Summer is coming!

The countdown to warmer weather is on. Here are some ideas to make sales sizzle during the season


“Barbecue season means more to Canadians than it does to Texans,” says Mario Fiorucci, founder of Toronto-based organic meat retailer The Healthy Butcher. It’s an incendiary statement, but he stokes its flames with common sense. “When you’re covered in snow for months and the sun finally starts shining, you enjoy every minute of it.” Here’s a look at some of the key opportunities to fire up sales in the months ahead.

Its alternatives notwithstanding, meat continues to rule, with Nielsen reporting 22% growth in unit sales for beef in the latest 52 weeks. Summer’s bestselling proteins, says Fiorucci, are steaks, sausages and, of course, burgers. But the nose-to-tail movement of the last several years continues, and consumers’ sense of adventure has lifted cuts like flank, flat iron and tri tip out of the basement. Same goes for grass-fed options, which offer three times as many omega-3 fatty acids as their grain-fed counterparts.

Just ask anyone at Beretta Farms, the Ontario organic meat producer that’s launching a grass-fed 100% Canadian beef program this summer. Spurred on by positive market tests, Beretta will introduce four main SKUs: lean ground beef, striploin steak, ribeye steak and a stewing beef.

What else is growing in this category? A crop of plant-based proteins, of course. Think featuring a packaging-free portable campfire. “It’s important for retailers to have options to plastic,” says Erin Jane, grocery merchandising coordinator at Buy-Low Foods in Vancouver. “People don’t want to buy a bunch of disposable stuff that’s going into a landfill.”

At her store, such mindful innovation lends itself well to “pick of the month” territory, where the store calls attention to natural, organic and local products and backs the effort up with social media and signage. “It’s an opportunity to have consumers try products from smaller companies that they might have missed because they’re not national brands.”

On hand to wash down all the summer fare is an ever-growing selection of liquids—both of the boozy and non-alcoholic varieties.

One challenge of this category is the bulkiness of these products. This season’s mini-can push, however, takes a poke at the bulk. A freestanding end display featuring these and summer staples—tomato, cranberry and Clamato juice—should be situated close to dedicated barbecuing and entertaining displays, says Hanna. But space requirements call for selectivity: “Stick to trendy items.”

Innovation is hopping in the alcohol category. Boozy blends will be big this summer, predicts George Parry, key account manager for Ontario retail at Moosehead Breweries. Think Radlers (where beer meets grapefruit juice in equal proportions), Big Tiki (a Hawaiian Punch-infused lager from Moosehead’s Hop City Brewery) and Twisted Teas (a flavoured beer made with malt alcohol that’s half lemonade, half iced tea).

Sour beers are another growing seasonal segment, and ciders are consistent summer winners—especially in Western Canada, says Parry. Moosehead, whose semi-sweet Angry Orchard is the No. 2 cider in North America, will enhance the line this summer with Angry Orchard Rosé. Rosé in general will be “a huge trend this summer,” Parry predicts, also making an appearance in seltzer waters like Truly Rosé, available in Western Canada and Quebec.

The challenge for merchandising alcohol is the requirement that it abide provincial standards, which vary wildly countrywide (with many provinces not permitting alcohol sales in grocery stores at all). In Ontario, for example, regulations are strict when it comes to the location of alcoholic beverage displays in the store—all alcohol must be kept to the same section, which limits opportunities for cross-promotion.

Where possible, however, retailers should try hooking alcohol with food, pairing beers with meat or charcuterie boards and offering discounts on related products, like buns.

Cheese is such an obvious summer player, given its enduring marriage to grilled items like burgers and the entertainment opportunities that spring from its many varieties. This summer, Agropur is launching products specifically tailored for the season, including marinated grilling cheese for the barbecue and salad-friendly goat cheese. Isabelle Méplon, manager of digital and content strategy for Agropur’s Canadian operations, suggests that retailers try cross-merchandising cheese in other departments in the store such as meat (grilling cheese and slices), produce (goat cheese) and bakery (cheese platters).

At Summerhill Market, co-owner Christy McMullen encourages consumers to try “fancier cheeses” on burgers by cross-promoting the meat with Gouda, brie and Emmenthal. And no one should overlook the humble bun, which, this year, says McMullen, consumers are asking more of than ever. Look for potato buns, pretzel buns and even buns that double as waffles and pancakes.

But all of these ideas would light up even more, in the eyes of consumers, with an on-site open-fire grill. Supermarkets should host barbecues regularly to spark consumer interest in grilling. “Grocers don’t realize the power of the tactile and taste connection enough,” says Beretta Farms’ founder and brand ambassador Cynthia Beretta. She thinks grocers should host them all summer—and with manufacturer specialists instead of demo companies, to take advantage of the former’s superior product knowledge.

Above all, retailers looking to sell the season need to push the virtues of eating at home over going out. People can get intimidated when it comes to grilling, says Beretta, and Canadian grocers can play a part in allaying their anxieties. “If the retailer could make it a more welcoming and inviting experience, that might change.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s March/April 2019 issue.