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Charcoal, Chips Driving Sales In Barbecue Segment

In recent years, there has been a shift from a lone grill on a deck or a patio to the creation of full outdoor living spaces centered around a barbecue — sometimes even multiple barbecues.

“Consumers are bringing the comforts of the indoors to their outdoor living spaces with outdoor kitchens, heaters, and lighting to spend more time outside year-round. Patios and other outdoor living spaces provide a gathering area for food and entertainment,” said Jack Goldman, president and CEO, Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA).

He continued, “Barbecuing is no longer just a pastime, but an integral part of the North American lifestyle. Outdoor kitchens with grills allow consumers to maintain a festive atmosphere while enjoying meals outside without the hassle of running back and forth inside.”

Gourmet housewares retailers have seen this shift impact their grilling business as grills like Big Green Egg, Traegar and Kamado Joe models have been in-demand with both serious grillers and new homeowners that are moving into their forever homes.

“For us, we carry Big Green Egg and it’s a constantly growing part of our business,” said Bob Kratchman, co-owner of Cherry Hill, NJ-based Kitchen Kapers, which has eight locations throughout New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. “Not only do we see it as a product for people who love to grill, but it’s also become a status symbol for young married couples who are settling into their new homes.”

Tony Curtis-Wellings, owner of Austin, TX-based Faraday’s Kitchen Store, said that he has also seen his barbecue business grow significantly in the last year due to the growing outdoor living and cooking space trend.

“I feel like the biggest driver of these sales is the fact that Millennials really just want to be outside; they don’t want to be in the house. And now there are other outdoor accessories to really complement the category,” he said.

It’s not just grill purchases that are driving this category forward, either. Consumers, said retailers, are looking for ways to add new and interesting flavors to their smoked meats and grilled vegetables, and are turning to charcoal, flavored chips, sauces and rubs to spice up what’s on the grill.

“Consumables are a great way to get customers to come back into the store,” explained Kratchman. He said Kitchen Kapers keeps Big Green Egg-branded charcoal in stock and also cherry and apple wood smoking chips.

Curtis-Wellings, too, has seen success with charcoal and chips like cedar, apple and bulgur. So much so, he is looking to add flavor pellets to his selection going into 2019.

“A lot of the increase in the barbecue business has been because of the charcoal. We carry Big Green Egg and also Rockwood, which is a family-owned company out of St. Louis. We like these because the smoke that comes off it is less bitter,” he said. “People really want their food to taste good.”

Curtis-Wellings and Kratchman both noted that sauces and rubs have also been selling well, however, Kratchman said that in the Northeast, sauces reign supreme, while Curtis-Wellings said he has a hard time keeping rubs in stock in his Texas-based store.

“The rubs have been the strongest consumable we’ve sold during the last year. They turn really fast and people come in for more than one, depending on what they’re making,” he said.

He explained that rubs with sugar in it go on pork, beef and even chicken, but then rubs without sugar can be used on fish, chicken and vegetables, so people will buy multiples.

Kratchman said that when it comes to his sauce stock, there are two flavor profiles that have been flying off the shelves — anything bacon or bourbon flavored.

“Bacon and bourbon in any combination are top sellers. People just love that the flavors are big and bold. They’re also classic flavors that can be used in a lot of recipes,” he said.

Accessorize It

Retailers told GOURMET INSIDER® that grillers want all of the convenience of a kitchen when they are cooking outside, including the accessories to make a perfect meal, like thermometers and knives.

“The crossover from grilling into housewares is just a natural progression and things like thermometers usually make a great add-on sale,” said Curtis-Wellings.

Thermometers have been a boon for retailers, as the product offers healthy margins. However, with the recently-enacted tariffs impacting the industry, retailers can expect a price increase coming down the pike sooner rather than later. While this does have the ability to impact margins, industry experts don’t foresee it deterring sales.

Kratchman said that while the thermometer business has been consistent, he has noticed that consumers in his area aren’t diving into the Bluetooth-enhanced products like he thought they would.

“A lot of our customers are actually reluctant to make the investment in a Bluetooth-enabled thermometer because they are afraid that the technology is going to be obsolete soon and something better is going to come out,” he said.

But, explained Curtis-Wellings, that’s not the case across the country, as his customers are looking to purchase thermometers that can be used in conjunction with their phones or tablets.

“People here are going crazy for thermometers that have a WiFi component or have the ability to add it on. They can do other things and monitor their food right from their phone or tablet instead of having to constantly check on it,” he said.

Curtis-Wellings said that knives are another hot category for grill lovers, but with a small caveat — grillers don’t gravitate towards traditional cutlery. He said that his hardcore barbecue customers usually purchase Swiss Army-branded and more rugged types of knives. However, he has had to merchandise the goods differently than just mixed in with traditional cutlery. 

“My customers are buying commercial-style knives for grilling and it turns them off when they see a high price on a Chef’s knife. So, I integrated the Swiss Army and other outdoor-style knives with the barbecue section of the store and not in the cutlery section,” he said.

Kratchman explained Kitchen Kapers sees the sale of outdoor textiles, like leather aprons and gloves, as add-ons when making a barbecue-based sale.

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