According to statistics from Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association sales of new grills in North American actually declined slightly in 2013. When adjusted for population growth, fewer grills are sold today than were 25 years ago. Even the unadjusted number show that the total number of units sold in 2013 was less than 15 years earlier. Yet total ownership continues to climb, now reaching 80% of US households. In a mature market like this one, the majority of grills sold are replacements for existing products and a small number are actual market growth.
The questions that begs to be asked is, how do all the new entrants into the market survive? The answer, of course, is by taking customers from existing companies, but this is a steep hill to climb and some recent additions to the industry are struggling to find consumers.This has been particularly evident amongst the new wave of the Kamado grill brands. Last year I noted that grill makers were adding these units to their product line since consumers on the higher end of the scale were increasingly asking for a ceramic grill as part of their outdoor kitchen installations. And while this trend appears to remain true, Big Green Egg's brand recognition is hard to beat making it the preferred choice.
For the mid-range priced grill market, figuring out how to play the mass-market retail market has been a difficult game to learn the rules to. Last year, Lowe's Home Improvement Stores carried the Huntington 3-Burner which was the identical grill to the Broil King Signet 40. Both of these brands are owned by Onward Manufacturing and the "two" grills were made in the same factory with different labels. This year Lowe's will be carrying three Broil King models in stores and offer a total of nine online, all at considerably lower prices that traditionally offered by independent retailers. Good for the consumer, not so good for the smaller grill stores. These models are being made in Onward Manufacturing's Huntington, Indiana factory so Lowe's gets to mark these with the increasingly important "Made in America". By switching to their primary brand name, Broil King, Onward Manufacturing might just be learning that too many brand names is not a good thing. In recent years, they have bought up a number of companies but have had difficulty differentiating the roles these brands should play.
Huntington Grills now has fewer products, while the Broil King line continues to expand. I step in the right direction in my opinion.
Home Depot is not getting that USA made label with almost any of its products this year, but they will be carrying a special version of last years Consumer Reports winner, the Weber Spirit E-210 and E-310 (Yes, Consumer Reports actually picked the Spirit S-210, but that was a mistake on their part since the E-210 is a better grill and a better value). Home Depot has traditionally carried a special version of one or two of Weber's gas grills, but this is a surprising deal. The two Spirit grills being sold in store are the European models, which are lighter in weight, large because instead of a front cabinet door they have a plastic panel. Certainly not an improvement, but the real feature here is a porcelain coated, cast iron version of Weber's Gourmet BBQ System. These special grates have a removable, round center section which can be replaced with an number of special accessories. Included with the grill is the griddle unit and Home Depot will by carrying the pizza stone and chicken roaster accessories in stores.
This deluxe version comes at a price $100 off of the suggested retail price of the base model available everywhere else. This means a Weber brand grill, with accessories for as little as $400USD. It will be hard for other stores to compete with this.
The kamado and pellet grill markets have been flooded with competition in recent years, and there now seems to be a new wave of lower-priced all stainless steel grills hitting the market to further confuse the consumer. Ranging in price from around $1,500 to $3,000USD these seemingly independent grills from China sold at small retail outlets, particularly online, are in fact one grill with many faces. In the past to commission your own brand of gas grill, you would need to design it, find a factory to make it, get it certified, packaged, and imported. Now, it appears, these steps can be taken care of for you. In the last two years a number of gas grills have shown up with a standardize fire box and cabinetry but customized handles, thermometers, and other details. These come in any number of combinations of 304 and 443 stainless steel construction and with a variety of burner configurations from the standard tubular to cast stainless.
There are a number of these grills out there, coming from a single factory, with a single importer. As of now, I am still putting together how many models are on the market. While well built for the price the real issue is going to be the back-end support for these grills. Sold largely online with a large number of sellers it remains to be seen how well they will be received and what their long-term impact is going to be on the all stainless steel grill market
The biggest growth for the industry remains to be Europe and Asia and more and more companies are investing in these new areas. Last year I reported that Weber might be undergoing a change in strategies with their new CEO and it appears that the top echelons of the company are focused on Weber as a global company more than ever before. As grilling and traditional barbecue continues to gain popularity outside the United States where it has peaked, the market and its players stands to see some significant changes in the next few years as they work to address the specific needs of these new consumers around the world.
Finding the target audience can be difficult in an industry that appears on the surface to be fairly straightforward, but on closer examination has a very wide range of products and consumers. After all, the person who impulsively purchases a $100USD gas grill while at the hardware store is not the same as the one that installs a $20,000 grill into a custom outdoor kitchen. Grills and smokers come in such an amazing array of fuels, sizes, types, and prices that the industry can not be seen to be a single, monolithic body, but instead, a number of industry meeting a wide range of needs across the most diverse of economic demographics. More and more, companies are moving away from trying to be everything to everyone and are instead looking to the niche market that best reflects their brand and their product. It has become more evident that only a few companies, perhaps only one, can market to the entire spectrum of consumers.