In a world suddenly flooded with high-frequency, real-time economic indicators, Bank of America has launched the "BofA Summer BBQ tracker", a gauge of consumer food/beverage consumption plans for major US grilling holidays; the bank will conduct the survey over the summer coinciding with major events such as Memorial Day, Fathers’ Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day.
The extended Memorial Day Weekend represents the 2nd largest grilling holiday in the US where an estimated 56% of Americans plan to cookout/BBQ each year according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. However, according to the BofA survey of 1,000 US consumers, that number is likely to be much lower this year in light of COVID-19/social distancing occurring across the US with only 40% of consumers planning to grill this MDW. Further, the outlook for this summer remains gloomy as 50% of consumers not planning to host/attend a cookout this MDW indicated no plans to attend any form of gathering this summer.
For those consumers who do plan on getting together this MDW, expect social distancing to play a key role with nearly 70% of respondents indicating they expect a crowd of 10 people or fewer, with another 25% expecting crowds of between 10 and 25. Given smaller crowds, consumers are expecting to buy less than they have in prior years with roughly 25-30% indicating lower food/beverage purchases for their events.
Below are the key takeaways from the BofA survey:
- 70% of gatherings that do occur are expected to be less than 10 people, with 25-30% of consumers planning to purchase less food/beverages vs a normal year
- Burgers and Hot Dogs are still expected to be the top served items on the menu, however some consumers are having difficulty finding these items. On the beverage front, domestic beers claimed top spot as most served alcoholic beverage.
- Grilling may be picking up as a preferred form of personal /family meal preparation, as homeowners are stuck at home for virtually every meal (i.e. are eating out significantly less or not at all). 20% of survey respondents noted that they had bought a grill in the last two months. However, this is likely offset by less grilling for entertainment.
Before we get into the specifics of the survey results, here are some Memorial Day fast facts:
- Memorial Day unofficially marks the kickoff of summer as families and friends across the U.S. gather together, grills are fired up to cook a wide selection of meats and coolers are loaded up with all types of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. The holiday marks the start of hot dog-eating season with 818 hot dogs consumed every second from Memorial Day to Labor Day (7bn in total). Other interesting facts include:
- Americans consumed on average 3.3 drinks on Memorial Day, which is more than labor day, winter holidays and Thanksgiving (Source: Alcohol.org)
- According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s biennial consumer survey (conducted prior to COVID-19 pandemic) 37% of grill owners surveyed were looking to purchase a new grill in the near future. In addition, almost 64% of U.S. adults own a grill or smoker and Memorial Day is the 2nd most popular grilling day with 56% of Americans planning to cook out.
With that in mind, here are the findings from the BofA MDW BBQ Survey:
#1) ~40% plan to celebrate MDW vs 56% in a normal year
Of the 1,000 survey respondents, only 40% plan to host/attend a barbecue/cookout this MDW. This compares to a normal year where roughly 56% of consumers plan to grill on MDW (2nd only to the 4th of July) according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. On a regional basis, those in the Mid-Atlantic (NY, NJ, PA) and East South Central (AL, KY, MS, TN) are most likely to barbecue. This is somewhat surprising given stricter social distancing orders enacted in NY/NJ, however recent government actions to re-open parts of the state for MDW and socially-distanced “front-yard cookouts” may be driving some of the planned activity.
#2) COVID biggest reason to not attend; outlook gloomy
For respondents who answered they did not plan on attending, the overwhelming majority (70%) indicated they were worried about COVID-19 spread if they were around too many people. The forward outlook does not appear much better as 51% of respondents indicated that they don’t plan to attend BBQ/cookouts this summer at all. However, as social distancing restrictions ease this number could be revised down in future versions of this survey.
#3) Party sizes to be smaller with less food/bevs
Consumers who do plan on getting together this MDW are expecting social distancing to play a key role with nearly 70% of respondents indicating they expect a crowd of 10 people or fewer, with another 25% expecting crowds of between 10 and 25. At the same time, given smaller crowds, consumers are expecting to buy less food than they have in prior years with roughly 25-30% indicating lower food/beverage purchases
#4) Burgers/Hot Dogs reign supreme if you can find them
Most common items expected to be served include hamburgers (75%), hot dogs/sausages (71%), chips (71%) and domestic beers (47%). However, several consumers expressed concern around being able to find hamburgers as well as hot dogs and buns at grocery stores (Table 1). The situation should improve this week as slaughter rates at pork/beef packing plants improved last week and are back to ~75% of pre-COVID levels.
For those planning on hosting or attending a cookout this Memorial Day around 15-20% expressed interest in having new products at their barbeque. Consumers plan on having “hard seltzers”, condiments like “MayoChup” and “plant-based burgers.” As consumers spend more time eating at home they will be more willing to experiment with new items.
#5) Grilling trends
Home improvement retailers have benefited in recent months from homeowners being stuck at home and taking on DIY home improvement projects, including cooking rather than going out for meals. Some of this benefit has included increased demand for grills for preparing personal/family meals, as 20% of survey respondents have bought a grill in the last two months. Given that the average useful life of a grill is about 5-15 years, this rate does appear to exceed normal replacement demand. However, about an equal number of respondents expect to grill less this summer as those that plan to grill more, so the impact of smaller & fewer gatherings may offset the rise of personal grilling.