Summer Grilling Plans are S-m-o-k-i-n-g!
By Lisa White
Promotional assistance for retailers targeting the lucrative summer grilling months help to drive sales of retail beef, pork, and poultry.
It seems that these days, Americans are looking for just about any excuse to fire up the grill. The Weber GrillWatch Survey of 1,203 grill owners throughout the United States relays that 71 percent of consumers grill at least once a week. What’s more, 72 percent of those surveyed indicate they prefer grilling outdoors as opposed to cooking indoors. And more Americans are grilling during summer holidays, with 89 percent cooking out on Independence Day, 75 percent on Labor Day, and 70 percent on Memorial Day.
So it’s no wonder that grilling has become the focus for many retailers’ meat promotions during the temperate days of summer.
Consequently, the various protein associations have once again begun gearing up for this profitable time of year, offering retailers assistance in marketing meat for the grilling season.
Beefing up for summer
Randy Irion, director of retail marketing for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA), based in Centennial, CO, says the association is very anxious to begin its grilling promotions for 2005. “We are making presentations right now to the retailers we approached last year,” he says. This marketing program will run from May to Labor Day. “We have chosen that period for the last two years, which is long enough to cover the bulk of the season, but short enough to keep the focus on the grilling theme during that period.”
The NCBA began its national summer grilling promotion in 2003 to take advantage of the increase in beef supply during the warmer months.
“Historically, beef supplies are greatest in the summer,” explains Irion. “We thought, if we’re going to target promotional budgets to any time of the year, that’s when we should do it.” He adds that the retail community also is predisposed to selling beef in the summer.
As it did last year, NCBA will partner with A-1 Steak Sauce and its Build a Better Burger promotion, in addition to Sutter Home wine.
“The NCBA is doing a lot with A-1 to promote beef this year, including developing two free-standing ad inserts. One will run right before Memorial Day and the other will be pre Fourth of July. Consumers will receive a dollar off beef with the purchase of A-1 Sauce,” says Irion. “We also are working on a grilling guide insert that will appear in both Midwest Living magazine and in more than two-million Kraft Food and Family magazines, in addition to being a part of A-1 store displays across the country. A-1 does a lot of point-of-purchase work during the summer months, and we’re pleased to have the opportunity to partner with them.”
Irion says the anchor for the summer grilling promotion is the NCBA’s radio ads, which provide retailers with the opportunity to tag the association’s spot, or partner with the association for airtime to promote their beef specials.
“With this arrangement, we purchase sixty seconds of spot radio time, reserving thirty seconds for a message from the NCBA and another thirty seconds for a retail partner to talk about beef specials they’re featuring. In other words, we deliver an integrated message to consumers,” he explains. The radio ads will be heard in forty-four markets across the country.
In terms of changes to this year’s beef-grilling program, Irion says, “Because our relationships with A-1 and Sutter Home are growing and evolving, the NCBA is able to take more opportunities with PR initiatives. There’s a possibility we may be doing family feature promotions together. Now that the state beef councils and retailers are aware of this partnership, the synergy [between all of us] is able to build over time.”
Past results for NCBA’s grilling program are extremely positive, Irion relays.
“Dollar sales and per-pound sales were up in the past year. When you look at the grilling index from both a dollar and per-pound standpoint, beef did extremely well during the summer period,” he adds.
Retailers, too, have expressed their approval with this program.
“Retailers have expressed much excitement for summer grilling 2005 due to the success of past years’ programs,” Irion says. “Furthering their enthusiasm is how the summer grilling promotion has developed and grown over the past few years.”
Popular pork promotions
Like the NCBA, The National Pork Board (NPB), based in Clive, IA, offers a comprehensive grilling program for retailers to take advantage of in the summer. Karen Boillot, NPB director of retail marketing, says the grilling program began six years ago with the “Where There’s Pork, There’s Fire” campaign. “Our grilling program started in mid April and runs through Labor Day,” she says. “We will continue to target the grilling months because these are critical for selling both fresh pork and ribs.”  
Although she does not anticipate a lot of changes to last year’s program, Boillot says, “Last year, we added a little more of a rib component, and we will continue with that this year. We also started expanding on the grilling platform in 2004, compared to prior years’ programs, where we mainly focused on fresh pork as a category. Instead, in 2005 we will look at actual product specific programs, such as brats on the grill, ribs on the grill, chops and even burgers. We can customize cuts and the way they’re used for retailers. This expanded program gives us added flexibility to better target retailer needs.”
NPB has a targeted account list, with four retail marketing managers that work with retailers across the country.
“They meet regularly with key accounts, holding one-on-one meetings with retailers, to lay out year-long plans. Everything we do is retailer specific, and that’s what sets us apart,” says Boillot. “Although we’ve had success with national overlays, our programs are first and foremost retail driven versus being a national overlay that gets potentially driven at the retail level.”
Close tabs are kept on the program’s success each year.
“We look at the continuing success of the prior year to see if we need to resaturate or refocus our efforts,” explains Boillot. “In 2004, the grilling promotion helped move a total of twenty-seven million pounds of fresh pork during the ‘Pork, Now That’s BBQ’ promotion. This amount incorporates retailer programs across the U.S. and represents incremental movement versus 2003 of more than five-million pounds. That’s the benchmark to determine if this promotion is still effective.”
Like the NCBA, the NPB utilizes partners for its program, including retailers, bread companies, and beverage manufacturers. “Last year we were able to do double the number of programs because our partners paid for a little more than half of the promotions. And that’s another measuring stick; the fact that partners are targeting that time period and we continue to build incremental sales,” says Boillot.
Marsh Stores, a chain of 68 supermarkets based in Indianapolis, IN, will once again take part in the NPB’s summer-grilling program. This is its third year focusing on summer pork grilling. The NPB has been instrumental in assisting with summer pork promotions, says DeWayneWulff, director of meat operations.
“Last year, we tied our promotions in with a rib festival, where we had several varieties of pork ribs at all of our locations. We also featured live radio remotes from two of our Indianapolis stores, where they had rib sampling, and we had radio ads tied in with that,” he says. The rib festival was a week-long promotion targeting Father’s Day.
Because the chain strives to improve its program each year, it is looking at doing another giveaway similar to the one that was done in 2004.
“Two of our stores hosted a consumer sweepstakes, where winners received a freezer full of pork, courtesy of Marsh Stores, the National Pork Board, and Indiana Packers,” Wulff says. The prize included pork loins, tenderloins, spare ribs, bacon, and pork butt. Point-of-sale materials were sent out prior to the event.
Although Wulff could not reveal exact numbers, he says the summer grilling promotions have definitely increased pork sales at Marsh’s stores. “The recognition we get [for these promotions] is well worth our time and effort,” he says.
Jeff Sahr, corporate director of meat and seafood at Stillwater, MN-based Cub Foods, a supermarket chain with about 75 stores in the Midwest, says his summer pork promotions have had a positive affect on sales. “We’ve seen as high as a twenty-nine percent increase in overall sales for the fresh pork category with these promotions,” he says.
This year, the retailer has partnered with Hormel, the Minnesota Pork Producers, and the National Pork Board to purchase an H2 Hummer, which it will give away at the Minnesota State Fair around Labor Day.
“We plan to take it to our stores, holding grill-outs in the parking lots, and letting consumers know that they can win the Hummer in a drawing,” says Sahr. The Hummer will be wrapped in promotional material for Cub Foods, Hormel, and the Pork Board. “Although it will mainly be used for promoting pork grilling, the Hummer may show up at other events. We have sixty of our stores involved in the giveaway.”
Sahr says this year’s promotion stems from a successful Harley Davidson motorcycle giveaway that was tied in to the pork grilling program two years ago.
In addition, Cub ties in newspaper ads, radio spots, and billboard ads with its summer grilling program.
“We also have recipes available in the stores,” Sahr says.
Poultry on the grill
When it comes to pushing summer grilling, The National Chicken Council (NCC) in Washington, D.C., offers a number of materials to retailers.
“We offered a special kit last year on grilling,” says Richard Lobb, NCC communications director. “Because summer is a peak time for chicken grilling, really from Memorial Day through Labor Day, these promotions help feed the demand and keep interest growing.”
A big push that started in 2004 is expected to carry over this year. The NCC is working in conjunction with famous cookbook authors Bill and Cheryl Jamison, who developed a kit aimed at consumers on how to marinade, sauce and season grilled chicken.
The National Turkey Federation also targets the summer months with its “June is Turkey Lovers’® Month” promotion, which marks its 11th year. This campaign focuses on turkey products, including tenderloins, cutlets, boneless breasts, and drumsticks, for grilling.
“Turkey products are versatile because they can be served as is, or seasoned to suit anyone’s taste,” says Stephanie Richardson, spokesperson for the Barbecue Industry Association. “And, they are convenient because they cook so quickly on the grill. When you consider that just more than half of all barbecue grills are used year-round, it’s easy to see why turkey on the grill is a natural.”
With summer just around the corner, gearing up for grilling programs provides retailers with a jump-start on this profitable meat-selling season. NP
Lisa White is a free-lance writer based in Illinois.