With the return of spring the new grills and smokers are out and ready for sale in what promises to be one of the best years in history for the outdoor cooking products industry. In 2005, 15 million grills and smokers were sold in the United States with that number being nearly equaled outside the United States. The industry is looking to beat that number this year in the U.S. However, increasing steel prices and over competition continues to impact many manufacturers and retailers. This year more grills than ever will be imported, primarily from China. While this is bad for North American manufacturers it isn't necessarily bad for the consumer. However, it's going to lead to more confusion than ever.
With more than $2 billion being spent this year on basic outdoor cooking equipment in the U.S. alone the drive to get in and dominate the market is stronger than ever. When you take into consideration accessories, custom kitchens, additional appliances, and all the extras going into outdoor cooking this is a fast growing and exciting industry. The growing popularity in Europe and Asia is also getting a lot of manufacturers looking overseas. Europe has seen double digit growth rates in recent years and European makers are loaded with cash and ready to export. There are also more brand names on the market than every before. Despite the fact that they don't actually make outdoor cooking products, names like Amana, Kitchenaid, Electrolux, Frigidaire, Thermos, Igloo, and Jenn-Air will all be on sale this year. This means more confusion for consumers and more work for me.
The average gas grill sold in the United States last year for $240.00, virtually the same as 2005. Grills in this range and below made up for 80% of all gas grills sold according to HPBA, the industry trade group. About 9,000,000 gas grills were sold in the United States, last year. Despite the relatively low price spent on grills, most all new models sell for well over this price. The trend towards full function outdoor kitchens has driven more and more companies into the market. Not only do you see refrigerators, sinks and all the necessities for a full kitchen, but now you are starting to see outdoor ovens and full kitchen cabinetry made for the outdoor market.
The major retailers continue to dominate the market with mass merchants and home improvement centers accounting for 65% of all units sold. The problem with this is that few manufacturers have either the clout of the inclination to use these outlets. While you will continue to see Weber and Char-Broil in most stores, other manufacturers simply can't get in or can't make a profit. Additionally many of these major retail chains would prefer to sell their own store brands. Lowe's Home Improvement stores, for instance, have priced their own store brands (Perfect Flame, BBQ Grillware and Jenn-Air) to be the more logical choice to the uninformed consumer over brands like Weber. Confusion and brand deception continue to dominate the market.
Foreign competition continues to hurt many American and Canadian manufacturers. This year Char-Broil will close down its last U.S. production facility and all future products will be made in China and imported to North America. Some inside the industry have questioned whether Char-Broil will survive as an American Brand, or simply end up being turned over to a Chinese company. Weber remains the last U.S. manufacturer with more then 1% of the market building grills in the United States. The small manufacturers, who tend to drive innovation and make superior products, are continuing to be pushed out of the market.
What might be the biggest change in the near future are increasing stainless steel prices. At this point it's hard to say how far this might go, but already several makers of low end stainless steel gas grills have cut back on the quality of the stainless steel they use. If you want to know whether the grill or smoker you are looking at is good quality 304 stainless steel take a magnet with you. If the magnet sticks then the steel isn't good. Poor quality stainless steel (also know as 400 series) can rust and discolor over time. Only 300 series stainless steel will resist the elements and retain its appearance over time. This is particularly important if you live by the ocean or any harsh environment.