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 2004, 14.5 million grills were sold in the United States with that number being nearly equaled outside the United States. The industry is looking to sell more than 15 million grills this year in the U.S. However the fallout from the steel tariffs and over competition continues to impact many manufacturers. 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 $4 billion being spent this year on outdoor cooking equipment in the U.S. alone everyone is scrambling to get their hands on a piece of the pie and no one stands more to gain than the big box store. Retailers like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart are devoting more space and resources to sell grills than ever before. Most of these big stores have worked out exclusive distribution deals and expanded their licensed products to a whole new level. Only Weber and Char-Broil stand tall enough to fend off the power of these giants. What this means is that you are going to encounter grills you’ve never heard of before (and probably not again) and a whole host of products with questionable origins and qualities. Most grills sold will come out of one of the four biggest retailers.
The average gas grill sold in the United States last year for $238.50, an increase of about $20 or 10%. Grills in this range and below made up for 80% of all gas grills sold. Despite the fact that so little is spent on the average gas grill, most new grills to hit the market are over $350 in price and there is a lot of growth in the number of models near the $1,000 mark. With more and more people grilling year round and more people owning both gas and charcoal grills the industry is confident that average prices will continue to rise faster than inflation and that grill sales will continue to be strong.
Because of the purchasing deals of the big box stores, many products will not find their way to them. While the specialty retailers (those stores that specialize in grill, patio and fireplace products) are on the decline, with many simply refusing to carry grills anymore, many grill manufacturers have gone specialty only. What little there is left of the Coleman line can now only be found in specialty retailers. Many manufacturers simply can not make a profit with the big retailers so they have retreated to small retailers or online. This is unfortunate because many of the best products do not have wide distribution and the consumer is forced to either search high and low or buy a lesser unit.
Weber is the big news maker of the year. There are now 25 models of Weber Gas Grills ranging from the $500 Genesis Silver A to the $2,200 Summit Platinum D6. On average last years models will cost you $50 more this year. This expansion of the product line means that Weber has a unit at nearly every $50 mark from $500 to $2,200. Weber distribution continues to be very wide with units showing up everywhere except K-Mart who has chosen to move away from the big name grills. In other news from Weber they purchased the bankrupt Ducane last year and just this year let the world know what they were doing with this favorite. There are five models of Ducane “Cast Aluminum” grills available this year ranging in price from $350 to over $700. These units still have their great cooking abilities and look just like the Ducanes of old, however the prices are much more reasonable. Part of the reason that Ducane failed was because they were over priced. That isn't true any longer. Weber says that the price reduction is due to their greater purchasing power. In fact Weber, who has been importing components for its grills from Asia, is now supplying Ducane grills with these imported components. Real Ducane grills are only available through specialty retailers and online.
Weber also licensed the Ducane name to Home Depot with a pair of Chinese manufactured stainless steel grills. These grills look great, they cook okay, and I’m betting they will outsell the entire line of Ducane Cast Aluminum grills. That’s the power of the big box. Remember in the new world of outdoor kitchens, appearance is often more important than quality. While these grills are not made by Ducane, Weber did have design input for these units and will be providing support for them. This means that if you purchase a Home Depot Ducane you can get 24/7 support for it, a story very different from the Lowe’s Jenn-Air line of stainless steel gas grills made by Nexgrill of China.