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When talking barbecue with gourmet insiders, sales of grillware and accessories seem to come down to just one thing: flavor.
Planks, rubs, smokers and barbecue sauces stoked the category in 2010, according to store owners, along with the accessories and grillware needed to impart those flavors.
In addition, consumers were cooking healthier fare on the barbecue this year, increasing demand for grill products that made adding veggies, fish and leaner meats to the fire tastier and easier.
Gourmet store owners in 2010 saw barbecue accessory sales increase slightly over 2009, and 2011 shows even more promise.
According to Linda Wyner, owner of Pans on Fire, in Pleasanton, CA, barbecue fared better this year than it did last year. That sentiment was echoed by Michael Fear, of Now You’re Cooking, in Bath, ME. “Barbecue was up a little bit this year over last year. It was in line with everything else,” he said.
Barbecue has a definite selling season, gourmet insiders have said, regardless of the region of the country, with spring and early summer through Father’s Day the best time for moving grilling products. Wyner, whose northern California location has consumers barbecuing pretty much year round, still feels the spring is the best time to promote the category. “If you don’t have your stuff out by April,” Wyner noted, “you miss the boat.”
However, Lorraine Hitchcock, owner of Beyond Pots and Pans, in Stockton, CA, has also found that the winter holiday season can be profitable for moving barbecue accessories. “December is a great month for us because the big boxes put their barbecue away and we sell a lot as gifts,” she said.
Both Hitchcock and Wyner commented that setting up barbecue gift baskets during the holidays is a great way to sell barbecue products.
While gift baskets, complete with tools, sauces and grilling cookware may have been a hit this holiday season, according to gourmet insiders, grilling tool sets are a tough sell.
“I have a hard time selling sets,” said Pans on Fire’s Wyner. “If I have the pieces separate though, they sell.”
“A lot of people pick pieces instead of a set,” added Now You’re Cooking’s Fear.
Pieces that the gourmet store channel is successful with, according to store owners, range from cedar planks from companies such as Camerons to grilling tools— spatulas, mops and tongs, for example— from companies such as Companion Group and Outset.
Wyner has found that indoor smokers and slider presses, from companies such as Nordic Ware and Camerons, are also popular in her community. The smokers can be used indoors and outdoors, allowing barbecue enthusiasts to get their fix even in inclement weather. And, the slider presses, popular for hors d’oeuvre-sized hamburgers, also work for making foods like crab cakes.
Also popular in the gourmet stores are Fire Wire flexible stainless steel grilling skewers. In fact, products that allow for lighter fare on the barbecue, such as fish baskets or mesh stainless steel grill pans from Maverick, have gained popularity in the past year as a trend toward healthier eating continues to grow, store owners noted.
Wyner runs a “Mom-a-que” barbecue program, designed to showcase the tools needed for barbecuing lighter foods such as turkey, fish and vegetables using rubs and marinades. She noted that these are foods women are more inclined to cook on the barbecue.
In addition to introducing new foods to the barbecue, to help promote barbecue accessories in Pans on Fire, Wyner entices her customers with “something aromatic.”
“I’ll use smoker bags in the store. They don’t put out a lot of smoke but the aroma is there,” she said. Wyner also demos barbecue sauces, for example, and cross-merchandises them with mops, brushes or Fire Wire skewers.
Now You’re Cooking’s Fear also finds that cross-merchandising sauces and other flavorful barbecue products with accessories and grillware is effective for increasing sales. “We put pieces in the display and have some books too. Books in the barbecue section work well. We merchandise pieces that work together and help the customers visualize what they can do with the products,” he said.
Beyond Pots and Pans’ Hitchcock agreed. “You gather cedar planks and grill sauces and mesh pans and leather mitts and put them in a display. People want ideas,” she said. “They want to be able to put together a gift and have you do it for them.”
After all, with barbecue, as in other categories, consumers look to gourmet store owners as the experts regarding the products. “If you want an education to figure out why one product might be better than another product,” Pans on Fire’s Wyner said, “you can get that information here.”
Now You’re Cooking’s Fear added, “Our customers are looking for value, and they rely on us to advise them as to what’s the good value.”
What might be up and coming in the barbecue arena for the 2011 season? Color, suggested Wyner. “Customers have been gravitating toward copper-colored lines and some manufacturers are introducing color into their lines.” However, she added, “anything creative on the grill will get the consumer’s attention.”