2020 Changed Everything: Outdoor Living Edition

Written by John Laing

February 23, 2021

It’s been more than a century since the United States endured a pandemic proportionate to the impact of COVID-19. In 1918, roughly 675,000 Americans were killed by the H1N1 flu. In the wake of that virus, people wanted to break with tradition, have fun and interact with others unlike ever before. So, it’s no wonder that the next decade became known as the “Roaring 20s.”

Much like 1920, 2020 will also go down in history as the year everything changed – but for an entirely different reason. As someone who loves human interaction, it feels like this decade has started out as the “Boring 20s.” But I’m hopeful that’s not a trend that will continue throughout the decade. There are, however, three key trends that I do predict will linger, especially when it comes to outdoor living.

Psychographic Trends

While it has been an awful year in many ways, companies involved in selling products related to the home have benefited from the stay-at-home phenomena. The need to replace failing products, along with interest in upgrading products, has never been stronger.

Normally, about 60% of grills are replaced because they are under duress. And while the raw number of grills being replaced will have increased, I do not anticipate the overall percentage to increase. The reason: consumers have broken away from only cooking food fast on a gas grill. Low and slow cooking or smoking foods for longer periods of time has become a trend instead of a fad. And the stay-at-home / work-from-home environment has caused many Americans to develop new interests and hobbies inclusive of the aspirational “BBQ / Grill Master” title.

But is grilling still a man’s world? According to Elizabeth Karmel, a.k.a. Grill Girl, “Industry statistics show that women are grilling out more often and are taking charge of the grill for more occasions.”

What does this mean for you? DO NOT let the stubborn stereotype of the male being the only target consumer affect your go-to-market execution.

Grill / Fuel Type Trends

According to the Hearth, Patio and BBQ Association, 30% of U.S. consumers own two grill types, and 12% own three. The trend coming out of 2020 will create continued growth in multi-grill ownership. Your action plan needs to include merchandising for all types of fuel: gas, charcoal, wood and pellets. For urban markets, you may want to include electric grill options as well.

While the largest dollar volume comes from gas grills – followed by charcoal and/or wood, pellet and electric – the fastest growing fuel type is pellet. Pellet grill sales grew 20%+ prior to 2020, and as this year closes, pellet grill sales of more than 30%+ were constrained only by manufacturing / parts supply. In fact, I know of many dealers selling pellet grills ONLY, driving six-figure revenue to their top lines AND very healthy gross margin dollars to their bottom lines.

Pellet grills aren’t the only category seeing growth, though. Lump charcoal and wood-based grills/smokers are also on the rise. Kamado Joe is narrowing the gap on Big Green Egg dominance in kamado style-grills. And Argentinian-style cooking with wood, like the Ñuke (new-kay) brand, is growing in popularity.

Grill Innovation & Styling

WiFi-based control systems are all the rage. This is especially true in pellet grills, such as Traeger, Louisiana Grills, Broil King and Weber. Not only does this feature allow you to manage your grill temperature from anywhere, but some controllers even allow you to use built-in recipes to enhance ease of use.

When will WiFi come to gas grills? One possibility lies with a brand called Otto Wilde based in Germany. They recently closed a “kickstarter” fund that garnered nearly $4.5M to help build their G32 model, which would be the first smart, modular gas grill. More to come on that later.

What else is new? While outdoor kitchens continue double-digit growth, the latest offerings by several suppliers feature modular outdoor kitchen products that piece together AND are mobile. Plus, colors are now starting to replace traditional stainless-steel finishes on gas grills.

2021 & Beyond

2020 has proven that Independent dealers are the most tenacious and flexible retailers of all. They have morphed their business execution to best meet the environment. 2021 will be the “come-back year” for consumers shopping local with personal store interaction. Make your plans NOW for event marketing by promoting live demonstrations. Appeal to their senses, because they CANNOT wait to get out of the house. Trust me on that.

This article was first published in the January 2021 issue of Retail Observer.


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