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Hearth & Home January 2015

Del Sol outdoor kitchen from Twin Eagles.

Hitting the Gas

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Strong sales in 2014, along with healthy early-buys, signal good news for grill manufacturers and dealers in the coming year.

Economic rebounds and slow-but-steady improvements in the housing market have had a positive impact on the gas grill category. Manufacturers report solid sales growth in 2014, with the upward trend expected to continue this year.

Jeff Straubel, president of Summerset Professional Grills, says 2014 sales were up about 43 percent over 2013 at his company, growth he attributes to higher consumer confidence, a re-emerging housing market and credit availability.

“Right now, consumer confidence seems to be at a high since 2006,” he says.

PRO Series gas grill from Napoleon.

Steven Schroeter, senior vice president Sales, Marketing & Administration for Napoleon, also credits consumer confidence as a big factor behind the increases in Napoleon’s grill sales.

“We are experiencing very positive attitudes in both Canada and the U.S.,” he says.

Dealers are also more confidentand, as a result, are ordering more through early-buy programs, according to Jerry Scott, senior vice president, Robert H. Peterson Company.

“After a few seasons during the recession where it was really a struggle, we are very excited to see our early-buys up because of dealer confidence,” he says. “Our dealers are ordering more and filling the pipeline. We are doing better than we were pre-recession.

“I think people are beginning to feel better about the future and we’re seeing higher investment in home improvements, particularly Outdoor Rooms,” Scott continues. “Since our grills are primarily built-ins, that trend has been a prime factor in our growth.”

In fact, growing demand for Outdoor Rooms has been a significant factor behind the bump in sales of all premium gas grills, the majority of which are sold for building into outdoor kitchens. According to Schroeter, a significant part of this growth is being fueled by builders who are increasingly offering outdoor kitchen packages with built-in grills to new home buyers. In the coming years, builders’ sales of Outdoor Room options are expected to continue tracking upward, paralleling the growing housing market.

TRL Power Burner from Summerset Grills.

“I think in the next 10 years outdoor kitchens will become a generally accepted addition for home builders,” predicts Straubel. “They are becoming the new fireplace for a home.”

Brian Eskew of Twin Eagles points out that as outdoor kitchens become accessible to a broader demographic range, sales of built-in grills will continue to climb. The company, whose grills are primarily sold as built-ins for outdoor kitchens, experienced a 30 percent jump in overall sales in 2014.

“An outdoor kitchen is not just available to the wealthy anymore,” says Eskew. “It’s a desirable, practical home improvement and everybody wants one.”

The company’s lower-priced Delta Heat line, introduced several years ago, opened the outdoor kitchen concept to many more consumers, according to Eskew. “The success of Delta Heat has been exponential. Not everyone who can afford a Twin Eagles product is willing to pay premium prices. Delta Heat grills offer best-in-class value, and that is good enough for many luxury buyers.”

Even with the success of the Delta Heat value line, Eskew says dealers continued to express a need for quality grills priced even lower, to round out the company’s good-better-best grill offerings. A brand new entry-level-priced line called Del Sol will be out in the second quarter of this year. While the best-selling Twin Eagles model is priced around $4,500, and the top-selling Delta Heat grill averages $2,200, Eskew expects the most popular price point in the Del Sol line will be around $1,500.

The three new Del Sol models are designed to compete with other entry-level, value-priced, stainless-steel grills, according to Eskew. They will be made from 304 stainless steel and emphasize quality and performance, rather than extra features, bells and whistles. While the other two brands are sold primarily as built-ins, Eskew anticipates Del Sol sales will include a mix of built-in and freestanding, cart-based units.

American Outdoor Grill Model 36NBL from Robert H. Peterson.

Like Twin Eagles, RH Peterson has seen a “tremendous spike in sales” in its value-priced American Outdoor Grill line. The company is introducing design improvements on the line for 2015, with interior lights and electronic spark ignition on the L Series, and an improved piezo ignition system on the T Series.

While Modern Home Products (MHP) offers grills along a wide price spectrum, its recently launched, entry-level, American-made Patriot line, with grills priced between $699 and $799, has been met with great success, according to Tom Nitz, vice president Sales and Marketing.

“Consumers like the price and dealers like that the complete grill is in one box,” he says, “unlike other grills that come in multiple boxes for the base and grill head. This line also helps to upsell customers to higher-priced MHP grills.”

Schroeter says Napoleon is finding its greatest success with grills at $1,000-plus price points, part of a trend in which consumers are looking for better quality grills with more innovative cooking accessories at value prices. The company has responded to this trend with a bevy of full-featured products, including the PRO Series, which Schroeter describes as “a high-end grill with infrared burners and literally every bell and whistle you can think of, at very attractive list prices.”

Infrared, in fact, remains another trend in the gas grill category. According to Chris Robbins, CEO at Char-Broil, parent company of Saber Grills, research shows that as more people grill year-round, infrared’s high-heat capability in cold weather conditions is becoming a sought-after feature.

“Studies show awareness in infrared has grown a lot over the last six or seven years,” says Robbins. “Once people understand it, they see the value and they want it.”

Patriot from Modern Home Products.

Nitz agrees, although he says MHP’s Hybrid grill, which combines infrared with traditional gas burners, far outsells their all-infrared models. “Infrared is here to stay, but people prefer it in a zone configuration as opposed to the entire grill,” he says. “They don’t want to cook with high heat all the time; it’s very limiting.”

Despite the success of their infrared grills, Nitz says the company has actually seen far greater interest in their Phoenix line of slow-cooking gas grills. The versatile grill can cook low-and-slow and smoke, as well as sear.

“It can do it all and offers the best of both worlds,” Nitz says. “We have seen a big uptick in sales of Phoenix grills in the past year and it’s a growing part of our business. It’s a unique product that dealers like because it differentiates them from the Big Box stores. It has also appealed to pool and spa dealers, LP gas resellers and other retailers that previously were reluctant to get into traditional grills because of all the competition.”

So will this positive streak continue in 2015? Most manufacturers with whom we spoke are optimistic sales of gas grills will continue to trend upward. “I think the latest election will help,” says Straubel. “Republicans seem to be more pro-business. As we are a capitalist society, business is a high priority that should generate reciprocal benefits. Let’s hope so.”

Considering that winter got off to a walloping start with deep-freeze temperatures and heavy snow falls in much of the country before Thanksgiving even arrived, consumers should be good and ready to enjoy cooking and living outdoors in 2015 – and buying grills as well.

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