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May 24 report: at last, we grill!

In spring, a grocer’s thoughts turn to May 24th sales. Here’s how to maximize a category shoppers have been waiting for all winter

Whether known as Victoria Day or “May Two-Four,” the May 24th weekend is the unofficial start of summer in Canada.

It’s the time when grocers like Mike Pirri, manager of The Apple Market in Mississauga, Ont., shake up their product mix. “People change the way they eat once warm weather comes,” says Pirri. “They no longer want roasts and prime rib, but start looking for meat they can barbecue. So we focus more on steaks, sausages and store-made burgers, and we bring in lots of different kinds of barbecue sauces and spices. It’s a great time of year for cross-merchandising all over the store.”

Tania Goecke, marketing director of meal occasions for Canada Bread, isn’t surprised by the selection changes come May. It’s a response to how different summer Canadians are from winter Canadians. “Once the weather is nicer people change their mindset in everything from the clothes they wear to the food they eat,” says Goecke.

60% of consumers say they can’t wait to fire up the grill for outdoor cooking in May

Plus, the barbecue suddenly becomes the appliance of choice and meals are planned around it. Although the number of ingredients people use to make meals in summer versus winter doesn’t vary, the ingredients change, says Joel Gregoire, industry analyst for NPD Group. Oven-cooked comfort foods such as the casseroles, lasagne, mac ’n’ cheese and hot cereals that are popular in cool weather make way for greater usage of fresh vegetables and mayonnaise, according to NPD’s National Eating Trends database. “Proteins are best positioned to do well in the summer months,” says Gregoire.

For grocers, summer merchandising offers a huge opportunity to grab a few extra impulse sales and see basket sizes rise by a few dollars, says David Stezenko, co-owner of Quality Market in Thunder Bay, Ont. “The challenge is finding enough floor space and dealing with any of the winter items that didn’t move as planned.”

At the five Country Grocer stores located on Vancouver Island and one on Salt Spring Island, the summer season is already halfway through by May 24, says Mark Wilson, the independent chain’s operations manager. Traditional winter stock such as pastas and sauces is pared back in mid-March to make way for more barbecue sauces, condiments and salad dressings. “We really start a big push on beverages, too,” adds Wilson. “Over the past 10 years, water has been our biggest growth commodity and we merchandise it wherever we have an empty spot.”

Smoke on the wiener

Barbecue trends affect how backyard grillers shop your store. Here are some tips on current trends:

Mmm, charcoal: Though propane and natural gas remain the top fuels for backyard grilling, Mark Wilson has noticed that charcoal briquettes are a bigger seller than they used to be.

Buns ahoy: Consumers want appropriately sized buns to match the protein, says Tania Goecke, marketing director of meal occasions for Canada Bread. Introduced last year, thin buns remain popular and there’s growing demand for multigrain buns because of the healthy aspect.

Ethnic sizzle: Nearly every cuisine around the globe claims a place on the grill. Current favourites include Caribbean, Latin, Thai, Vietnamese and Indian.

Fire up fruit: “Grilled fruits are being skewered alongside meats and vegetables [and] pureed to make tenderizing marinades and chopped for salsas and relishes, says McCormick’s Douglas.

By cutting back on hot foods in the deli, the stores offer a wider selection of ready-to-eat salads and luncheon meats. With 35 display areas, including ends and the lobby, the stores use every opportunity to create displays that blend merchandise from different departments.

As Canadians anticipate the much awaited end of a long, cold winter, retailers know they can’t take Mother Nature for granted. “One of the challenges we face at the beginning of every summer is not knowing how the weather will turn out,” says Pirri. “If it’s not barbecue weather, then you may need a different approach.” Still, fingers crossed that this May Two- Four is dry, hot and profitable.

Top 4 merchandising tips

1. People go condiment crazy in summer. Grocers should go beyond the usual suspects (ketchup, mustard) and display other, higher-end condiments such as grapeseed and avocado oils, fruit vinegars, fresh olives, jarred antipasto, pickled vegetables, tapenades and herb pestos.

2. Meat and fish displays are critical to successful sales in summer months. Train staff to offer advice about how to use marinades and how to grill different cuts of meat and seafood.

3. Themed summer displays inspire impulse purchases. For example, a summer sports end aisle could include bubble gum, sports drinks, sunflower seeds (for spitting!), water bottles and energy bars.

4. Add accessories to your barbecue displays. Try meat thermometers, cedar planks for fish, barbecue skewers, utensils and lighters, disposable cutlery, plates, cups and napkins–even kids’ toys like skipping rope and sidewalk chalk.

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