Small Grills, Big Potential
By Lisa Readie Mayer
It’s the big grills – the ones tricked out with interior lights, Bluetooth-enabled digital control panels, and enough Btu-power to launch a space shuttle – that usually get the most attention in the barbecue industry. But the little guys deserve consideration, too. In fact, small portable grills serve a big-and-getting-bigger audience of consumers, and are an important addition to the product mix on the retail sales floor. If they are not part of yours, they should be, and here’s why.
Tailgaters are an obvious target if you’re located near a professional or collegiate sports stadium, or where there might be a dedicated fan base or alumni contingent. The Tailgating Industry Association reports Americans spend $20 billion annually on tailgating food and gear. According to Tailgating.com, 46% of football enthusiasts tailgate between six and 10 times a season, and more than half of all tailgaters arrive between three to four hours before the game.
The 26th Annual Weber GrillWatch Survey reports 93% of tailgaters prepare their food once they get to the parking lot, usually on a grill. In fact, Weber’s study shows grills rank second on the list of top-10 must-haves at a tailgate party, deemed essential by 76% of consumers, second only to food (79%), and far more important than having an actual ticket to the game (44%). (CNN reports that 10% of tailgaters never even attend the game; other experts peg that figure at closer to 30%.) Besides professional and collegiate football games, fans of high school football also regularly tailgate in many areas of the country.
Of course, tailgating is not limited to football. There are lots of other occasions where pre-event grilling is popular, including NASCAR races, horse steeplechase race meets, concerts, and music festivals. Portable grills are also often toted to the beach, and on hunting and fishing adventures.
Since the recession, upscale outdoor recreational pursuits that call for quality portable grills have been steadily trending up. The National Marine Manufacturers Association reports boat sales increased 6% in 2017, the sixth consecutive year of growth. Sales of RVs climbed more than 17% in 2017; sales have more than tripled since the category bottomed out in 2009. The Outdoor Industry Association reports RV camping grew by 9% over the past three years.
Traditional camping is increasing too. According to a study by Kampgrounds of America, 37 million U.S. households went camping in 2016, a number that has increased steadily since 2013. The number of people who camp frequently (three or more times per year) grew by 36%, and half of all campers planned to camp even more often this year.
Camping is an especially good way to connect with Millennials. More than half of the generation said they planned to camp more often, and they are the demographic most likely to camp in large groups of 10 or more.
Rather than roughing it, many of today’s campers are now “glamping,” or glamorous-camping in posh or exceptional accommodations. A study by market research firm Ask Your Target Market, indicates 9% of Americans have gone glamping at least once, 37% are interested in glamping, and 22% plan to try it within the next two years.
But not everyone who desires a portable grill plans to take it on the road. Downsizing Baby Boomers or first-time homeowners with small yards and small families are targets for quality portable grills, as are people living in multifamily condos and apartment buildings with tiny patios or balconies.
Clearly the market for small-sized portable grills is big, and is one that retailers should consider. Leave the cheaply-made metal boxes and disposable throwaways to the big chains and grocery stores. There are many new portable grills on the market that feature problem-solving designs, convenience, and quality construction, as well as cooking performance that is comparable to the full-size models your customers are used to. Retail prices on these specialty grills allow for decent margins.
Travel Q from Napoleon.
Wood Pellet Pizza Oven.
G-Sport FR from TEC.
Honey, I Shrunk the Grill
The new Professional Portable Grill from Blaze Outdoor Products, launched at Expo in Nashville, is a case in point. The high-quality, highly engineered unit has a cast-stainless-steel, 18,000-Btu, H-style burner, 12mm stainless-steel cooking grids, a heavy-duty flame-tamer, and a lifetime warranty. The propane grill adapts for 1-lb. disposable cylinders or 20-lb. tanks, and is available in 304 or 316 marine-grade stainless steel.
“There is a significant market in coastal areas and with tailgaters and boaters who want a quality, high-performing, portable grill,” says Regional Sales manager Jim Haas.
Infrared cooking enthusiasts will go for TEC’s Cherokee FR and G-Sport FR, and Solaire’s Infrared Grill’s Everywhere, Anywhere, and Mini models. These petite versions of their full-size counterparts feature the same state-of-the-art infrared technology, but in ideal sizes for small patios, RVs, boats, or otherwise taking on the road.
Pizza ovens are now portable too, delivering the great flavor of brick-oven pizza anywhere. The tabletop ovens from Uuni Pizza Oven, and Wood Pellet Pizza Oven, can be fueled by wood pellets, lump charcoal, or wood chunks. Camp Chef’s Italia Artisan Pizza oven is a gas-fired tabletop unit, and Mont Alpi offers a pizza oven accessory that sits on a camp stove or grill sideburner.
Fans of ceramic kamados are passionate about the versatility of these cookers and the moist and flavorful food they turn out. They don’t want to settle for less while tailgating, at a vacation rental house, camping, or anywhere else they cook away from home.
Many kamado manufacturers have introduced small tabletop versions of their grills, including Big Green Egg, Primo, Kamado Joe, Grill Dome, and Vision/Icon Grills. These portable cookers have carry systems that make transporting easy, and some offer optional stands to position the grills at a convenient height. The Broil King Keg even has a portable hitch adapter to take the full-size version of the steel kamado anywhere.
Camp Chef has a broad range of quality, portable cooking products, including camp stoves, grills, outdoor ovens, flattop grills, pellet smokers, and cast-iron cookware, as well as portable fire pits, water heaters, and even movie screens, making it possible to have all the comforts of home anywhere.
Quality, convenience, and color are combined in portable grills from Weber and Napoleon. Weber Q grills are available in several sizes, with a choice of gas or electric fuels, and a number of fun colors and collegiate-licensed logo designs. Napoleon offers the gas-fueled Travel Q and the Travel Q Pro with higher-profile lid in four colors and a collapsible cart that can be pulled like luggage.
PB100P from Pit Boss Grills.
Portable Cube Grill from Everdure by Heston Blumenthal.
Iron Dog 156 from Steel Dog.
Lotus Grill from Grill Time.
Color is also a prominent design feature of the new charcoal-fueled Portable Cube Grill from Everdure by Heston Blumenthal. The clever compact unit is available in four porcelain-enameled colors. The one-piece, square firebox forms the base of the unit. It’s topped by a food-grade storage tray and a bamboo chopping board/serving tray/lid that latches closed for easy transporting. The grill has convenient carry handles, but the smart-looking accessory bag with leather straps and built-in storage for cutlery, plates, and other necessities is a popular add-on, according to general manager Anthony Hill.
It’s easy to create the wonderful flavors and communal-style atmosphere of open-fire cooking on a Kudu Grill. Based on a South African braai, the grill’s elevated grate system has a number of optional cooking platforms, including a grilling grid, cast-iron skillet pan, and smoking dome, that can be positioned at any height over the wood or charcoal fire in the fire-pan base.
The Iron Dog 156 from Steel Dog is a Texas-made, gas-fired, saucer-shaped, portable grill that’s extremely versatile. With the cooking grid in place, the grill can be used for traditional grilling; when the grid is removed, the base can be used for solid surface searing or sautéing. Remove the gas burner and the base pan can be placed directly in a fire pit for live-fire cooking.
Different mounting options, including a tripod stand and receiver hitch, make it easy to tote and use away from home, and provide add-on sales opportunities. The grill comes in black, but custom team colors or designs for the lid are an option.
The German-engineered, charcoal-fueled Lotus Grill from Grill Time features a built-in, adjustable fan powered by four AA batteries. The fan helps to control the temperature of the charcoal and increase burn efficiency, so the grill uses up to 20% less fuel than traditional grills and produces almost no smoke.
Available in two sizes, and a host of cheerful colors, the lightweight grill has an optional base, allowing it to rest at a more convenient height. It comes complete with a bag of charcoal, all-natural corn-ethanol lighter fluid gel, and a carry bag.
Sustainable cookstove and camp-products company BioLite raised $2.5 million on Kickstarter to launch its BioLite FirePit Grill. The rectangular unit with fold-up legs can be fueled by charcoal or wood and does double-duty as a fire pit or grill. At one end is a battery-pack powering a unique four-fan blower system designed to improve combustion, heat output, and energy-efficiency, while reducing smoke by 95%. The power pack lasts for 24 hours, is rechargeable by USB or the solar cover, and can be controlled manually or by a Bluetooth app.
Big Gas Grill 2X from Camp Chef.
FirePit from BioLite.
Don’t Forget the Fuel and Accessories
Portable fuel, and small-scaled tools, accessories, and other gear are other potential sales opportunities. Many portable grills are fueled by 1-lb. propane cylinders; since these cylinders are typically non-refillable, they have created a tremendous waste-disposal issue in the U.S. and Canada. Flame King Refillable 1-lb. Propane Cylinders were first introduced last year and captured Vesta Awards for innovation. However, a faulty valve system prompted a recall soon after they were introduced.
According to Dov Blauner, Flame King’s vice president of National Sales, as of April 2018, the problematic valves have been redesigned and upgraded, and the cylinders are now even UL-certified.
Blauner says a number of dealers use the refillable cylinders as a loss-leader to attract customers for return visits. They charge $15 to $18 for the initial cylinder purchase, and then offer all subsequent refills for $2, or sometimes even free refills for life.
“It costs retailers 25 to 45 cents in propane costs to refill the canisters,” says Blauner. “Tell me any other marketing technique that will bring a customer into your store for 25 cents? And since traditional 1-lb. cylinders retail for about $5 each, it pays for itself after three refills. It saves the environment and saves consumers money. A win-win.”
“Eazy BBQ is the Nespresso or Keurig of charcoal,” according to Consuelo Lyonnet, of Eazy BBQ USA, the company that imports the single-use boxes of oak lump charcoal from Spain. The all-natural, chemical-free charcoal boxes are available in two sizes, are clean and convenient to carry, and light easily with a match. The packaging even uses soy-based inks. “Retailers can stack them in the store for an easy display,” she says.
Because pesky mosquitoes can be uninvited guests on outdoor adventures, Thermacell offers a variety of mosquito-repellent systems that surround users with a 15-by-15-ft area of protection. The units are available as tiki torches, hand-held repellers, or lantern lights, and would make an excellent trigger for impulse purchases.
Don’t count out the little guys. Portable grills and accessories not only add fun and excitement to store displays, they could tap a new customer base, and may be a good way to increased revenue.