Competitive Commodity Insights: Five ideas to extend the grilling season

How to keep customers grilling into fall

Summer has ended, but that doesn't mean the grilling season has to. Here are five ways to extend the grilling season and the high-margin commodity sales that accompany it:

Believe it. Retailers themselves may fall into habit of respecting season over consumer preference when they automatically abandon grilling features once the traditional three-month summer window closes. But they do so at their risk. According to CPG sales and marketing agency Acosta, more than six in 10 surveyed shoppers grill at least eight months out of the year, and nearly one in four grill year-round. Thirty-nine percent of all U.S. shoppers say they used a grill for meal preparation in the past six months, Acosta shows.

Promote it. That extended grilling season means extended opportunity for promoting grillable sales and educating shoppers on unique applications, says Acosta's Marianne Quinlan-Sacksteder. “Grilling is popular as a year-round cooking method, so food manufacturers and retailers can promote grilling items in the spring, fall and winter – beyond the traditional Memorial Day to Labor Day timeframe – and still drive sales,” she urges.

Respect it. "A person could even argue that autumn’s eating is better: It is the harvest season, for crying out loud," Washington Post food columnist Jim Shahin wrote in a glorification of fall grilling. "Before we started trucking and flying everything from everywhere, obliterating seasons, the natural foods of autumn were cabbage, potatoes, onions, beets, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, garlic (yes, garlic), Hatch chilies, potatoes, all sorts of squashes and tomatillos, not to mention apples and pears. They take to a little fire and smoke just as those summer gems do," he writes.

That appeal to the tradition of fall outdoor cooking and smoking opens numerous opportunities for the retailer. Burgers still top Acosta's list with 80 percent of grillers cooking these in the last six months. Chicken came in second with 77 percent, followed by beef steak and hotdogs or sausages, which 66 percent of US grillers cook. Acosta notes that as Millennial dads shoulder more of the shopping role traditionally held by women in the household, grilling moves forward in cooking method preference, as a greater proportion of men than women choose to grill over other methods.

Adapt it. Meahwhile, Acosta's survey also found Americans are branching out and grilling more non-traditional fare, like seafood, at 31 percent; vegetables, at 46 percent; and fruit, at 10 percent. Adding warmer fall tastes to traditional fare can adapt the summer meal to the cool autumn by adding chutneys and salsas, for example--two additions that benefit from the added flavor of the grill. Even pizza, which not only benefits in flavor from grilling but becomes a communal event around the hearth. Adaptation also applies beyond food choices to venue, too: Think Thanksgiving meal preparation and tailgating opportunities brought on by football season's beginning and baseball's post-season.

Spice it up. The cooler evenings of fall invite the opportunity to try something different on the grill from duck to ham. Citrus slices on top, liquor-based marinades and low smokey heat over flavored wood chips can all spice up grill staples with some drama. The Washington Post's Shahin, for instance, suggests wood-smoked poached pears in red wine, orange and vanilla syrup or smoky green apple salsa verde.

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