As retailers reach peak picnic time and continue preparations for the rapidly approaching tailgating, it could serve them well to consider one key point — consumer taste isn’t just evolving for sit-down dinners, it’s heading outdoors as well.

With shoppers looking for higher-end products from the deli and prepared departments, they’re tending to look at their picnic and tailgating fare in a different light as well, says chef Carrie Walters of Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market.

“The shopper is much savvier today, and I think we’ve seen that in a lot of areas for some time now,” she says. “And now they’re carrying that over for their tailgates and outdoor gatherings. They’re not as content to just pick up some chicken strips now. They’re ramping up their tastes.”

All about the charcuterie

Retailers have undoubtedly already jumped onto the charcuterie train. Even if a store doesn’t offer fresh charcuterie boards, pre-packaged artisan salamis and other meats are hard to miss these days.

But these high-end cured meats and cheeses lend themselves perfectly for outdoor parties, especially for shoppers looking for a more refined flavor.

“Charcuterie is huge here and I know it’s huge everyplace else,” Walters says. “That’s really helping with the picnic scene. Charcuterie really is the new picnic. People kind of get it. It’s been in Europe for so long and it’s so commonplace there that we’re changing the way we see it. We used to look at charcuterie as a holiday item and now it’s ‘Hey, let’s go out and eat charcuterie for dinner.’”

Simple cut salami and prosciutto trays can be a tempting item for picnic shoppers looking for something more exciting.

“We do to-go boards and a lot more cheese tastings and cheese presentations along with charcuterie,” Walters says. “Instead of maybe doing box lunches with a sandwich, chips and pretzels, we’re doing a lot more nice, simple trays with nice meats.”

These can be cross-merchandised with another very trendy item — rosé. The popular pink wine is a natural fit for the salty charcuterie treats, as well as a light beverage for picnics and a new option for tailgating drinks.

The updated sandwich

Sandwiches are among the perfect handheld, relatively simple, non-messy option for outdoor gatherings.

Luckily for retailers, they’re also easy to class up for today’s consumers. Instead of your traditional ham or turkey with cheddar or swiss, think of today’s picnic sandwich as more of a European-style offering, with a skinny, artisan baguette serving as the base.

Add high-quality meats like prosciutto, mortadella or Iberico ham. Pair with some of your best cheeses and cross-merchandise a solid-but-affordable wine.

“That’s the ultimate picnic as far as I’m concerned,” Walters says. “It’s a little less traditional.”

Local power

Tailgating season provides the perfect chance to boast your local partners, both with food and teams.

A display at the front of the store with hand-decorated cookies in your local university’s colors are a good idea for the week leading up to big home games. You can also do special cookie trays based on whoever your local team is playing — think clever themes and sayings referring to the opposing mascot.

Don’t forget high school football either. With most communities having multiple schools to support, a variety of school colors available for cookie or cupcake trays can be a sales boon.

And while tailgating might be trending more upscale, don’t forget the classics. Tailgating season can be the perfect time to trot out staples that might otherwise only be popular around the holiday party season.

Retailers report sustained success during tailgating season with hot wing trays, cocktail meatballs, egg rolls, spring rolls and other appetizers.

Opportunities exist for adding unique angles, like partnering with local companies for a pretzel and cheese tray with a local beer.