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  • Jamie Sorcher

HPB Expo creates buzz for barbecue

HPB entranceThe entrance to the HPB Expo in Orlando, Fla., welcomes buyers and vendors to the show.
ORLANDO, Fla. - The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo opened on Thursday, March 14, under sunny skies and with a steady stream of optimistic retailers walking the aisles at the Orange County Convention Center looking for the latest in grills, accessories and outdoor kitchen ideas. While the morning had a slow start, by mid-afternoon booths were buzzing and manufacturers were saying they were pleased with the activity at the show. The show concluded on Saturday, March 16.

The annual expo, which next year moves to Salt Lake City, is the largest indoor-outdoor living show in North America and is expected to draw between 4,000 and 5,000 attendees. More than 300 exhibitors are at the event in both the indoor exhibit space and the outdoor burn area.
A few moments before the show opened, Big Green Egg drew an eager audience to their booth as company officials announced the Big Green XXL which they said is the largest capacity high-performance ceramic grill in production today. It can roast 20 racks of ribs or 40 burgers.

The new 410-pound grill (for perspective, the XL weighs 205 pounds) takes its inspiration from the EGGzilla unit that was primarily a prototype display, but drew such interest from consumers that the company decided to go ahead and make a production unit. It will be a limited edition for 2013 and have full distribution for 2014. Currently, there are five models in the lineup.

According to Big Green Egg CEO and managing director Ardy Arani, the newest Egg will retail for "several thousand dollars." Arani said retailers will not have to carry the entire Big Green Egg lineup to also have the XXL on their floors.

Arani also showed off the company's new eco-wood teak and royal mahogany tables sourced from a Nicaraguan rain forest. He said these would ship to dealers in the next few months as they were now in the final phases of production. "We wanted to upgrade our table offerings and we decided to ring the fire bell and get this ready to launch at the HPB Expo," he said. "We wanted to fast track this and we've been working on it since January." Tables will retail for under $1,000 each.

RH PetersonThe RH Peterson booth drew a large crowd during the company's cocktail party.
R.H. Peterson's booth was seeing a steady flow of attendees during the morning and its reception held mid-afternoon was crowded. "We're slammed right now and people are definitely excited about outdoor kitchens, fire pits and fire places," said Michael Waller, assistant vice president. R.H. Peterson was highlighting its Echelon Diamond grills and a gas/charcoal combination grill. Fire urns were another category with some traction, he said.

"Atlanta [where last year's expo was held] was a huge show and we're hoping things will be as successful here as last year," Waller said. "It's just a little bit too early to tell."

Retailers walking the show floor said they were preparing for the start of the key outdoor cooking season, which kicks off May 1 with National Barbecue Month and continues through September. Many attendees said the season has stronger potential these days into the fall season and even into the winter with grilling events based around the Superbowl, for example.

Jeff Wheatley of Statuary World Patio & Fireside, which has two stores in the Yukon, Oklahoma area, was outside at the burn area enjoying some of the grilled food and warm weather. "Our season just started about two weeks ago and we're optimistic about it," he said. Wheatley said his stores carry several grill lines including Napoleon and TEC and that he was anticipating a good show where he could see some of the latest product.

Ajay Gupta, president of Housewarmings, based in Lexington, Ky., said he found the expo to be a beneficial show to walk each year. "We can see two things here - hearth and barbecue - side by side which we can't do at any other show," he said. "The barbecue side of our business has been a growing focus for us and part of that is because we're carrying the Big Green Egg." He said he has been selling Big Green Egg for the last six years. "We only recently discovered the potential of it in the last few years. We even have an Egg Head club."

Buyers from Offenbacher's Outdoor Furniture, the eight-store chain based Lanham, Md., were also walking the floor and said they were scouting for products that were new and exciting. Also checking out grills and fire pits were buyers from Carls Patio, Ace Hardware, Target and Frontgate.

One of the big trends at the show is the fire table with eating and/or cooking options. New to the expo is Firetainment, which had its item spotlighted in the new product pavilion. The Naples fire table offers a fire pit for ambiance and allows for cooking everything from appetizers to entrees. The pit can be converted into a stove top to allow for use of a griddle, wok, salt block or Dutch oven.

Mak GrillsBruce Bjorkman and Matt Tucker of Mak Grills meet the Blues Brothers at the outdoor burn area.
Shawn Clark, chief operating officer, Firetainment, said the product has been in development since 2011 and had a soft preview at the International Casual Furniture Market last September. Now, he said, improvements have been made and it has been revamped to offer a complete package, which offers the whole social aspect of cooking. It comes in four sizes and will range in retail price from $3,500 to $4,400.

"The Chicago market was a great learning experience for us, but now we're here at the show with a real debut as a hard line," he said. "We're looking to find high-quality, high-end retailers to carry our product."
Clark said he will be back in Chicago later this year for the casual show as well as next year's HPB Expo and the homebuilder's show in Las Vegas.

Also at the show for the first time is Alfresco Home, which is showing its Fornetto wood fired pizza oven and smoker. "This is a great opportunity for us," said Joseph Cilio, president. "We have a small booth, but there's been good traffic. There are a lot of pizza ovens out there, but we have a certain look. We have talked with retailers from everywhere including the Midwest and Canada and we are writing orders. We're hoping to get some strong qualified leads we can take home with us."

Another big category at the show is the multitasking cooking accessories. Flavor Fork, an Alberta, Canada-based company presenting its injection fork that has a bottle opener, too, is here at the show for the first time showing its product, which launched in January.

"This is a new concept for the consumer," said Troy Biever, president and CEO. "We also have a basting tool that snaps on and there could be more attachments in the future." The Flavor Fork has a $19.99 suggested retail.

Opening day concluded with an HPB Expo Tailgate and Big Green Egg Celebrity Chef Cook-Off competition. Casual Living also presented the Donna H. Meyers Barbecue Leadership Award posthumously to George Stephen, the inventor of the Weber Kettle grill. Accepting the award was Tom Wenke, Weber's senior VP of sales.

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