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'Staycation’ trend offers retailers promotion opportunities

Grill Column

Millions of American families are foregoing a vacation this year. They are opting instead, though not always by choice, for a “staycation” — a more affordable vacation spent at or near home.

Outdoor grill with veggies
Cooking outdoors prevents heating up the kitchen. Grilled meals can be festive, healthy and easy on the budget by combining smaller amounts of meat, chicken or seafood with lots of colorful veggies or fruit.

Uncertainties about the economic outlook, the pain of $4-plus a gallon gas, rapidly escalating food prices, falling home values and a faltering stock market are spurring retrenchment in consumer spending. While foregoing weekend road trips or jetting to far off places, families staying home may think about some small investments that will make entertaining easier and more fun.

Tight budgets present both challenges and sales opportunities for retailers. Ask yourself if you’re prepared to take advantage of the staycation trend.

Just prior to Memorial Day, I heard a radio reporter ask consumers what they would be doing to celebrate Memorial Day. To my dismay, one man replied, “I won’t even get my grill out of storage this year. With food prices skyrocketing, barbecuing is just too expensive.” But as you all know, barbecuing is an ideal way to make virtually any food taste terrific, including many less expensive cuts of meat.

Chris Magnotti, a dynamic Midwest grill distributor, said selling grills is all about comfortably discussing cooking with your customers. Your salespeople also need to cook on the grills you sell, know them well and be able to carry on a convincing conversation about why the customer is going to love cooking on this grill.

The news recently has concentrated on the outrageous prices at the pump, but the U.S. Labor Department says the average household spends three times as much of their budget for food (13%) as for gasoline (4%). BIGResearch recently found 47% of people surveyed said the price of groceries is influencing their budgets “very much.”

So with shoppers cautious about spending, you need to help them justify expenditures in your store. If they are going to be staycationing, you can suggest one-time investments that will make life in the backyard more convenient, more fun and affordable. Edit out the italicized “sell them” portion of these ideas, print them and hand out to customers to show them you’re conscious of their needs.

Hot tips for affordable barbecues

  • Cooking outdoors prevents heating up the kitchen and therefore reduces air conditioning expenditures.

  • Barbecues are fun for the entire family so invite the kids. It is inexpensive entertainment and no one needs to hire a babysitter.

  • Share the costs. Invite a number of neighborhood families and ask each of them to bring one dish. You provide the meat and beverages.

  • Serve kabobs often as they require less meat and stretch the budget. Kabobs add welcome variety to meals, since shrimp, scallops, chicken, pork or beef can be combined with an endless number of vegetables or even some fruits. Encourage customers to buy skewers and perhaps a kabob cookbook.

  • Kingsford chimney starter
    Invest in a chimney starter to light barbecue briquttes.

    Stirfrys are colorful, healthful and stretch the meat budget. Sprinkle on dry seasonings and the food will absorb flavor from the smoke. Remind customers they will need a grill wok but they’ll make good use of it year-round. A wok cookbook will also be helpful.

  • Share this budget stretcher – Cut acorn or other varieties of squash in half and fill the center with a meat mixture similar to meatloaf. Cook indirectly in the covered grill until squash is tender and meat is thoroughly cooked. Regular meatloaf also takes on a distinctive flavor when cooked in a covered grill.

  • Encourage customers to buy a smoker. Smokers provide ample space to cook a number of meals at once. Smokers transform even the tougher cuts of meat – such as a beef brisket, pork shoulder or butt – and render them fork tender with intense flavor, something anyone would be proud to serve to guests. Adding a turkey breast will ensure several more quick-to-prepare meals for the week ahead.

  • Most everyone loves chicken, and a beer-can chicken is spectacular. It is so moist and flavorful either family or guests will make quick work of it. You should sell customers two stand-up roasters as they will often need to cook two chickens. Steven Raichlen’s beer can chicken cookbook will inspire many variations of this repast.

  • Check weekly grocery specials and when cuts of meat that are good for barbecuing are on sale, stock up for several meals and freeze what you don’t cook. Take advantage of coupons. Develop a tie-in with a local butcher shop and provide a coupon toward a meat purchase with the purchase of a grill above a certain price point.

  • Grilled salads are wonderful summer fare. Promote a porcelain fish grid for easy grilling of shrimp, salmon, halibut, trout or your favorite fish. Most everyone will benefit from a good cookbook for grilling fish. The fish grid is also ideal for cooking small foods that might otherwise fall through the cooking grid – sliced onions or eggplant, shrimp, mushrooms, scallops, etc.

  • Chickens on vertical roasters
    Chicken cooked in the grill on a vertical roaster turns out beautifully burnished, moist, juicy and quite elegant to serve for family or guests. Remind customers the vertical roaster is a good investment because chicken is relatively easy on their food budget and can be served often by varying the seasonings.

    Marinating less tender cuts of meat will help tenderize and add wonderful flavor. Carry a variety of marinades and sauces to make it easy for consumers to marinate. Dry rubs also can turn any piece of meat into gourmet fare, so be sure to have ample varieties on hand and encourage customers to experiment.

  • Encourage the use of thermometers to check doneness and carry several different varieties such as instant read and remote read.

  • Stock up on a good selection of wood chips so consumers can impart delicious flavor without adding fat or calories to foods.

  • Suggest a charcoal chimney starter for quick lighting of briquettes. This one-time investment will eliminate the need to buy lighter fluid or solid lighter products.

  • Consider selling charcoal or propane tank refills as a loss leader to generate traffic, especially around the holidays. Chances are, customers looking for either of these will make additional purchases once inside the store.

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