockdown in 2019 the UK has become a nation of barbecuers,” agrees Becky Vale, marketing manager at Tracklements. “Barbecue season has become more reliable thanks to the lockdown side effect of upgrading our outdoor spaces and has consequently grown in importance as a retail opportunity.” The numbers speak for themselves: “In 2020 we saw a huge increase in the number of households barbecuing with a record 190million barbecues held in the UK and during the warm weeks in early June last year searches for barbecue ready foods rose by 488% [source: Google Trends research by Eat Great Meat].”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, familiar flavours were especially popular during the challenging two years just passed – a trend which Charles Coleman, sales director at The Sausage Man, can attest to. “The pandemic highlighted a particular demand for familiar, comforting foods; industry research has revealed sausages have soared in sales and are a favourite choice.”
Indeed, the pandemic-driven need for at-home eating meant that sales of popular meat products went through the roof. “Research from Mintel shows ‘sales of processed meat products, including processed poultry and red meat main meal components have skyrocketed by 18% during 2020 and are estimated to be worth £3.7 billion,” explains Charles. “Breakfast and barbecue favourites, bacon (+18%), sausages (+20%) and burgers (+26%), all benefited from the rise in scratch cooking and a shift towards eating at home’.”
With its range of gourmet sausages including Bratwurst, Frankfurter, Wagyu beef and Iberico pork, The Sausage Man has experienced the growing hunger across the UK for quality barbecue options. “We have become a nation of foodies with a keen curiosity for new flavours, and our younger, digitally driven, generation have embraced better food offerings, showing interest for regional specialities that not only taste good, but are also produced with care and preferably instagrammable too,” he explains.
The plant-based opportunity
That’s not to say that all barbecuers are looking for just meat and/or fish options. Chargrilled vegetables have long been a mainstay of the British barbecue season, and now there’s an extensive menu of plant-based meat alternatives on offer. Freshly launched into the UK market, Eatplanted offers a range of meat-free products that are perfectly suited to barbecue season – and it’s not only the growing vegan consumer segment that can benefit. “The EU’s Smart Protein project in 2020 found that 37% of UK consumers are eating less meat versus a year ago, with a further 36% saying they plan on reducing their meat consumption in the future,” explains Olivia Sinclair, UK marketing manager at Eatplanted. Flexitarians are rising in number, but the idea of changing habits – ie, stepping away from a sizzling barbecued sausage come summer – is often blocking shoppers’ proactivity when it comes to making the change. “The study also looked into barriers facing consumers and plant-based products, revealing that 40% of UK consumers didn’t want to change their eating habits or routines. Thankfully, we couldn’t agree more – and have a range of original chicken and pulled pork that can be swapped into consumer’s existing favourite recipes without having to do anything new. For us, it’s all about making small swaps, and making them as easy and delicious for the consumer as possible so there are no downturns on taste and experience.
“In the past, vegetarians and vegans have often drawn the short straw when it comes to barbecues; being offered the side dishes or perhaps a Portobello mushroom, as meat substitutes were either not available or not considered,” Olivia continues. Thankfully, Eatplanted’s range will satisfy plant-based and meat eaters alike, bringing together a BBQ-marinated pulled pork-style product (delicious in a soft bun) and soon-to-launch herbed spicy chicken-style skewers.
For retailers looking to stock exciting new flavours from further afield, there are plenty of options on the market. Speciality food distributor Empire Bespoke Foods is proud to host a wide range of products which are ideal for barbecue season and fit perfectly with this year’s flavour-packed trends. Edward Rayment from the team talks us through the business’s must-stock products. “Celebrating 75 years of pickling the perfect gherkin, Mrs Elswood gherkins are the perfect crunchy snack and accompaniment to any picnic or BBQ,” he begins, and there’s bound to be plenty of noise around the brand this year. “2022 is a big year for Mrs Elswood – the Nation’s #1 Gherkins – as not only is there a comprehensive modernisation of the brand, the folks at pickle central are working on some exciting new products that will help Mrs Elswood brighten up meals across the UK.” It’s not only gherkins that are popular come barbecue season; anything pickled and crunchy works perfectly alongside grilled meat and livens up any mealtime, and Empire Bespoke Foods has complemented its popular Mrs Elswood offering with Fallot, traditional French cornichons and Mezzetta, quintessentially Italian American pickled vegetables.
Of course, no barbecue is complete without an array of condiments to add pep to any dish, and Empire Bespoke Foods is home to a range of American classics. “To accompany the BBQ season, our condiment and sauces portfolio brings the finest American products to the table,” explains Edward. “Stubb’s is America’s #1 premium BBQ sauce, and comes from Texas – the culinary home of the BBQ movement. Jardine’s is the finest US small batch salsa brand – also from Texas. Frank’s Red Hot is a great addition to make any dish that little bit spicier, while French’s classic mustard is a bestseller in the iconic yellow bottle. Complementing our hot sauce portfolio and new this year is Cholula - the quintessential Mexican hot sauce.”
For an exciting step towards international flavours this barbecue season, Tracklements’ latest Special Edition offerings are well worth stocking. “There’s something about the barbecue that brings out our culinary sense of adventure,” explains Tracklements’ Becky. “Maybe it’s because we get excited on those occasions we can eat outside, maybe it’s because barbecuing is theatre.” A barbecue naturally brings with it a sense of generosity and hosting; you don’t often hear of a consumer ‘barbecuing for one’. “The barbecue chef is never lonely,” agrees Becky, “and barbecues are generally more social occasions, so chances are that we’re catering for a variety of diets and cooking a variety of options. All of which puts table sauces centre stage – after all, who can imagine a barbecue without a varied selection of sauces and relishes alongside to sit every palate? That would be a crime, surely.”
The lockdowns of the past two years made fine food shoppers more adventurous with their culinary choices than ever before, with consumers travelling via their tastebuds when they were unable to visit far flung destinations in person. So while it’s always a safe bet to stock classic flavours such as mayonnaise and tomato ketchup – Tracklements’ year-round best-seller Sweet Mustard Ketchup sees a significant sales spike when barbecues come out – experimental foodies would relish the opportunity to try more exotic-tasting flavours alongside their barbecued protein or vegetables. “Quite apart from the marinating possibilities, barbecues provide the perfect opportunity to dollop several Tracklements on your plate and spread or slather a different relish on every mouthful,” says Becky. “It’s this unique sense of ‘a bit here and a bit there’ that gives the opportunity to try bolder, zingier flavours – enter Tracklements’ summer special edition Coriander & Chilli Chutney with its burst of bold, fragrant heat which makes it perfect on barbecued lamb steaks.”