THIBODAUX, La. -- As summertime approaches, retailers are stocking their meat cases with grilling items as consumers look to move their dining occasions outdoors.
According to Charles Hamblen, meat and seafood director for Rouse's Supermarket Inc. here, his chain is gearing its barbecue promotions to reflect the cultural tastes of the area.
"To the Southeast, the Louisiana area, barbecues happen every weekend basically," he said. "The weekends are built around festivals and family get-togethers."
To accommodate consumers, Rouse's offers a number of Cajun specialty meats, like chicken and beef shish kabobs, marinated steaks and green onion pork sausages.
"They don't just cook one meat on the barbecue, they do four or five meats," he said. The biggest seller continues to be country-style pork ribs.
Although the fresh meats are always popular, Rouse's also offers premarinated, heat-and-serve barbecue items, including loin ribs and some chicken cuts. But, Hamblen said, the product selection is "limited," and not as popular among Rouse's customers.
"Everybody likes to cook their own stuff," he said of his customers. "They're the barbecue experts."
Rouse's barbecue focus also lends itself to strong cross-promotional opportunities. Grouped together in its Cajun specialty meat case, grilling meats are tied in with a number of local favorites, such as hog headcheese and crawfish boudin, a mix of crawfish and rice wrapped in a sausage casing.
Barbecue season is an equally important time of year at West Point Market, based in Akron, Ohio. Among the many grilling items it merchandises are signature products that have taken center stage.
According to Nina Gionti, merchandiser and promotions coordinator, customers favor the gourmet independent's signature fresh sausages. She said the sausages are a hit because West Point uses its "own seasoning blend."
Also appearing on the grilling menu are two new kinds of specialty, grill-ready beef hamburgers, including signature mushroom burgers and basil burgers. The mushroom burger is a combination of West Point's special seasoning and ground Portabella mushrooms and onions. The basil burger combines ground beef with fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and egg.
In addition, West Point offers a signature "flat" whole chicken, that is boned and premarinated, she said. There are also four types of signature "Oven-Ready Kabobs" that come in four varieties: meat, pork, chicken and seafood. Each of the "Kabobs" are made from fresh products and dipped in West Point's own separate barbecue marinades.
Cross promoting its signature meats with specialty items is also an important focus. This includes tie-ins with its own barbecue sauces, including its signature"Sassy" barbecue sauce and its signature "Hawaiian" barbecue sauce.
Rounding out the fresh-meat item case is a full-line of oven-ready meat products.
"We do our own [signature] pork tenderloins stuffed with Andouille sausage that we prepare ourselves and the customer takes home to finish off," she said, noting that cooking instructions are always included with each product.
The smaller stores of Trader Joe Co., based in South Pasadena, Calif., require creative merchandising and a solid knowledge of customer likes, according to Chris Condit, senior meat and dairy buyer for the chain, which operates stores averaging 10,000 square feet.
"We don't have a lot of space in our stores, so we don't carry a whole 30-feet meat section," he said. "It's maybe 10 feet and its just a real tight assortment of really high-volume items."
According to Condit, a number of a summer-oriented items will be merchandised, including its everyday signature ground-beef patties, as well as salmon burgers, and split chicken breasts with the bone and the skin. Chicken thigh-and-leg combos will also be offered, "because people tend to barbecue those a bit more," he said.
This summer, Trader Joe will also be test-marketing two choice grade meats, including whole ribeyes and 2- to 3-pound whole steak roasts, for which customers can dictate the thickness of the cut, said Condit.
Another summer product being offered is fresh salmon fillets, merchandised in the meat case.
A number of in-store displays will help cross merchandise these items with other summertime-related items, he said, including Trader Joe's branded chips, salsa dips, sodas and other barbecue-type food favorites.
At Cox's Foodarama, Houston, spring and summer customers find premarinated, precooked meats that range in price from $5.99 to $6.99, said a store associate.
Likewise, Cub Foods, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based franchise of Cub Foods, Stillwater. Minn., is also promoting a well-known branded barbecue program.
It carries a line furnished by Lloyd's Barbecue Co., a General Mills-owned company based in St. Paul, Minn., that includes various items that are premarinated and precooked.
Aside from Lloyd's precooked products, Cub Foods also has found success merchandising fresh meats during the grilling season. Of all the fresh items it offers, country-style pork ribs is the biggest seller, said the associate.