Move Over, Fellas!
By Lisa Readie Mayer
A few years ago, a female food blogger posted an article titled “Five Grills Women Won’t be Scared to Cook On.” In it she admitted, “Something about flipping the gas switch and having to light that thing freaks me out, so much so that I’ve never actually cooked a meal on it.” The article incited a firestorm of angry replies from women grillers who lambasted the author for perpetuating the stereotype that “guys grill, gals cook.” As one commenter put it, “Congratulations, you have just set the women’s movement back to the discovery of fire.”
Although there were plenty of jibes from “women’s grillibbers,” there were just as many women who disclosed, as the blogger did, that intimidation, inexperience, or outright fear kept them from cooking outdoors.
Forbes magazine called this grill divide, “strangely one of the most widely accepted gender distinctions in our culture,” and stated that even among “empowered women of the can-do Generation Y…when it comes to the business of barbecuing, it seems to be a boys club.”
In a report on food and dietary trends, Harry Balzer of market research firm NPD Group called the grill, “the one and only male-dominated appliance in America.” But it’s not just an American phenomenon. According to international grilling authority and cookbook author Steven Raichlen, 60 to 70 percent of grilling throughout the world is done by men.
There are a host of anthropological and sociological theories to explain the great grill divide, but the bottom line is, for manufacturers and retailers of grills and grilling accessories, women remain a huge, mostly untapped market.
The good news is that the situation appears to be changing. Weber’s 2015 GrillWatch Survey shows 27 percent of women are now the primary grillers in their households – up from 15 percent in 2009. The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s 2015 Consumer Barbecue Study is even more encouraging, with 48 percent of women saying they regularly cook on an outdoor grill or smoker, and 34 percent indicating they are the primary grillers in their households.
Barbecue expert Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn says 40 percent of the visitors to his barbecue website AmazingRibs.com are women. And Elizabeth Karmel, a barbecue restaurateur, expert on women at the grill, and author of the blog GirlsattheGrill.com, reports 35 percent of the women who visit her website grill three times or more each week, 45 percent grill once a week, and 22 percent grill once a month.
The surge in women grillers is attributed in part to the significant amount of television programming now devoted to grilling and barbecuing. The coverage has helped to demystify the process of lighting a fire, and to teach basic grilling techniques to female viewers, according to the experts. In addition, there has been noticeable growth in grilling “pins” and “boards” on the popular female-centric social media site Pinterest, and in Internet blogs focused on female grillers.
When Karmel started her blog in 2001, she was the first to target women, calling it “The original girls’ site for all things grillin’.” The website offers how-to information on choosing a grill, lighting the fire, testing for doneness and grilling techniques, as well as hundreds of recipes. Karmel has also developed a line of accessory products for women grillers under the brand Grill Friends.
Robyn Medlin Lindars started her GrillGirl.com blog in 2009. The competition barbecuer, who also teaches for-women-only grilling and barbecuing clinics, focuses on healthy, simple and creative recipes on the grill. Her step-by-step how-to videos encourage women to embrace grilling and barbecuing as a quick and easy way to prepare healthy, kid-friendly dinners without creating a lot of dirty dishes.
Blogger Christie Vanover threw her hat in the ring last year when she launched GirlsCanGrill.com. Growing up in a household where dad did the grilling, Vanover says she learned the basics of outdoor cooking while watching celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s grilling shows.
“It made me think, ‘I can do this,’” she says. Confidence bolstered, she soon was preparing most of her family’s meals on the grill and decided she would like to help other women master the cooking method. She says that when women feel comfortable at the grill, they “love the ease and flavor compared with cooking indoors, and want to cook outdoors more often.”
She’s on to something. The Weber GrillWatch Survey shows that women lack confidence at the grill. Only 15 percent of women say they feel confident grilling outside, compared with 30 percent of men who say they feel confident. Also, according to the survey, 34 percent of men believe they grill better than most people, whereas only 17 percent of women feel that way.
“I try to make grilling approachable,” Vanover says. “Getting women comfortable behind the fire and teaching them the basics gets their confidence up. When they’re more confident, they experiment with new techniques and do more grilling in general.” She encourages women to use gas grills on busy weeknights, but promotes charcoal grilling and smoking techniques when there is more time on weekends.
Char-Broil recently enlisted Vanover’s help to teach women about using their oil-less turkey fryer for holiday prep. “I tell women a grill or fryer is like having an extra oven that takes the stress off the indoor oven,” she says. “It’s a multifunctional appliance that can be used to cook the turkey or the side dishes.”
Other industries are taking notice of the women’s grilling movement. The Florida Beef Council paired with the Junior League of Tampa on a social media campaign to promote grilling beef with the hashtag #GirlsGoneGrilling. The trend is catching on in Europe too. British outdoor cooking enthusiast Genevieve Taylor, author of “How to Eat Outside,” spent last summer galvanizing women grillers through demos at festivals and events.
Marketing to women is clearly important to growing sales of grills and accessories. But how best to reach them?
- Add Color: According to Weber, 54 percent of females prefer grills with color, versus 46 percent of males – a finding that helped lead to the development of the company’s new line of Weber Q portable grills with colorful grill heads. Vanover suggests that grill manufacturers “follow what Kitchen Aid has done with stand mixers and add color to grills so they’re approachable and fun for women.” Retailers may also want to incorporate more color into displays through the use of fake food, colorful signage and other merchandising elements on the sales floor.
- Ladies Nights: Offer beginner grilling classes for women that teach the basics of lighting the grill and other fundamental techniques. Vanover says a hands-on class in a non-intimidating environment reduces the fear factor, and is also a great way to introduce different types of grilling equipment to women. “Once they see how to use the grills and accessories, they are more willing to buy. Women are not afraid to invest in a great pair of shoes or a purse, so why not a grill?”
- Create a Grill Coach: Marketing expert Anne Obarski suggests assigning a “grill coach” to attendees of any women’s grilling class. Similar to a life coach, the grill coach would be a go-to resource for follow-up questions, “without risking any condescending eye-rolls that might result from asking one’s husband,” she says.
- Support Women’s Charities: Tie in with a local breast cancer organization or other local women’s charity during the month of October and donate fees from ladies-only (or co-ed) grilling classes during the month. Raffle off a pink Weber Q grill in your store, or donate one to your charity partner for one of their fundraising events.
- Use Recipes: A survey by market research firm SheSpeaks indicates recipes are a key way to reach and educate women online. It shows that 79 percent of women connect with manufacturers online through recipes, second only to coupons at 83 percent, and far ahead of any other content. The survey also reveals that digital recipe content can change in-store behaviors – in other words, if a recipe sounds good, women are likely to purchase the ingredients or products needed to make it. Using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube to post recipes can help reach potential female customers and increase sales of seasonings, sauces, wood chips and accessory products.
- Step Back from the Stereotypes: Vanover suggests that manufacturers and retailers create gender-neutral displays that avoid reinforcing macho-male-griller stereotypes. Instead, focus on the food, fun, ease and flavor of outdoor cooking in advertising and promotions. “(Gender neutrality) is particularly important when trying to reach Millennial men and women,” she says.
More women than ever are interested in grilling and barbecuing. Manufacturers and retailers would be wise to develop products and marketing programs that connect with this untapped consumer segment to grow sales of grills and accessories.