The 21st century has realized many of the technology dreams that were only fiction in the movies of the last century. We have self-driving cars and make video calls from our cell phones. Of course, this technology has invaded our culture's notions of status as well. The gas-guzzling Corvette is losing face next to the super quiet Tesla, and the iWatch is found strapped to the wrists of many wealthy country club-goers in lieu of the traditional Rolex.
When we think of gadgets, our minds usually turn to Silicon Valley and its treasure trove of pioneering products. But the astute consumer knows to look further abroad for new technology as well. Israel (a.k.a. Startup Nation) is quickly rivaling Silicon Valley's ingenuity, and U.S. cities like Boston and Denver are attracting entrepreneurs in droves.
One young startup based in Dusseldorf, Germany called Otto Wilde Grillers is turning heads with its impressively powerful, high end grill called the O.F.B (Over-Fired Broiler) which this week launched their Kickstarter. Their single-purpose grill does one thing really well: it cooks steaks. It cooks steaks with the precision that only German engineering can. I sat down with Alexander Luik for a diverting discussion about the grilling industry and what drives consumers to status symbols like the O.F.B.
Q: Will consumers continue to buy $50 Weber grills at Walmart, or is high end grilling going to gain more market share?
Alex: There will always be consumers buying $50 grills at Walmart because there will always be people who need an entry level, gets-the-job-done piece of equipment. However, as noted by the WSJ, high end grilling is on the rise and will continue to gain market share for the next couple of years. There are several reasons for this development, one being the trend towards specialization in the grill market. Specialized grills have come into vogue in the last decade, with such standouts as the Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe leading the market. These high-end grills found their way into thousands of middle income homes as a result of a surge in specialized grilling popularity.
Grills are also becoming an opportunity for differentiation and self-expression, particularly for men. The growing size and escalating price point of outdoor kitchens suggests that the backyard barbeque has evolved into a status symbol. It is no longer good enough to make a good burger, now it has to be done with high tech gadgets. Next to tech gadgets, watches, and cars, grills are gaining more and more importance as indicators of status.
Q. Of course technology can remove human error from food preparation, but isn't grilling a human pastime where tinkering and mistakes are included?
Alex: In my opinion, tinkering and mistakes and technology can, and often do, coexist. Technology only facilitates succeeding at a higher level or failing just as drWhatastically. It takes skill to leverage technology to a good outcome, elevating the art of grilling beyond just flipping burgers. New technology like high temperature infrared grills will add new use cases to the palette of grilling techniques and boost consumers' creativity and grilling experience.
Q. Other kinds of technology can consumers expect to see in the next five years?
Alex: I think it is very likely that there will be three major trends in grilling technology. First, I expect there will be more indoor grilling solutions because there is already the demand in densely populated cities. New technology is making that possible, through advances in safety and quality.
Second, grills and accessories will be more connected to mobile devices along with the rise of the internet of things. We have already seen smart thermometers (Meater) and dry ageing fridges (Steaklocker) as well as mobile controlled smokers (Grillson).
Finally, I expect to see more grills designed for single use purposes. These grills will offer ambitious home chefs the opportunity to create highly specialized cuisine that a standard one-size-fits-all grill could not. My company, Otto Wilde Grillers, designed a product in this genre: Otto's O.F.B. (Over-Fired Broiler), which is designed for grilling steaks to steakhouse-perfection. We are launching our Kickstarter campaign in early April and anticipate substantial interest from the American markets.
Q. New grilling technology has not seemed to use charcoal. Is charcoal on the way out?
Alex: In some key barbecue regions, like the US and Australia, gas has been dominating charcoal for some time. According to Euromonitor International gas models have accounted for 70% and 95% in these markets, respectively. Given the still substantially higher price tag on gas-fueled models, this does not necessarily reflect number of units sold. Charcoal is not only still relevant, but it has its staunch defenders that are unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Q. What is the biggest difference between German grilling culture and American grilling culture?
Alex: American grilling culture dates back nearly a century and has developed many subgenres. A salient theme has been men congregating in backyards to swap stories and socialize. In Germany grilling culture started in the 70s and was more about gathering family and friends together for a culinary retreat.
One difference that really stands out is the striving for perfection in the US. For each style of grilling there is a trend towards professionalization, with enthusiasts following their specific method with near religious fervor. In Germany grilling is still very generalist, where you put every type of meat on every grill. So Otto Wilde Grillers very much borrows from America's grilling enthusiasm and combines that with the German heritage of engineering. The result is something really incredible.