A Sizzling Season
Outdoor living heats up at HPB Expo
Jamie Sorcher -- Casual Living, 4/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
Under sunny skies In Orlando, Fla., the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo kicked off March 14-16 with an optimistic mood that many hope is a harbinger of a robust barbecue season ahead.
The annual expo, which rotates locations every year, is the largest indoor-outdoor living show in North America. There were 313 exhibitors and 6,195 total attendees (including show goers and exhibitors) at the Orange County Convention Center as well as the adjacent outdoor burn area, which featured a tailgate party and cook-off - regular highlights of the show.
According to Leslie Wheeler, communications director of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, who spent quite a bit of time walking the floor, the outdoor living trend is not just a trend anymore. "It's gone beyond that," she said. "It is now a way of life that we have embraced."
Indeed, at the show, HPBA reported that 85% of North American households own a grill or smoker and that 62% of grill owners use their grills year round.
Wheeler highlighted the outdoor living room as the key thrust of the show and emphasized that it was demonstrated by a wide range of product in the many booths. "For the outdoor living room you need three elements: cooking, sitting and a way to extend the season, which is heat," she said. "Put those products together and it can be an area that is as grand or modest as the consumer wants it to be. The Expo was a demonstration of low to medium to high."
Unique to the HPB Expo is its festive outdoor burn area, which this year featured the Tailgate & Big Green Egg Celebrity Chef Cook-off along with a marching band, cheerleaders and plenty of delicious samples to snack on during the afternoons. Another highlight was the ultimate tailgating vehicle from Varsity Motor Coach that broadcast live championship games each show day from the Sports Bar area. Wheeler said Varsity Motor Coach has expressed interest in next year's show as well.
Outdoors was also the venue for the presentation of the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Leadership Award, which was given posthumously to George Stephen of Weber-Stephen Products for his exceptional leadership in the barbecue community.
While there was plenty of fanfare outside, that exhibit area was smaller for 2013 than in years past, but Wheeler pointed to several factors. Travis Industries, which typically takes a huge footprint outside, decided to go indoors this year.
"Another reason is that the last time we were in Orlando, back in 2010, it rained for three days," Wheeler said. "These exhibitors are a pretty hearty bunch, but that was a lot to deal with. We had no tailgate that year and it may have scared some people off so they decided to come inside this time."
A few moments before the show officially opened, Big Green Egg drew an eager audience to its booth as it unveiled the Big Green XXL, described as 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. The XXL will be a limited edition for 2013 and have full distribution for 2014. Currently, there are five models in the lineup.
The newest Egg will retail for "several thousand dollars," according to Big Green Egg CEO and Managing Director Ardy Arani. He 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.
According to Michael Waller, assistant vice president at R.H. Peterson, attendees were definitely excited about the company's Echelon Diamond grills, but also about outdoor kitchens, fire pits and fireplaces. Fire urns were another category with some traction, he said.
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 Super Bowl, for example.
Jeff Wheatley of Statuary World Patio & Fireside, which has two stores near Yukon, Okla., was outside at the burn area enjoying some of the grilled food and warm weather. "Our season started [in early March] and we're optimistic about it," he said. Wheatley noted his stores carry several grill lines, including Napoleon and TEC, and that he anticipated a good show where he could see all 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 at Hearth, Patio & Barbecue - 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." Although 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," Gupta said. "We even have an EGGhead club."
Buyers from Offenbacher's Outdoor Furniture, the eight store chain based Lanham, Md., were also walking the floor to scout for products that were new and exciting. Also checking out grills and fire pits were buyers from Ace Hardware, Carls Patio, Costco, Target and Frontgate.
PIZZA OVENS, MULTI-TASKING TOOLS AND TECH
One core trend at the show is the fire table with eating and/or cooking options. New to the Expo this year was Firetainment, based in Orlando, Fla., 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.
Shawn Clark, one of Firetainment's founders, said the product has been in development since 2011 and had a soft preview at the Casual Market in September. Since then, 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 plans to return to the Casual Market as well as next year's HPB Expo.
Also at the show for the first time was Pottstown, Pa.-based Alfresco Home, which showed 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 we had good traffic. There are a lot of pizza ovens out there, but we have a certain look. We talked with retailers from everywhere, including the Midwest and Canada, and we were writing orders."
Fire Pie Ovens, based in Shreve, Ohio, also showed off its customized Fire Pie ovens that incorporate any stone, brick, metal or outdoor veneer.
Another big category at the show was the multi-tasking cooking accessories. Flavor Fork, an Alberta, Canada-based company, also was at the show for the first time, presenting its injection fork with bottle opener.
"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.
Technology had its moment, too, with products like the Grillbot, the Soundcast Melody speaker and a barbecue grill that uses high-temperature infrared grilling technology.
The Grillbot, billed as the R2D2 for grills, is a robot with push button operation that gets the grease and grime off a grill with its powerful motors and replaceable bristle brushes. It has what is known as set-it and- forget-it technology with its smart brain. It is driven by a CPU chip that controls the movement, speed and direction of the brushes.
Also on the cleaning front, Weber-Stephen showed its Performer Platinum charcoal grill with its Touch-n-Go gas ignition system and One-Touch cleaning system.
Forget about cleaning a mess. What about making music? The Melody all-weather Bluetooth speaker from Soundcast is another accessory ideal for the outdoors. It was designed for those who want portability with their music at the beach, backyard, park or tailgate. And to sear a steak perfectly, Schott's Nextrema grill uses infrared technology that eliminates the risk of drying out a great steak by efficiently transferring heat directly to the meat with reduced airflow.
Next year, the Expo moves to Salt Lake City, where it was last held in 2011. "We're already working on it now," Wheeler said of the March 5-8, 2014 show plan. "Last time we were there, the burn area was a shuttle bus ride away, but for 2014 it will be adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center. We have a design concept for the show and we are in active mode. Salt Lake is a beautiful, clean city at the bottom of the Wasatch mountain range. And when you're outside at the burn area looking around with that as a backdrop, it is a great place for us to hold the Expo."
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