We've all been waiting for a recovery in the economy and so far, there has only been hints that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for the barbecue industry. The 11% drop in grill sales between 2008 and 2009 hit many manufacturers hard, but not nearly as hard as it hit the major retailers. In 2010 we saw a half percent growth in sales according to statistics from the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, which certainly doesn't spell recovery and sales remain well below pre-recession figures. While sales remain down, charcoal fuel sales have continued to grow slowly. This implies that while consumers may be holding onto their grills longer, they are continuing to fire them up more. This is supported by the recent Weber GrillWatch Survey which states that people are grilling more.
In talking with industry insiders, a pretty clear picture is emerging. Medium and higher end grill makers (grills costing above $500USD) are not being hit as hard as the lower end manufacturers whose products populate the big box retailers. While many of these companies recognize that their retailers are struggling, they are doing well enough to continue expanding and offering new products. This implies increased online sales, something no one seems to want to confirm, and a growing market for accessories. At the recent HPBExpo in Salt Lake City, there were a number of new products showcased, but the space occupied by grill accessories was much larger and more prominent. I will illustrate this as I go through some of the new and changed products for this year.
Gas Grills: The biggest news in gas grills for 2011, is the redesign of the popular Weber Genesis. By turning the burners around and moving the control valves from the side table to the front of the grill, Weber has made way for a new series of accessories. The first of these is the introduction of a "sear" burner into the body of the grill, available on 330 series grills. This leads to a cut in the power of the grill (see Genesis versus Genesis for more details) and an extra burner inside. The next accessory (I'm assuming more are in the works) is what Weber calls the Grill Center Accessory Cabinets. Now that the control valves are in the front, the side tables can be removed. Adding on the extra cabinets with the side tables, creates a larger grill unit. Weber has indicated that their future is heavily tied to accessories.
In other news (that might prove to be bigger once word gets out), Fiesta Gas Grills has witnessed a rebirth. In 2009, Onward Manufacturing, makers of Broil-King, bought out the defunct Fiesta. Until February, there was no clear vision of what Onward had in mind for Fiesta. On February 15th the Tennessean reported that the Dickson factory, that was home to Fiesta, had started a "test" run of lower priced gas grills to determine a possible market. One employee at Onward told me that at 1,000 units a day, this is more than just a test run. Fiesta is back and their grills will be showing up in stores in the next few months. With the return of these low priced Fiesta grills, also comes the Fiesta Blue Ember Grills which have been redesigned by Onward to remove the problems that plagued the Blue Ember Grills for years.
Probably the most innovative gas grill to be offered by the major retailers in 2011 is the Stok Quattro Gas Grill at Home Depot. Developed by the Chant Group in Guangdong, China, this grill features round, removable grate sections that can be replaced with grilling accessories like a vegetable wok or griddle. The best part of this feature is that everything is included with the grill. The curious thing about this innovation is that it showed up in stores six months after a similar system was announced by Weber for their charcoal grills.
Charcoal Grills: The star in the charcoal market this year just might be the Carson Rotisserie. This Brazilian Churrasco style charcoal grill fits in a suitcase for portability and is promised by its inventor to be the next Weber Kettle. Currently available for an introductory price of $599USD; the ultimate list price is $999USD. This isn't an inexpensive product and the reason I doubt the claim of the inventor. Of course, we just have to wait and see what the final price is going to be and that might very well depend on how popular the grill becomes. One thing is clear, the Carson Rotisserie is built for accessories and the potential for continued sales is very high, especially considering its many awards.
Continuing with the theme of accessories, in late 2010, Weber introduced what they are calling the Gourmet BBQ System. This line of accessories for any of their 22 1/2-inch charcoal kettle grills, allows the consumer to swap out the center of a specially designed cooking grate with optional cooking pans like a Wok, Griddle (Plancha), or sear grate. These are all heavy porcelain coated, cast iron pieces. To buy all the components (sold separately) would run around $160USD and is primarily targeted at the Weber Performer owners, though it will fit any comparably sized grill.