Tart, sweet, “umami,” savory, mild, fiery hot. Barbecue foods impact a range of sensory experiences. Add in their ability to stir memories of a favorite comfort food or to arouse excitement for a Thai, Turkish or other exotic foreign fare and it is no wonder that food manufacturers turn out barbecue-flavored foods in virtually every product category.

A large number of barbecue-flavored foods are being introduced into the North American marketplace, particularly in the sauce, seasoning and processed meat categories. The following is a compilation of a few market forecasts and new product trends in the world of barbecued products.

A Market Indicator

Barbecuing as a cooking technique combines American's love of the outdoors with the love of convenience. The volume of grills sold is a market indicator that drives BBQ sauce sales and, in part, the types of sauces and marinades sold.

According to exclusive consumer research by Mintel International (Chicago), some 73% of Americans own a grill. The outdoor barbecue market, estimated at $3.93 billion, can be segmented into charcoal, gas, and electric grills—as well as barbecue equipment accessories. This translates into an 11.6% growth in constant prices from 1998 to 2003, largely due to increased home ownership and the resulting purchase of home goods.

The outdoor barbecue market is susceptible to the vagaries of the economy, as a 6.2% decrease in sales in 2001 showed, with the events of September 11 leading consumers both to stay home when many outdoor barbecue products were on sale, and to rethink larger ticket-item purchases. Consumer spending rebounded in 2002 (with growth of 5.6%), as consumers embraced a “nesting” trend that increased the emphasis on entertaining at home and dining out less. Inclement weather impacted sales in 2003, but this trend is expected to reverse itself in 2004, as consumers continue to embrace an “outdoors living” lifestyle that lavishes attention on building a backyard getaway.

Gas grills comprise over 75% of the outdoor barbecue market, with sales growth of 10% between 1998 and 2003 due, in part, to their ease of use and clean up. Sales of charcoal grills have fallen 5% in the same time period. Electric grills comprise just over 1% of the outdoor barbecue market.

Traditionally a warm weather activity, the trend is towards grilling as a year-round endeavor. Barbecue manufacturers are making their products even easier to use and, therefore, more compelling as an everyday cooking option.

Flying Sauces

The barbecue sauce and marinade market has had its share of both packaging and formulation innovation in recent years.

For example, in mid-2003, Heinz USA (Pittsburgh) introduced EZ Marinader in Jack Daniel's Mesquite, Classico Italian Garlic & Herb, and Mr. Yoshida's Teriyaki varieties.

Consumers only need to place their choice of meat or vegetable into the flexible multi-laminate pouch containing the marinade, seal it, let it set for 30 minutes, toss out the bag and then grill the marinaded product.

Both Kraft-branded mayonnaise and Heinz ketchup have been introduced in packages that store upside down—in order for consumers to more easily dispense the high-viscosity products. However, reduced-viscosity barbecue sauces resulted in one product, Spray-BQ from William & Williams Gourmet Foods Ltd. (Port Washington, Wis.), being introduced in a spray bottle so that the sauce could be squirted onto meats on the grill. It was introduced in six flavors in 2002, including Bourbon, Brown Sugar and Smokey Bold, and retailed for $6.25 in gourmet shops.

Flights of Flavor Fantasy

Barbecue products go beyond the “flavor of the moment” to rival beverages in creativeness of flavor combinations and in their names. Last fall, Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods (Fredericksburg, Texas) introduced Texas on the Plate brand sauces with the names Big Yellowback Moppin' Sauce, Hellfire and Brimstone BBQ Sauce Purgatory Level, Ancho Chile & Honey Sauce, Bodacious Red Soppin' Sauce, Pasilla de Oaxaca Chile Sauce, and Whiskey 'n' Peaches BBQ Sauces. Super Smokers BBQ (St. Peters, Mo.) launched Mississippi Mud Sauce Marinade & Basting Sauce. And, Sable & Rosenfeld Foods (Toronto) launched gourmet marinades under the names of Tipsy BBQ (flavored with whiskey), Tipsy Jerk (flavored with rum), and Tipsy Teriyaki (flavored with sake).

Barbecue sauces themselves exhibit great regional variations (see sidebar). Recent launches of sauces have combined more traditional flavors and sweeteners such as soy sauce, smoke, molasses, honey and so on with fruits and berries.

For example, recent introductions include Sweet Mele's (Kailua, Hawaii) passion fruit, papaya and Hawaiian Beach Barbeque sauces. There is Apricot Brandy Barbecue & Grill Sauce from Wine Country Kitchens (Napa, Calif.). And, in 2001, marionberry, blueberry, and regular and extra hot raspberry sauces were introduced by SweetSides (Mission Hills, Calif.).

It will remain to be seen how aggressive other product categories will display this fusion of flavorings.

Minding Meats

As this article was being written, the first U.S. case of Mad Cow (BSE) was being confirmed. Its impact on consumers' food choices will depend, to a great extend, on how this will play out in consumer media.

Non-meat barbecued options already are available. In 2003, Portland, Ore.-based Gardenburger launched BBQ Chik'n, two chicken-free soy patties in a sweet barbecue sauce. The products are pre-cooked and can be prepared in a number of ways including by microwave, conventional oven and grill. Meat substitutes that can be prepared on the grill have been unusual, notes Lynn Dornblaser, Mintel International, but may represent a trend. Last year, Riverside, Conn.-based Quorn introduced Naked Chicken Cutlets, Beef Style Dogs and Sausage Style Links made from a microprotein. All can be prepared on the grill. Also, Lightlife Foods (parent ConAgra) recently reformulated its Smart Dogs! Line so that it could be grilled.

However, American's love of meat is unlikely to fade very soon. Pork, chicken, sausages to burgers will continue to grace picnic tables and candlelight dinner settings, especially if the items are promoted. An analysis of a 2003 Summer Grilling Promotion for the Cattlemen's Beef Board and State Beef Councils (both in Centennial, Colo.) by FreshLook Marketing Group (Chicago) showed that total beef dollar volume increased 3.4%, more than twice the rate of total meat dollar volume. Beef grilling cuts represented 68% of all beef dollar sales, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (Centennial, Colo.).

Following the Trends

For consumers who want even more convenience than gas grilling foods themselves, prepared BBQ meat products continue to populate the grocery shelves and exemplify many of today's food trends.

There are foodservice examples: Maple Leaf Consumer Foods (Mississauga, Ontario) introduced fully cooked Quick & Easy Shaved Roast Beef in Au Jus or BBQ sauce for foodservice operators in the fall of 2003. “More is more” examples: Pinnacle Foods Canada's (Mississauga) Hungry-Man Backyard Barbeque Meal contains both grilled chicken breast and a rib-shaped pork patty. Trendy flavor examples: Bryan Foods (parent company: Sara Lee Bakery-Chicago), now has Chipotle BBQ Seasoned Pork Loin. And, there is at least one functional food barbecued product that addresses a health condition (Celiac disease): TyRy's (Rocklin, Calif.) Instant Gourmet Gluten-Free Texas BBQ Chicken Meal.

It will be interesting to see what 2004 and beyond brings for the BBQ bandwagon.

For more information on the report, “Outdoor Barbecue - U.S. - November 2003,” ($2,995.00), contact Mintel International Group Ltd.; 213 W. Institute Place, Suite 208, Chicago, IL 60610; phone: 312-932-0400

Website Resources

www.nbbqa.org — National Barbecue Association, with information on March 2004 convention
www.bbqsearch.com — Site with search capabilities on barbecue topics, including recipes
http://barbeque.allrecipes.com — Section dedicated to BBQ recipes
http://bbqcentral.hypermart.net — Tips, abbreviations and recipes organized by region
www.william-williams-ltd.com — Home page for Spray-BQ product
www.fiery-foods.com — Website for Fiery Foods and BBQ magazine
www.cbbqa.com — California Barbecue Association with extensive FAQ site

Regional BBQ Biases

In a 2002 article for Mintel International's New Product News, Marty Friedman writes, “Kraft, which owns most of the barbecue sauce shelf space, has added Honey Roasted Garlic flavor to its Kraft 19-flavor Signature line and Sweet Hickory Smoke to its nine-flavor Bull's-Eye line. (Would you believe that they need to market 28 barbecue sauce variations?)”

The plethora of products may partly reflect regional preferences. An article in the May 2002 issue of Specialty Food summarizes a column from Allrecipes.com entitled, “Barbecue Sauces Across the U.S.A.” The piece makes generalities about homemade recipes in order to describe a few of the better-known regional styles as follows.

Carolinas: Thin viscosity and vinegary are the unifying characterizations of barbecue sauces from this area. In eastern North Carolina, the sauce is seasoned with black pepper, cayenne and other spices while in western North Carolina, small amounts of molasses or ketchup are added. Yellow-mustard shows up in barbecue sauces from the Columbia area of South Carolina. Further south in Georgia, the sauces are notably sweeter with brown sugar and ketchup.

Memphis: Thicker sauces with more of a ketchup/mustard blend. Dry rubs sans sauce are common on grilled products.

Kansas City: Tomato-based, sweet with some heat at times, medium to thick viscosity. This style was the basis of the first commercial barbecue sauce from Kraft Foods.

Texas: Thick with molasses, Worcestershire sauce, chili peppers and powders used, as well as ingredients such as coffee.

See also: http://bbqcentral.hypermart.net/amregions/overview.htm for an overview of regional BBQs styles in North America.