Talk of the Town
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Did you get to the HPBExpo in Atlanta last month? Retailers who did left with a long wish-list of innovative new barbecue products to add to their stores, valuable insight into industry trends, and an arsenal of techniques to grow sales. Exhibitors also left pumped about the coming season thanks to connections made and, in many cases, orders in hand.
“We have done a wide variety of industry trade shows, but this year’s HPBExpo has been the best for us and produced the greatest results,” says Joe Cilio, CEO and president of Alfresco Home, U.S. distributor of Fervor Grills, Fornetto Pizza Ovens, Fornetto Razzo smokers, and other outdoor living products.
First-time exhibitors, many of them small companies or inventors looking to form relationships with distributors and dealers, felt the love, too. “We’ve been so excited by the response here at EXPO; it’s been money well spent,” says Kevin Dusold, of Bimex Corp., importers of OPENFIRE, a wood-fired fire pit with multiple cooking attachments.
Though some remarked that traffic seemed a little light at times, the numbers of exhibitors and attendees were actually both up slightly. Many shared the view of Candace King of Hearthlink International, a distributor of Morsø black, cast-iron, wood-fired Forno Outdoor Ovens, fire pits, and cookware. “The attendees are serious,” she said. “There are not a lot of tire kickers. They’re coming for a reason and they’re ready to do business.”
Evidence that the category is still very much in growth mode, the show floor was dominated by barbecue-related exhibitors. In the aisles were hundreds of fresh-idea, solutions-oriented barbecue and outdoor kitchen products – just the thing for specialty retailers to add fun and excitement to their stores and differentiate their wares from mass merchants and online sellers.
Many of the cream of the crop were recognized at the 17th Annual Vesta Awards, Friday evening, March 3. Presented by Hearth & Home magazine, the ceremony is the “Academy Awards” for the hearth and barbecue industries, and honors products for innovation in design and technology, selected from entries by an experienced, independent panel of judges.
Flame King’s Refillable 1-lb. Propane Cylinder Kit took home top honors as winner of the Vesta Best-in-Show award in the Outdoor Room category. The pioneering product seeks to solve the waste and disposal issues associated with traditional, disposable, 1-lb. propane cylinders. Ten years in development, the kit includes a reusable 1-lb. propane cylinder, as well as a refilling adaptor and stand for a 20-lb. propane cylinder.
“Every year, 30 million disposable 1-lb. propane cylinders are discarded in parks, campgrounds and municipal trash,” says Sam Newman, president of Flame King. “This is a huge problem. Disposing of these cylinders is a drain on public tax funds and a dangerous hazardous waste issue. This product offers an alternative, Green solution to the problem and could make a real impact on the environment – and it’s cheaper for the consumer, to boot.”
|Buyers flocked to the Napoleon Grills booth; the company is one of a few that manufacture both hearth and barbecue grills.|
Other companies’ R&D teams were also burning the midnight oil this past year, as were a host of garage-tinkerer start-ups introducing their big-idea inventions. In its second year exhibiting at Expo, super-premium grill manufacturer Hestan Outdoor wowed with a high-end, stainless-steel, turnkey outdoor kitchen island, with thoughtful features such as motion-sensor interior cabinet lighting and built-in electrical outlets. It also introduced a new lower-price-point line of grills called the Hestan Aspire.
“The line still has Hestan-quality construction and design, but has fewer features and its mid-line price range allows us to reach more consumers,” says Barry Towns, Regional Sales manager.
Expanding on its pellet grill offerings, Dansons launched a new line of “aggressively priced” gas grills, and a series of vertical smokers fueled by gas, electricity or pellet fuels under its Pit Boss brand. It hopes to cement its presence in the premium outdoor kitchen space with its new, top-of-the-line, Louisiana Grills Estate 860 built-in or cart-based stainless-steel pellet grill.
Dansons’ innovative new series of combination grills includes the Memphis Ultimate Smoking Grill with side-by-side gas and charcoal grill heads, infrared sideburner, and a vertical smoker in the cart base. Its Laredo Smoke Center, which comes with a gas grill head, smoking drawer, and ve rtical smoking oven, captured the Vesta Award for best gas barbecue.
|Dansons came with more products than you could count; pictured is their Louisiana Grills line.|
Primo Grills expanded beyond its wheelhouse with a new gas-fueled, oval, ceramic kamado. The grill reaches 600 degrees in three minutes, has easily controlled cooking temperatures, and can accommodate a smoker box for wood chips or pellets. The company had previously tested a gas kamado in 2000 but, according to Jim Nufer of Primo Grills, “It was ahead of its time. Now, the marketplace is ready for the next generation of kamados,” he says. “We’re getting really good reaction from dealers and distributors.”
Coyote Outdoor Living is testing the waters in the often-overlooked electric grill category with a high-performing, small-footprint electric grill capable of reaching 550-degree cooking temps, thanks to a unique design that boosts heat by positioning the burner element in direct contact with the grilling grid and just above a rack of heat-generating ceramic briquets.
“We’re seeing a trend where Millennials and empty nesters are moving to urban areas, and that presents new opportunities for electric grills,” says Jim Ginocchi, president of Coyote Outdoor Living. “These consumers want to grill and entertain outdoors, but they may not be able to use an open-flame grill. Electric grills are also in demand in coastal communities for condos and boats. We’re already seeing dealers clamoring for this product in markets like south Florida.”
Blaze Outdoor Products showed off a prototype of its patent-pending, dual-fuel, pellet-gas hybrid grill, designed by Joe Traeger, the originator of the pellet category. Expected to be ready for market in 2018, the grill has three settings – pellet, gas or combo – and thanks to a searing plate in the grill body, can reach 800-degree cooking temps.
Blaze also unveiled its new cast-aluminum kamado grill. The super-heavy-duty, durable cooker retains heat well and solves some of the problematic issues with traditional ceramic kamados: the solid aluminum body won’t crack or break; the damper top is constructed as part of the kamado lid, so it won’t fall off; there are no bands or gaskets to change out; and it eliminates the need for a breakable firebox since the fire can be built directly in the base. Other innovative features include a multi-position cooking grid and a rotisserie.
Another innovative variation on the kamado grill is Golden’s Cast Iron Cooker. The heavyweight, cast-iron kamado integrates the hinges as part of the lid and base casts, eliminating the need for bands and preventing the lid and base from misaligning.
|One of the pleasures of having an Outdoor Burn Area is, of course, being able to sample the food.|
Are Planchas the Next Pizza Ovens?
Pizza ovens may not have occupied as much real estate on the Expo floor compared to recent years, however, they were still a presence and manufacturers report that consumer interest in both the ovens and related accessory products remains high. Stopping traffic were Bull Outdoor Products’ wood-burning ovens, Alfresco Home’s cart-based Fornetto Pizza Ovens, and Fontana Forni’s imported-from-Italy ovens.
Blackstone showed a gas-fired, cart-based pizza oven, and FIRE BOX BBQ Pizza Oven introduced a portable unit that sits on the grilling grate of any gas or charcoal grill. The uniquely designed Uuni 3 pellet-fueled tabletop pizza oven took home a Vesta Award for Best Barbecue, Other Fuels.
Plancha-style grills may be the next outdoor cooking category to hit the big time, evidenced by the growing number of solid-surface griddle grills on display indoors and out. Among the many at Expo were LeGriddle by Sisteria USA; Blackstone Griddle Cooking Station; Blaze Gas Griddle; Aupa Plancha; Eno La Plancha by Eurodib, and Vesta finalist My Hibachi BBQ, a unique plancha-style grill with a wraparound dining counter.
“There is a demand for griddle grills,” says Gabriel Negron of Bull Outdoor Products. The company introduced its new three-burner Griddle Cart at Expo. “It’s very versatile; you can cook breakfast or get a great sear on burgers and steaks. It takes outdoor living to the next level by creating an experience.”
|The OFYR was new and unique; it impressed many of the buyers at the Expo.|
First-time exhibitor OFYR introduced a multifunctional product that is as much a work of backyard art as it is a plancha-style grill and fire pit. At the center of this COR-TEN steel stunner is a deep, cone-shaped fire pit for holding a wood fire. It is surrounded by a broad, flat rim made of half-inch-thick steel that heats up from the fire and becomes a cooking surface for anything from bacon and eggs for breakfast to steaks and seafood, or even dessert.
“This is about social grilling,” says Steven Kovens, executive vice president for OFYR USA. “We’re creating a social lifestyle centered around cooking. Usually when someone grills, their back is to their guests. With OFYR, the guests hang out around the fire with the cook, or even become part of the process. Consumers want experiences, and this product fits in perfectly with that trend.”
Bring on the Barrels
Look for barrel cookers to make inroads this year. A no-tech alternative to today’s increasingly high-tech grills, charcoal-fired barrel cookers offer the option of grilling, barbecuing or smoking within the moist, smoky confines of a closed 50-gallon drum. These cookers are fun, super-simple to use, affordable, and are getting exposure on the competition circuit.
“People love the product because once you light the charcoal and load the food in, you never have to touch them,” says Marv Lieberman, COO of The Original Pit Barrel Cooker Co. “They are a good item to add to the retail floor with the potential for a lot of additional accessory sales.”
Other manufacturers offering barrel-style cookers at Expo include Barrel House Cooker Company, Barrel Q The Original, and Gateway Drum Smoker.
|Just a few years ago (four or so?) Saber Grills launched its line at the HPBExpo. Now it is a well-established brand with a strong dealer network.|
In recent years, premium manufacturers have been introducing lines of smaller, lesser-featured, value-oriented grills and outdoor kitchens to meet the growing demand for aspirational Out door Room products among a broader base of consumers, particularly Millennials. However, it’s clear from Expo that the desire to show off is still alive and well among the barbe cue-buying public.
According to Nick Straubel, director of marketing for Summerset Professional Grills, the company can’t keep its new 54-in. American Muscle Grill in stock. Designed to look like a classic muscle car, this mac-daddy of grills is American-made, weighs nearly 500 pounds, and is a hybrid that can cook with gas, charcoal, wood, infrared or any combination therein.
“There are no gizmos or gadgets in this grill. It’s about getting back to the basics – cooking with fire,” says Straubel. Though the grill also comes in a 36-in. model, he says the larger unit is in high demand. “People come in asking, ‘What’s your biggest grill?’ There’s some showing off involved.”
Dante Cantal, president and CEO of premium grill and outdoor kitchen equipment company Twin Eagles, says that kind of one-upmanship was partly behind the creation of the new Twin Eagles C-Series 54-in. grill. The top-of-the-line appliance is loaded with beautiful design features such as mirrored edges and an extra-thick, insulated hood; conveniences such as blue temperature-indicator lights on the control knobs; and problem-solving innovations such as a hidden, built-in rotisserie motor and a storage slot for the spit-rod in the drip tray.
But who’s buying a 54-in. grill that’s the size – and very nearly the price – of a small car? “The person whose neighbor owns a 42-in. grill,” says Cantal, with a chuckle.
|The Weber Mobile Grill Academy, a classroom on wheels, attracted attention with games and appearances by the Atlanta Falcon Cheerleaders.|
More Highlights from Expo
Big Green Egg’s annual HPBExpo Tailgate & Cookoff in the outdoor burn area Thursday evening was packed, and the epitome of combining business with pleasure. Outdoor barbecue exhibitors rolled out the welcome mat, cooked up a storm, and shared samples with the enthusiastic folks who gathered around their booths to learn and taste.
The Weber Mobile Grill Academy, an 18-wheeled rolling classroom, was a fun “Recreation Destination” during the event, with cooking demos, outdoor games such as Giant Jenga, Corn Hole, and Arm Chair Quarterback, as well as appearances by the Atlanta Falcons mascot and cheerleaders.
Held under a big top in the center of the Outdoor Burn area, the Big Green Egg Cook-off pitted six barbecue teams from across the U.S. and Canada, grilling up everything from clams to Georgia-peach cobbler. Emcee Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe presented the crystal Big Green Egg trophy to the Char Heels team from Clean Sweep The Fireplace Shop in Waynesville, North Carolina.
Also at the Cook-off event, the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Leadership Award was presented to Dante Cantal, founder and owner of Twin Eagles. Cantal, who has previously earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Gas Engineers, was recognized for his contributions to the industry and for setting a benchmark for quality and innovative barbecue products, honorable business practices, exceptional customer service, and industry leadership.
Last year’s Donna H. Myers Barbecue Leadership Award recipient, Stan Hays, co-founder of Operation BBQ Relief, was a guest speaker at Friday evening’s 17th Annual Vesta Awards ceremony. The nonprofit organization has a network of nearly 4,500 competition pitmaster volunteers ready to deploy to communities across the country in the wake of hurricanes, tornados, fires, floods, and other natural disasters, to serve up hot barbecued meals and human kindness to displaced residents in devastated communities. Launched in 2011 after tornados leveled the town of Joplin, Missouri, the group has served 1.2 million meals to date, half of them within the past 16 months.
If you missed all this, you missed out. Stop everything and make your reservations now for HPBExpo 2018 in Nashville!