With people returning to stores in search of a new grill or smoker, manufacturers are in a frenzy, rushing out their latest products and fighting for sales. The industry is expecting the biggest year yet as people have been buying new homes at record levels and more money than ever is being spent on home improvements and landscaping. There will be a lot of grills and smokers out there this year so you need to be extra careful.
While grill sales fell off more than expected last year there is a sense of unbridled optimism that with recovering economies this is the year to beat all. So this year promises to see more advertising in the barbecue and grilling industry than ever before. There is also a major push going on to get more brands and models into stores than ever before. As I have always said, no matter what, shop around and make sure you know what you are looking for.
In 2003 the average price for a grill purchased in the United States was $219. In fact 80% of all gas grills sold in the United States cost less than $300. The average charcoal grill cost $79. Industry insiders however note that this price, as little as it seems, is higher than ever and 2004 looks to continue that trend. A survey of potential grill buyers done by the Weber Corporation suggest that the average gas grill purchases in 2004 will cost $386. I can’t imagine that makes the executives at Weber very happy since their least expensive gas grill costs around $450.
There are now over 300 models of grills on the market today from over 40 manufacturers. Of course most of these are in the high end range, costing more than $2,000. Many of these units are largely sold online or out of specialty stores. Many are sold primarily to contractors who specialize in outdoor kitchens and landscaping. The biggest problem I see in grill and smoker sales is the lack of choices available to the average shopper. Unless you are willing to go online to buy your next grill, chances are you just won’t find too much to pick from at your local store. It is this inability of many manufacturers to get their grills and smokers into large chain hardware and retail stores that limits their sales and limits competition.
I think that one of the biggest player in the under $300 gas grill market is going to be Fiesta Grills. This Canadian company that makes grills in the United States has a good reputation for quality in the low end range. This may be due to the fact that they are the only grill manufacturer that makes their grills from scratch. With most models well under $300 and offering the features gas grill users want most (easy start, multiple burners and large cooking area), Fiesta has become a good choice for those who don’t want to spend a lot and Fiesta Grills are showing up in a lot of stores. However distribution continues to be inconsistent.
Char-Broil is keeping it’s line up pretty much the same this year. Last year Char-Broil, launched into the middle range with gas grills like it’s Professional Series Stainless Steel manufactured in China. Of course all of the nearly 110,000 of them sold last year are now under a recall and as it turns out Char-Broil hired Grand Hall to make them. Grand Hall is the Taiwanese maker of stainless steel grills like the ones you find in Costco and Sam’s Club (Members Mark and Kirkland). While the recall only affects the glass in the thermometer, no recall is a good recall. An embarrassing event for the Char-Broil brand, particularly since they had to turn around and refer over 100,000 customers to a Taiwanese company.
Weber’s only contribution to new gas grills this year is a further update of their Summit line grills. The $1,000 to $2,000 grills now offer an optional mounting package to make it easier to install them into a custom enclosure. More signs that Weber is heading towards higher end custom grill units. Of course if you have one of the most popular brands of gas grills on the market and control a significant portion of the market why change.
Of course the real big news from Weber is its buy out of the recently bankrupt Ducane. Ducane who has enjoyed a good reputation for great grills that work and last but have been overpriced and underrepresented in the marketplace for years went into bankruptcy recent. What the Weber-Stephen Company is going to do with Ducane remains to be seen. I would expect is for Weber to turn Ducane into a lower end grill to fit, price wise under its Genesis series grills. So there might be some grills out there from Weber well under the $450 price of the Weber Genesis Silver A. Hopefully Weber won't choose to gut Ducane and destroy a good grill line.
The steel tariff continues to weigh heavily on the outdoor cooking industry and I don't think that it as taken its last victim yet. The truth is that manufactured parts are now cheaper than the steel used to make them. Manufacturing will continue to shift outside the United States who until recently dominated the industry.