Creating Tailgating Momentum

Sausage & Avocado SausagePhoto Courtesy Of California Avocado Commission

Design displays to capitalize on this lucrative segment.

The produce departments at Rice Epicurean Markets in Houston, Michael’s Fresh Market in Naperville, IL, and Georgetown Natural Foods Market in Indianapolis, are open to the potential for marketing items in a tailgating theme.


Avocado Grilling

Jan DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission suggests a stadium-snacking station or party tray section in the produce department featuring guacamole with veggie and salty-snack dippers.

“We haven’t done it, but wouldn’t rule it out,” says Lisa Peterson, produce manager at Georgetown Natural Foods.

The Tailgating Industry Association, located in Coral Gables, FL, estimates that $35 billion is spent on tailgating food and beverages each year.

Further proof of tailgating’s growing popularity is the Food Network’s four-week series, “Tailgate Warriors” with famed chef Guy Fieri. In this reality series, two teams create two appetizers, one entrée, two sides and one dessert in an hour. These meal creations are judged by a three-person panel and scored on taste, creativity, difficulty and presentation.

Tailgating provides an opportunity for retailers in nearly all departments, including produce. According to the 26th annual “GrillWatch Survey” (conducted by KeyStat Marketing on behalf of grill giant, Weber), it’s more important for tailgaters to bring food and a grill to their parking lot party (79 percent and 76 percent respectively), than to actually have tickets to the game (44 percent).

The Likely Culprits

There are many factors that play into the choices for tailgating. These include convenience, value, indulgence and healthy options.

“Consumers want something that is going to satisfy their cravings but takes little or no time to prepare,” says Tristan Simpson, chief marketing officer of Ready Pac Foods, Irwindale, CA. “And, while they often look for the more affordable option when it comes to food, today’s consumers are, in fact, willing to pay for a more premium product offering. Many consumers are also looking for healthier and fresher options, but they want a little indulgence at the same time.”
Typically, the most popular produce items that consumers bring to tailgating events tend to be those that require little prep, such as pre-cut carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and celery.

Those with portable grills also seek produce items that can be quickly cooked, such as eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onions.

“Grilling accentuates the sweetness inherent in fruit and adds a delicious smokiness to vegetables,” says CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing at Dole Fresh Vegetables, Monterey, CA. “Consumers are starting to discover the amazing flavors that are only possible from grilling fresh produce.”

Companies such as Ready Pac offer single-serve, portable options, such as salads and snack cups, to help complete a tailgate meal.

“Using Del Monte fresh-cut fruit and vegetables as an appetizer, side dish or grilling item is especially popular during tailgating season,” says Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing at Del Monte Fresh Produce, based in Coral Gables, FL. “These products are ready-to-eat, available in convenient packaging, and can serve large crowds.”

Tailgaters also seek products that can easily be carried to the picnic site, and packaging that does not require transferring the product into another container.

Del Monte has fresh-cut grill trays and kabob kits for such events, which can be taken from the package directly to the grill for cooking.

“Corn, avocados and Portobello mushrooms also can be easily grilled on site,” says Samantha McCaul, marketing manager at Concord Foods Inc., located in Brockton, MA.

Other popular tailgating appetizers, sides and ingredient options sourced from the produce department include prepared guacamole and salsa; cole slaw; potato salad; and lettuce wraps.

Targeting tailgaters looking for quick meal and snack options that are affordably priced and convenient, Salinas, CA-based Mann Packing recently introduced a line of snacking trays. Mann’s Snacking Favorites Vegetable Trays product line includes Veggie Ranch, Veggies 4 Kidz, Cheddar Trail, Veggie Hummus, Organic Veggies, Cheddar Pretzel, and Honey Turkey Cheddar.

These fresh produce items that are easy to transport and others that can be prepared prior to the tailgating event are popular with those looking to eat healthier on the go.

“For those grilling burgers or sandwiches, avocados are an easy way to take a tailgate to the next level,” says Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing at Mission Produce, Inc., headquartered in Oxnard, CA. “And guacamole makes a great appetizer or side, and can also be substituted for sliced avocados on burgers and sandwiches.”

Regardless of the venue, one of the biggest influencers of produce purchasing today is whether the product is locally grown. As a result, what is in season locally will have a greater chance of being taken along to a tailgating event.

It’s important to note consumers are getting more creative in terms of grilling. For example, avocados are becoming a more popular choice, along with typical picnic produce items like corn and potatoes.

“As interest in eating healthier grows, Pinterest boards for tailgating are showing grilled veggie kabobs and lots of fresh salads, along with the ubiquitous pepperoni covered, football-shaped cheese balls,” says Jan DeLyser, vice president marketing at the California Avocado Commission (CAC), located in Irvine, CA. “One fun idea that can be prepared in advance and carried to the site is stadium snacking stations or party trays featuring a guacamole football field in the center, surrounded by veggie and salty snack dippers in the stands.”

Trends For Tailgating

The past few decades spurred a full-on revolution in consumers’ approach to food. Mindsets shifted toward a desire for fresh, simple and less processed options. What some skeptics initially Grilled Chicken Salad Kitclaimed was a fad is, in fact, accelerating and growing, with Millennials in particular driving the desire for healthy, fresh and clean.

As a result, consumers are looking beyond the ordinary when it comes to grilling at tailgating events, seeking both fruits and vegetables.

“For example, we’ve seen popularity in grilled pineapple and consumers are also grilling half heads of Romaine lettuce for a little char on their Caesar salad for flavor,” says Simpson of Ready Pac. “They are also experimenting with grilling kale, one of the fastest growing salad ingredients in the Midwest, South and Northeast regions.”

Products such as Del Monte’s fresh-cut kabob mixes, which may include extra sweet pineapple, green, yellow and red peppers, grape tomatoes, and red onions, are cut into pieces that can slide onto a skewer to grill with meats. Its fresh-cut sliced tomatoes and onions also can be added as toppings to burgers and sandwiches.

In addition, while some exotic foods have been widely integrated into everyday American menus, a variety of international cuisines are increasingly popular with the tailgating crowd.

“A very large portion of Americans are familiar with German, Italian, Spanish and Asian cuisine, such as Japanese, Mandarin, Szechwan and Chinese as well as Indian and Mediterranean and Cajun/Creole and Jamaican food from the Caribbean,” says Arias. “The diverse cultures of the United States are the very reason for the popularity of these cuisines, and as the country grows more culturally diverse each year, so too does the cuisine at tailgate events.”

Many younger consumers are also actively seeking healthier variations of traditional dishes at tailgating parties, which include more salads, fresh produce, healthy grains and the addition of zesty foods.

“This important age group played an important role in the rising popularity of various healthy exotic cuisines at tailgate parties, which include fresh ingredients that require little preparation,” says Arias. “This diverse population is now introducing a fusion of cuisines that are served by tailgaters at various sporting events and other cultural activities.”

Convenience Within The Segment‭ ‬

With this in mind, this year Dole is launching its Chef’s Choice Salad Kits, which combine mini Romaine lettuce with its signature dressing and toppings. This includes step-by-step instructions on the package and is available in Caesar and Tuscan varieties.

“For store and produce managers, Chef’s Choice represents an exciting new addition to the produce department, elevating commodity lettuce into a new sub-segment with a higher value that can offer incremental sales potential and expanded consumer usage occasions,” says Arias.

Because consumers are looking for simple meal solutions and to prepare meals that include fewer steps and ingredients, Concord Foods has been developing products with simple instructions and limited ingredients.

Tailgating Party Trays

Another benefit to promoting tailgating in the produce department is incorporating fruits and
vegetables into the overall retailer’s tailgating promotion to increase basket size.

Taking garlic from an ingredient to a condiment with added convenience as the goal, Orlando, FL-based Spice World introduced garlic in a squeeze container, which can be positioned around tailgating displays in the produce department. The company also recently introduced ginger in a squeeze container.

“Our value-added garlic and ginger lines provide the means to upscale the tailgating culinary experience,” says Louis Hymel, Spice World’s vice president of procurement and operations. “Ginger can be used in many recipes, as a dip or tableside, while garlic on chicken wings is a popular tailgating item.”

Some of the upcoming trends might not necessarily be about developing new products or expanding the variety of products but instead will focus on continuing with current product offerings and diversifying what is available. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as creating fusion condiments/toppings for traditional dishes; naturally infused beverages, such as water or soda water with fruits or vegetables; and providing gluten-free options by substituting buns with healthier alternatives.

“For example, fusion condiments/toppings include kimchi-style radish, tajin flavored pickled cucumbers, infused water with pre-blend cucumbers/lemon juice/lime juice, sliders substituting eggplant or lettuce wraps for buns and even using eggplant as a serving plate,” says Sarah Pau, director of marketing at Pure Hothouse Foods Inc., based in Leamington, Ontario, Canada.

Another benefit to promoting tailgating in the produce department is incorporating fruits and vegetables into the overall retailer’s tailgating promotion to increase basket size.

“A consumer may still want to include the two for $5 bags of chips in their tailgating purchase, but if they have the opportunity to include a $17.99 fresh-cut produce party platter, it’s a win all the way around,” says DeLyser of CAC.

“Merchandising secondary displays of avocados with other guacamole fixings like tomatoes, onions and chiles next to soda or beer displays can lead to incremental purchases. Likewise, POS in the produce department with grilling and tailgating entertaining ideas encourage higher basket rings.”

With snacking considered the fourth meal, and since many tailgaters graze as they party, produce snacks and portable dish ideas make sense. “Some of my favorites include layered salads in clear plastic cups with lids,” says DeLyser.

Snack-size main dishes, such as sliders, continue to be popular, as do foods on sticks.

Pero Family Farms’ mini sweet peppers are geared for tailgates, since these items can be grilled, eaten as a side dish or used as a sandwich topper. “The natural sugars and flavors come out on the grill,” says Scott Seddon, brand manager of the Delray Beach, FL-based company. “This line is available in 8-ounce or 1- or 2-pound bags.”

Expanding Opportunity

Consumers are willing to pay more money for healthier and fresher options, especially if the quality of ingredients is higher.

Organic, vegan and gluten-free options are also top of mind for tailgating consumers looking to eat healthier or those with dietary restrictions.

“Retailers need to understand that today’s consumer isn’t just looking for the easiest option to put together a healthy dinner,” says Simpson of Ready Pac. “They want ingredients that satisfy their need for good tasting, healthy and fresh food.”

Along with expanding into healthier fare, ethnic foods are becoming a more common addition to tailgating menus.

Companies such as Ready Pac Foods are incorporating more internationally inspired items that can be included in tailgating displays, such as Jamaican Jerk Style Hemp Caesar, Asian Style Chopped Salad and a Chopped Thai Style Crunch Grilled Chicken Salad Kit.

“Some that are particularly suited for grilling include Mexican and Mediterranean cuisines,” says DeLyser. “Here in the West, grilled Carne Asada and tacos topped with salsa and avocado are very common. Mediterranean kabobs and make-ahead salads with grains are perfect for tailgating and can elevate the experience.”

Retailers can best position these items in-store for optimal sales by incorporating eye-catching point of sale on shelves, in-store demos and by cross-merchandising. Improved labeling information about the product on-pack is also a sales booster.

“We also encourage retailers to promote grilling and fresh-cut use on their social media pages during tailgating season,” says Christou of Del Monte. “Our category managers and merchandisers are in constant communication with our retailers and their produce personnel to communicate the best strategies for driving produce sales based on consumer demand.”

An increasing number of stores is expanding the linear footage of produce at the expense of other departments to emphasize healthy eating and respond to the demand for fresh items. These retailers can also increase sales of these items by utilizing sports-themed secondary displays.

“We’re seeing more retailers incorporate summer-themed displays in the produce department, which give consumers ideas for cookouts and tailgating,” says Seddon of Pero Family Farms. “It’s important to support this merchandising with signage and point of sale displays.”

Spice World offers various displays for its squeeze garlic and ginger lines geared for different times of the year. “We also offer displays specifically for tailgating,” says Hymel. “Retailers are the experts in throwing together all that’s needed for these events, whether it’s corn on the cob or vine ripe tomatoes, to increase incremental sales and boost profits.”

With more items in the display, instead of buying one product, customers are encouraged to by two or three to use in a tailgating party.

There are other effective methods to encourage incremental tailgating sales, and it pays to remember the basics.

“During tailgating season, retailers should make sure prominent displays are created in the produce department with popular items like avocados, tomatoes and dip mixes,” says Concord Foods’ McCaul. “Signage is very important and can encourage impulse shoppers.”

Demos visually give consumers a better perspective of what their creation will become, while recipe cards add ideas consumers might not think about.

Cross-promotions also can be beneficial. “For example, pairing our gourmet baby cucumbers near dips or coolers that can be part of a tailgating event is effective,” says Hothouse Foods’ Pau.

Tailgating consumers are looking for memorable experiences, so the key question is what are they going to enjoy making and sharing? For some, just being able to pick up a prepared tray is all that’s needed, while others are seeking the traditional grilling experience. Providing ideas and merchandising with usage suggestions can help.

“Of course, creative merchandising and sourcing the best local produce is the best bet for in-store,” says DeLyser of the CAC. “Beyond that, retailers need to be part of consumer conversations, which are increasingly occurring in the digital space. In my opinion, fresh produce fits those conversations better than any other department, because it can be wrapped into conversations about locally grown, freshness, health and nutrition, culinary adventures and more.”

The best way for retailers to help expand the bandwidth for produce is to continue promoting new usage ideas and dayparts where fresh produce can be integrated.

“We work closely with retailers to encourage in-store marketing and merchandising that emphasizes healthy eating and snacking as well as the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Arias of Dole Fresh Vegetables.

“Also, since shoppers are drawn into a beautiful produce section, our best advice to maximize salad and bulk fruits and vegetable sales is to keep the produce and packaged salad department stocked with a robust display of fresh, colorful produce. This is definitely important during the tailgate season and other key occasions when consumers are looking for fresh produce for quick recipes or healthy snack options.”