By Lisa Readie Mayer
Like eating chocolate on Valentine’s Day and drinking (green) beer on St. Patrick’s Day, some holidays are made for grilling and barbecuing. It probably won’t come as a surprise that, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s (HPBA) 2017 research study, 73% of consumers grill on Independence Day (4th of July), 60% on Memorial Day, and 58% on Labor Day. These summertime events go with barbecuing like peanut butter goes with jelly.
But there is a calendar full of other less-obvious holidays and celebrations that would also make ideal tie-ins for barbecue promotions. For 60 years, Chase’s Calendar of Events has compiled a list of approximately 12,500 annual holidays, historical milestones, festivals, sporting events, and food holidays around which marketing promotions could be developed. From National Apple Month (October) to National Zucchini Day (August 8), there is a holiday or happening nearly every day of the year into which savvy barbecue retailers can tap.
Some of these occasions might be clever tie-ins that retailers can use for marketing promotions, cooking classes, and events, or to generate media publicity, or simply to inspire content and recipes for social media posts. However you use them, holiday-themed promotions can help attract customers, increase grilling occasions, extend the outdoor cooking season, and grow sales of grills, fuels and accessories.
Barbecue Holiday Promotions
Many years ago, the Barbecue Industry Association, the trade organization that eventually merged with hearth and patio trade groups to become the HPBA, declared the month of May as National Barbecue Month. The event is designed to kick off the start of the peak grilling “season,” and is still celebrated annually by the HPBA, and savvy barbecue retailers everywhere.
The month-long celebration is an ideal news “hook” to generate local television, radio and newspaper coverage. Retailers could propose National Barbecue Month segments where they, as barbecue experts, would discuss the latest grills and accessories; provide grill-cleaning tips to get ready for the season; demonstrate new recipes and techniques; or discuss the growing popularity of outdoor kitchens and Outdoor Rooms.
At Backyard Barbecue Store Dan Marguerite demonstrates on a Big Green Egg.
The HPBA has developed social media campaigns and contests timed for National Barbecue Month that retailers can use in stores and on their own social media pages (information is available at www.hpba.org under the “Consumer Education” tab). Dealers can keep the party going virtually every day of National Barbecue Month with promotions that tie in with other complementary foods or events, including Cinco de Mayo (May 5), National Shrimp Day (May 10), National Craft Beer Week (third week of May), National Hamburger Day (May 28), and National Brisket Day (also May 28).
The HPBA also has created other promotions to help extend the barbecue season. Its winter barbecuing promotion, “Wintercue: There’s Snow Reason Not to Barbecue,” features an Instagram photo contest, recipes, and cold-weather-grilling tips that retailers can incorporate into their own marketing plans. The promotion is a fun way to remind customers to keep cooking-out year round. (For more info visit www.winterbarbecuing.com.)
The HPBA’s “Barbecue Your Breakfast” campaign encourages consumers to cook their breakfast on the grill at least one Saturday or Sunday a month throughout the summer and fall seasons. Last year, barbecue guru Steven Raichlen declared breakfast on the grill one of the hottest barbecue trends, and he has included recipes such as Smoke-Roasted Eggs, Grilled French Toast, and Beer-Can Breakfast Burgers in his many books. The HPBA’s breakfast promotion aims to increase the number of grilling occasions per year and is a fantastic opportunity to sell accessories such as bacon racks, griddles, and cast-iron cookware.
From Super Bowl to New Year’s Eve, there are plenty of opportunities to tie outdoor cooking into existing calendar holidays through social media campaigns, in-store classes, recipe giveaways, and gift-giving promotions. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day already have strong connections with grilling; according to HPBA research 45% of consumers grill on Father’s Day and 34% grill on Mother’s Day. Retailers can take advantage by promoting Father/Mother-and-Child cooking classes, cooking class gift certificates, accessory gift baskets, cookbooks, and grills for gift-giving.
Thanksgiving is becoming another popular grilling occasion, with about 14% of grill owners cooking all or part of their Thanksgiving meal on a grill or smoker. Cooking classes, workshops, and demos on grilling, smoking and/or frying the Thanksgiving turkey would be popular with consumers who are interested in cooking their turkey outdoors but lack the confidence to try.
Classes on preparing Thanksgiving sides on the grill would likely be winners as well. Not only does cooking sides on the grill pack a flavor punch, it helps solve the problem of limited indoor oven space on turkey day. Thanksgiving season is a good time to promote thermometers, V-shaped racks, brines, injectors, woods, turkey fryers, and more.
Christmas brings an opportunity to promote smokers, kamados, pizza ovens and other cooking appliances for gift-giving. Drive home the reminder by topping in-store display models with big red bows, and tucking thermometers, bottles of sauce and spice rubs, and other accessories into stockings hung throughout the store. Accessories and cookbooks also can be combined in themed gift baskets, such as “Pizza on the Grill” or “Smoked Ribs,” with all the necessary gear wrapped together.
Retailers could host make-and-take classes or DIY workshops showing customers how to smoke their own nuts, cheeses, salmon, and salts for homemade gift-giving. (Check out Pinterest for creative packaging ideas.)
Don’t limit yourself to “big” holidays. Turning an off-beat occasion into your signature celebration might be even more effective. For instance, Groundhog Day (February 2) could become your store’s annual kick-off to the outdoor cooking season, regardless of whether Punxsutawney Phil indicates spring is imminent or there will be six more weeks of winter.
If the weather cooperates, celebrate with outdoor demos and food samples (be sure to fire-up the fire pits and outdoor heaters to showcase those products as well!). Indoors, you could hold information sessions or design workshops on outdoor kitchens to jump-start those projects. Offer deals such as a free propane refill or bag of charcoal or pellets with every grill purchase; also ask suppliers for other giveaway items to add to the fun.
Jack Wills Outdoor Living teams up with a car dealership for a promotional event.
From the wacky – Pork Rind Appreciation Day (February 4), and National Kraut & Frankfurter Week (second week in February) – to the worldly – Apple Strudel Day (June 17), and National Guacamole Day (September 16) – there is a holiday for nearly every kind of food, on virtually every day of the week.
Some foods are even celebrated on multiple dates (for instance, National Pancake Week is held the third week of February; National Pancake Day on February 21; and National Blueberry Pancake Day on January 28). That’s because food-industry trade groups or food-company public-relations teams – the folks usually behind these promotional holidays – might request slightly different official proclamations by government officials on the local, state, and national levels.
Piggyback promotional opportunities might be found on food-industry-association websites, such as the Pork Producers Council or the National Turkey Federation. Barbecue retailers can find a comprehensive list of food holidays to inspire their own promotions on Foodimentary.com or DaysoftheYear.com.
For instance, in honor of National Pizza Day on February 9, you could consider a week- or month-long celebration of pizza on the grill, with a spotlight on pizza-making accessories, pizza cooking classes, and pizza-oven demos. National Hot Dog Month in July might be a good occasion for a “Dollar Dog” charity promotion. You can offer customers a grilled hot dog any day that month in return for a dollar donation to a local charity. Of course, while customers wait and watch you cook the hot dog, it’s a golden opportunity to demonstrate the grill, and talk about new accessory products, cooking classes, or other upcoming events.
August brings National S’Mores Day (10th), National Filet Mignon Day (13th), National Bratwurst Day (16th), National Hot & Spicy Food Day (19th), National Bacon Lovers Day (20th), and National Eat Outside Day (31st), any of which would be good tie-ins for classes, demos or social media posts.
Don’t forget National Babyback Ribs Day (September 3), National Pulled Pork Day (October 12), and National Sandwich Day (November 3). Of course, not everything needs to be meat-centric. Vegetarian Awareness Week is celebrated the second week of September, and World Vegetarian Day is October 1. Both are excellent opportunities to offer classes on grilling farm-to-table produce, tofu and other non-meat dishes.
All food holidays are good occasions to spotlight correlating accessories, such as rib racks, pork-pulling claws, panini presses, nonstick grill mats, pizza stones, cast-iron skillets, griddles, skewers, cookbooks, smoking woods and more.
If nothing else, be sure to mark your calendars for National Comfort Food Day on December 5th. Barbecue is the ultimate comfort food and deserves to be celebrated.
Creating promotions around food, culture, and calendar holidays is a great way to grow your business.