Its Time Has Come
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Some might consider the electric grill category a late bloomer; others might view it as an example of “failure to launch.” However you choose to label it, the fact is that the category has historically been a bit of a dud.
That could be changing.
Manufacturers of electric grills – particularly premium electric grills – are noticing a sales uptick. “Growth in the category did not happen as quickly as we had hoped, but in the last two or three years, we have seen a significant sales increase,” says Mike Williams, Sales and Marketing manager for Kenyon International, a company that makes electric grills for marine and home use. “Keep in mind, we started at zero, but now we are definitely seeing growth.”
Kenyon is not alone. Jim Ginocchi, president of Coyote Outdoor Living, says sales of the Coyote Electric Grill, introduced in 2017, have been three times greater than his original projections. “This category has not been an overnight sensation,” Ginocchi says. “When people think of a grill, they think of charcoal or gas. Like with the electric car, it takes time to educate the consumer before they’ll adopt any new technology. We are finally getting to that point with electric grills.”
“Electric grills have always been an interesting market,” says Ed Mackin, president of Maverick Industries. The company started manufacturing indoor, tabletop electric grills in 1982, and now offers a premium model for outdoor use. “There are about 10 million units of electric grilling products sold every year,” he says, “but 9.7 million of them are indoor tabletop units selling for under $50 at retail.
“Outdoor electric barbecues account for somewhere around 3% of total electric grill sales. You can go back 40 years and that figure hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, indoor and outdoor products are co-mingled in the consumer’s mind. They believe low-priced, underperforming, indoor electric grills are the only type of electric grills available.”
“Usually, most people know of a George Foreman-type grill or a grill pan on the stove,” agrees Williams. “We’ve had to educate people that there are options that deliver true grilling results.”
Hot Premium Products
Today’s premium outdoor electric grills solve issues that have long bridled the electric category: lackluster searing, marginal quality, and size limitations. New cutting-edge units are made from quality materials, have larger cooking surfaces,attractive designs, multiple mounting options, and most importantly, incorporate patented technology and engineering that boosts temperatures and performance.
Kenyon International initially developed its 304 stainless-steel electric grills for use on boats, but realized there was a market for the marine-grade units in waterfront, high-rise, condominium buildings. Today, it offers premium electric grills in a broad variety of sizes and price points, each powered by a standard wall outlet, and available for tabletop-, cart-, or built-in mounting.
Manufactured in Connecticut, Kenyon electric grills feature a patented design that places the heating element in direct contact with the grilling grid to intensify heat and generate cooking temperatures up to 600 degrees in 10 minutes.
Its smallest and best-selling unit, the compact City Grill, has a single 155 sq. inch cooking surface. The company also offers models with two independently-controlled cooking zones, and has just introduced its largest unit with three zones and ample cooking space for 12 to 16 people. The new grill, priced at $3,500 retail, is designed for building into an outdoor kitchen and will require a 240-volt outlet. “This grill is similar in size and design to what people expect of a built-in gas grill,” says Williams. “I think it will be popular.”
|Coyote Electric Grill by Coyote Outdoor Living.|
Coyote Outdoor Living introduced the Coyote Electric Grill in 2017 after distributors pointed out growing demand in the marketplace, according to Ginocchi. The 156 sq. inch, 35 lb., stainless-steel grill plugs into a 120-volt outlet, and has a Teflon-coated, dishwasher-safe cooking grid, elevated warming rack, 60-minute safety timer, surge protector, and lifetime warranty.
The grill combines a powerful electric heating element in tandem with a unique ceramic-briquet heat plate, that not only produces 550-degree cooking temperatures in seven minutes, but catches and vaporizes drippings into flavorful smoke.
“We have created an electric grill that looks and functions like a true outdoor barbecue,” says Ginocchi. “We wanted people to think of it as a barbecue, not a hot plate.”
The grill can be used indoors and out as a tabletop unit, or mounted on one of the available base options: a weighted, movable, pedestal post; a stainless-steel cart; a ready-to-assemble island with a stacked-stone finish; or a compact, contemporary outdoor entertainment island with built-in refrigerator and counter overhang for two barstools.
The company recently slashed the price of the grill from $799 to $499 retail (cover and utensil set are included). “It’s a calculated strategy to remove any hesitancy about price, so people will try it and get comfortable in this category,” Ginocchi says. “We have hit a value price point and believe it will open doors to consumers taking a chance. As the category grows and evolves, we’ll also be looking at larger sizes and enhancing accessory offerings.”
RH Peterson introduced its 252 sq. inch Fire Magic Electric Grill about five years ago, according to senior vice president Jerry Scott. It plugs into a standard outlet and features a 304 stainless-steel grill body; a large and robust heating element that reaches 725 degrees; digital controls; and an optional rotisserie.
In addition to tabletop or post mounts, the company just introduced a new Electric Outdoor Kitchen with a glass-fiber-reinforced concrete island outfitted with a Fire Magic Electric Grill, refrigerator, two storage drawers, and accent lighting. “This is a small-footprint outdoor kitchen that can be used on a high-rise condo balcony or where people have limited space,” says Scott.
“We’ve seen demand for electric grills growing,” he continues. “People are asking for larger sizes, so we are in the early, conceptual-stage development of a larger unit. Our first model is able to plug into a standard wall outlet, so it was restricted in size. A larger grill may require a different type of power source.”
|Char-B-Que from Maverick Industries.|
In terms of technology and innovation, Maverick Industries’ Electric Char-B-Que is light years ahead of the electric grills it first offered three decades ago. Introduced in 2015, the 200 sq. inch grill cooks with infrared energy thanks to a ribbed, ceramic-glass cooking surface. The glass, made in Germany by Schott, is impervious to thermal shock, and allows the grill to reach cooking temperatures in excess of 650 degrees.
“Our infrared electric grill can accomplish greater temps with less wattage, so it’s 20% more efficient than traditional electric grills,” says Mackin. “It gets hot enough to create smoke, which equates to flavor. Most electric grills don’t sear or produce smoke, so you don’t get that grill taste and experience. Our product creates better-tasting food.”
The Char-B-Que is UL and ETL certified for outdoor use, and can also be used indoors when positioned near a ventilation hood. The grill comes with a windscreen/splatter shield and warming rack, and according to Mackin, 40% of buyers also purchase the optional hinged hood cover and rolling cart base. Mackin says the product is sold mainly through small, independent barbecue shops and specialty online sellers such as Houzz.com.
Gauging the Current
Having a new slate of premium, high-performance, cutting-edge products to choose from is one reason behind the spike in electric grill interest. But recent housing and lifestyle trends are also at play.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a marked increase in townhome production since 2015, and last year, townhomes comprised 14% of new-home starts. Other reports indicate consumers are increasingly moving to urban areas where multifamily apartments and condos prevail. In many communities, fire codes or homeowners’ associations restrict the use of gas and charcoal grills at multifamily buildings. Electric grills are a permissible alternative.
“The building-industry trend is to build up instead of out,” says Ginocchi. “These high-rises are being marketed to two groups – active-adult empty nesters, and Millennials. Whether they’re downsizing empty nesters coming in from the suburbs, or Millennials just starting out, they want to be in a building with wonderful amenities.”
While those amenities might include grills in common outdoor living spaces, as Ginocchi points out, residents often want their own. “You never know how well that common grill was cleaned prior to your use,” he says. “Or, if you’re entertaining guests, you don’t want to have to cook on the roof or in the courtyard and then bring the food back to your private balcony to eat. Baby Boomers are used to having a premium grill at home, and now that they’ve downsized, they want a small, premium electric unit to fit on their balcony. Millennials want products that are easy to use but luxurious in nature.”
|Electric Grill Island from RH Peterson Co.|
Reaching the Market
According to Scott, the greatest demand for electric grills has been in the Southeast, in cities such as Atlanta, Raleigh, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and other communities where there is a proliferation of high-rise condominiums on or near the water. “It’s a growing phenomenon,” he says. “People are moving into buildings where gas and charcoal are not permitted, but they want to enjoy the same outdoor cooking and living experiences they’re used to. As a result, demand for electric grills is increasing. And because of the corrosive environment, they need a premium, stainless-steel product.”
This trend is only expected to grow. Socioeconomic trend-monitors 24/7 Wall Street, report an increase in migration patterns from the Northeast and Midwest to Sunbelt states among both retirees and Millennials. In addition to these warm-weather locales, Ginocchi says his company also has seen a spike in electric grill sales in Nashville, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and northern California.
To reach the key target market – luxury townhome or condo residents – companies are beginning to work directly with builders, designers, architects, and other specifiers of multifamily projects. Builders will often offer an electric outdoor kitchen setup among the possible upgrade options, or an electric pedestal grill as a sales-closing incentive for potential buyers.
Mackin says trade shows and home shows have been effective sales generators for his company. “After a show, people leave with (an Electric Char-B-Que), and before long, all their neighbors want one and we’ve sold 10,” he says.
Electric grill manufacturers also are upping their consumer-marketing efforts to increase awareness about the category. “We’re taking a fun, engaging, and creative approach toward educating the consumer,” says Williams. “We share recipes and conduct prize giveaways to get the product in people’s hands. We’ve been working with influencers, including an ESPN personality, and partnered on a promotion with the Boston Red Sox, which opened doors for us.
“We are a very small company and don’t have big budgets, so aligning with major brands and trusted influencers has been a huge opportunity to grow our brands.” The company is also running online ads that pop up when people search electric grills.
According to the experts, the premium electric grill category holds considerable potential for specialty barbecue retailers.
“Consumers can’t find these products at mass retailers,” says Mackin. “A specialty dealer can educate the consumer and demonstrate how great the product performs. These products differentiate the dealer and have good margins.”