This year was a success for garden furniture and barbecues, but prices rises in 2011 are inevitable, say suppliers and manufacturers.
Market analyst GfK says outdoor BBQ sales were up 21.9 per cent in the year to the end of August, with charcoal BBQs increasing their share of the market versus gas BBQs at 47.4 per cent, as compared with their 44.8 per cent share in 2009.
The Garden Centre Association figures are more modest, however, with furniture and BBQ sales at 4 per cent up for the year to the end of September 2010.
The World Cup football tournament and the hot and dry early summer weather contributed to sales.
Napoleon Gourmet Grills from Wolf Steel launched in the UK in 2010.
In 2011, the Rugby World Cup is an event that might help to boost sales but, because it is taking place in New Zealand, timings are likely to be poor.
Leisure and Outdoor Furniture Association secretary Richard Plowman says the industry's fortunes improved in 2010 because of good early weather and the World Cup. "Most of our members have had a reasonable year," he said. "It started well, then went through a dull July/August before picking up again."
Hi-spec gas BBQs did best early in the year as consumers tried to "outdo their peers", he said, estimating all BBQ sales to be up 20-30 per cent last summer.
Moving on to garden furniture, Plowman said resin/weave materials had been the main sales driver. He added that the next trend could be towards Harbo's wood and resin products, which debuted at the association's Solex show this year (next year: Telford, 18-20 July).
Harbo UK sales manager Jeremy Worricker says the "very clever" material, "Woodica", is an extruded resin compound which "when cut, looks like wood". He said it weighs the same as wood but is "zero maintenance", has been tested against heat and can be screwed together again if it snaps. Retailers stocking it include Garden Centre Group, Klondyke, Dobbies and Garden & Leisure Group.
He adds that there are no events next year similar to the World Cup, although the Olympics will bring a sales peak in 2012. Before that, he expects price rises of 10 per cent because of the value of the pound versus the dollar and the rising cost of freight and manufacturing from China.
In BBQs, Wolf Steel made its debut at Glee and had an "excellent show", says general manager Ian Wheatley. He adds: "It was well worth it and we've already booked for 2011." For next year, he sees the Rugby World Cup (9 September-21 October) as a possible sales booster. "It's not as big as the football but a lot of people will be up for it. But everyone in the industry relies on the weather being good most of all."
Wheatley says raw materials, transportation and currency fluctuations are all increasing, and it is "very difficult working 12 months or a season in advance knowing where shipping costs, raw materials and currency are going to be".
For 2011 he says there has been "equal" interest across the range from £89 products to £3,500 top-of the range barbecues. Mid-range products are the Ultra Chef 430SB at £349.99 up to the Prestige 'Pro 450RSIB' at £1,699.
Ultra Chef grills that target mass-market audiences with SRPs ranging from £89 to £499 launched at Glee. Napoleon is now stocked in high-street multiples and garden centres.
BBQ Tower manager Hemang Majeethia says retailers looking for something different liked his product at Glee. "It went fantastically well not just in the Innovation Zone and new product area but also with Garden Angels," he says, adding that 10-12 garden centres are interested in stocking and Dobbies, too.
La Hacienda launched a host of products at Glee. New products designed in-house drew the most attention, with contemporary steel chimeneas and the new pizza range at the forefront. Director Simon Goodwin said: "Our investment in design and development is paying off, as garden centres and multiple chains showed huge interest in our new ranges at Glee. As we celebrate our 21st year of trading, the future has never looked so bright."
Indoor furniture is a growth area for garden centres, with Nova Indoor showing a range of dining sets and cabinet furniture at Glee. The range is produced using solid white oak from sustainable forests in North America.
Town & Country launched a 2011 kettle barbecue that is a 52cm high large capacity, portable barbecue, which is available in three colours: orange, teal and purple. The BBQs have an RRP of £29.99 and come in a deal of 30 units, with 10 of each colour. The grill is 32cm in diameter and the product follows the company's last year's portable BBQ range, which was a GIMA finalist.
OPINION: CURRENT BARBECUE TRENDS
Robin Honeywill, Outdoor Chef sales manager
"This year, consumers started to think about investment in their gardens a lot later than usual due to the freezing winter carrying on well into early spring. As we all know, the barbecue season and subsequently sales can be sensitive to the weather - however, for many people barbecuing has become their favourite way to cook, regardless of the climate.
"As many people have tried to save money by eating in rather than forking out for expensive restaurant food, more homeowners have discovered the benefits of entertaining at home. In fact, barbecuing is now the UK's number-one home-leisure activity, with two in three households owning a BBQ - making it an essential item for any garden centre's 2011 stock list. In addition, barbecued food is often tastier, healthier and also banishes food smells, which can linger indoors longer than the meal itself.
"Market data from the National Barbecue Association says in 2009 the UK was once again Europe's leading BBQ nation, hosting more than 120 million BBQs. This is great news, as the BBQ and alfresco eating/entertaining market is now worth just over £7 billion - up from £150 million in 1997. This growing trend for alfresco dining gives garden centre retailers and manufacturers an excellent opportunity for improving their sales in this area.
"Every day can be a 'BBQ day' when the right product is purchased. Quality BBQs come at a price; the main area of growth has been within mid-price ranges: from £300 and £800. For this price, consumers are looking for an easy-to-use, durable and multifunctional product. This trend means retailers can sell higher price-tagged BBQs all year round, including for bank holidays, Halloween and bonfire night, plus even Christmas when cooking the turkey - the perfect way to cook up a profit.
"Retailers will know that point of sale is also an important part of selling. Yet visual merchandising shouldn't just be about general product information. Changing the way you highlight a product's benefits for the changing seasons will show consumers they can use their BBQ all year round, helping them get more from their investment."
POINTS OF VIEW
Andy Fox, sales director at Suntime
"I think like, everybody else, we are optimistic but cautious about next year. The increase in cost of freight and pressure on the dollar has meant a challenge. We are optimistic but I think retailers are worried about the pricing. What we have done is sourced products that can hold all the price points and make sure the retailers have a good range without compromising their margins."
Simon Goodwin, managing director at La Hacienda
"We have had increases in costs and we have tried to manage that to not give too many price rises to our customers, but inevitably there have been some costs that have gone up. We have tried to engineer the costs to take advantage of the 20 per cent VAT."
Richard Sach, representative at Rondeu Leisure
"The issue that we have had in the past 12 months is getting products to us because the world's shipping lanes have hiked their rates in the past 12 months, and it has become a price increase. Our 2011 prices reflect the increased costs of the shipping rates. We have found in the past two or three years that our market in the economy furniture has grown, whereas our higher-end-type products have slowed down."