Gauging grill trends
Stephanie Richardson -- Casual Living, 4/16/2011 1:22:21 AM
There's something in the air - and it smells a lot like optimism!
In this publication last month, we mentioned that according to data from Easy Analytic Software, Inc., consumers spent $3 billion on grills in 2010, and that figure is expected to increase to $3.4 billion by 2015.
Also, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association recently reported that more than 15 million grills and smokers shipped in North America in 2010, a slight increase (0.5%) from 2009.
These numbers may not be as big as the industry would like (are they ever?), but it does indicate forward movement.
That same small, but palpable, sense of forward motion was evident at HP BExpo this year. Yes, there were fewer exhibitors than in the past. Yes, there were fewer attendees than in the past. But it seems that both sides showed up to energetically talk the talk and walk the walk - exhibitors reported that visitors were shopping, asking the right questions, and in the end, many were buying.
At a glance, pellet grills and associated products were prevalent this year. "Made in USA " was promoted more heavily than at previous shows. Islands/kitchens/builtins designed specifically to accommodate kamado-style cookers were numerous. "Ecofriendly" was a buzzword at some booths. And, of course, there were some new and unusual products that added excitement to the show floor.
Among pellet companies, there were previous exhibitors as well as new ones. WoodMaster showed off a number of their grills that can be customized with everything from a company logo to a team logo.
Three new pellet grill exhibitors included MAK Grills, Sawtooth Pellet Grill, Inc. and Fahrenheit Technologies with its Grilla grill - all promoting their Made in USA status. MAK won two awards at the show for its 2-Star General grill, and the Sawtooth grill offered "infinite heat control" and an indirect/convection cooking system. The Grilla was particularly notable because of its round shape, small footprint and 16 smoke settings.
Pellet storage products also are making inroads. Pellet Décor - from the makers of Pellet Can - allows retailers to offer customers a furniture-quality pellet storage system. The unit requires less than 4 feet of floor space and holds 250 pounds of heating pellets.
Another trend noticed was a number of outdoor kitchen manufacturers offering products made specifically to incorporate kamado-style cookers. In addition to its more traditional offerings, Select Outdoor Kitchens offers a number of products including "The Roost" which is made from a high-density polyethylene product that helps resist weathering. The company also showed off a number of other products that were in line with more traditional outdoor cooking cabinetry.
Fleetwood Group and Southern Specialties Outdoor Living Products also showed ceramic-cooker table/kitchen/ storage configurations. Of course Primo, Saffire, Kamado Joe (which also won an award for its Pro Joe) and Big Green Egg displayed their cookers as built-ins and incart systems as well.
Environmentally conscious products are slowly coming into the barbecue mainstream, in both the grill and accessory market. At the Cal Flame booth, the KD BBQ Island Series was popular, but so was the patent-pending Green Grill Conversion Kit. This is the company's "jumping off point" into eco products, and currently it is available only for the 5 burner Convection Grill. The kit essentially filters the emissions from meat and fuel, allowing for a more eco-friendly barbecue.
One of the "green" accessories this year was introduced by a first-time exhibitor. Invented from necessity after a grill being loaded and transported in the back of a truck left a trail of grease, Grill Pillow is a small pillow that fits into the drip pan of a grill. The stuffing - a proprietary mix - absorbs the grease, and when it's full, it can be removed and thrown away and replaced.
The no-fuss, no-muss pillows are 100% biodegradable and a three-pack has an MS RP of $9.95. (As an interesting aside, these products are used commercially by one of the big hamburger chains.)
Another new exhibitor was Carson Rotisseries, Inc., maker of a Brazilian-style, charcoal-fueled, portable grill. The grill, which breaks down to store in a metal briefcase, features seven horizontal skewers that offer enough space to grill "14 Costco-sized pineapples if you wanted to," said CEO Blake Carson. But the main draw of the product is that one can rotiss multiple types of food at one time. The grill operates on a portable 12V battery, an AC adaptor or a car outlet, so it is very portable.
Many other companies showed new grills and accessories as well. The Gourmet Barbecue System and the Summit Grill Center with Social Area were introduced by Weber-Stephen Products. Fuego introduced the Element Portable Gas Grill this year, The Fulham Group showed the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet Portable Gas Grill, and Broilmaster exhibited its Broilmaster H3XDeluxe Grill.
Bull Outdoor Products had its Poco Pizza Oven featured, and Ace of Hearts submitted its Pony Express Smoker and Grill for inclusion in the New Products Pavilion, touting its unique damper-control system.
Other new accessories included Grill Daddy's telescoping, ergonomically designed grill utensil set. Each piece has a heat shield handle that swivels to protect hands from heat, and there is an instant read thermometer in the magnetic handle (great for storing by the grill). For maximum flexibility and product longevity, heads are replaceable.
"Professor Soapstone" (aka Paul Thompson) from TemperatureWare also had an interesting assortment of accessories available for barbecue retailers, including soapstone pizza stones, tortilla servers and soapstone bricks. Because of its natural heat-retention characteristics, soapstone is energy-efficient, can be used in place of lava rock in grills and can help prevent flare-ups.
One of the more fun, tongue-planted-firmly-incheek moments at the show came courtesy of Big Green Egg. The company used Expo to unveil the "new and unprecedented EGG zilla in a size that will stun the casual observer." The EGG zilla measures twice the size of the already impressive XL EGG , stands 64" tall and provides over 1,800 square inches of cooking surface. The company says that "to accompany EGG - zilla, BGE is introducing an 80-pound bag of its branded natural lump charcoal to accommodate the massive culinary events that will be sure to follow the launch of the newest egg."
Maybe a sense of humor is the most optimistic sign of all?
Stephanie Richardson has been promoting the grill industry for more than 20 years. She publishes an online newsletter at www.TheBarbeQuer.com.
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