Napoleon® Appliance Corporation – Gourmet Grills is a division of North America’s largest privately owned manufacturer of wood and gas fireplaces, gourmet gas and charcoal grills, outdoor living products and waterfalls. David Soyka gets a taste of how this Canadian maker of premium grills meets the growing worldwide consumer appetite for quality cooking in the great outdoors.
Every summer weekend back in the 1950s, in Levittowns across America, male heads of households ventured into the backyard to re-enact a ritual of our caveman ancestors, to roast slabs of meat on an open fire. In those days, hunks of charcoal were set ablaze to singe burgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken into barely digestible burnt crisps that typified the suburban “barbecue” cookout.
Times change. Here in the 21st century, we’re a little more civilized. People consider the backyard as an extension of their homes, and wish to bring all the comforts of the inside, outside. The biggest trend in outdoor living is an outdoor kitchen, complete with all the refinements required to prepare a gourmet meal (and maybe even still grill a couple of burgers).
Napoleon Gourmet Grills feeds the fire for this hottest trend in outdoor living, designing and manufacturing not only beautiful, high quality grills that serve as the centerpiece for a fully functioning outdoors room, but decorating accessories such as outdoor fireplaces, patio heaters, patio flames and waterfalls.
“I’d say the consumer trend away from the charcoal fire pit and more towards grills that function as a part of an outdoor lifestyle started 10 to 15 years ago,” says Ted Scott, national sales manager of the Barre, Ontario, Canada manufacturer, located about an hour north of Toronto. “It started in the south, where the warmer weather lends itself more to outdoor living. But, even here in Canada, the backyard is viewed more and more as an entertainment center rather than just a place to let the dog and kids out to play.”
As a company, Napoleon Gourmet Grills actually dates back further, to 1976 when Wolfgang Schroeter launched a small steel fabrication business, initially to make steel railings, and then wood stoves. When Wolf Steel introduced the industry’s first single glass wood stove door with pyroceram high temperature ceramic glass, it also introduced the brand name of Napoleon, which it applied not only to its fireplace business and grills, but to a heating, air conditioning and ventilating equipment company.
Similar products, which include the PatioFlame® campfire-style burner as well as a line of radiant gas portable patio heaters, waterfalls and outdoor gas fireplaces are common products with Wolf Steel limited, the company’s Parent fireplace division. “Grills are, however, our main focus; we provide our other products as natural complements to the outdoor cooking and entertaining concept,” Scott says. “Specialty retailers demand ‘best in class’ products that Napoleon can provide.”
He adds, “Though most of our outdoor room sales are to the Southeast and Southwest, we are finding that the marketplace is expanding not only throughout the U.S. and Canada, but also to Europe, in particular England, Germany, Holland and Greece. We make a variety of quality grills from a no-frills $500 grill to gourmet grills that can reach $6,000. We also use modular designs to make upgrading easier. All models are designed to add side burners, rotisserie kits (if not already standard), charcoal trays and a variety of grilling accessories to enhance that gourmet grilling experience. For example, on our Prestige series, the QUAD-HEAT™ cooking system gives you the flexibility to switch systems for a variety of cooking styles such as Infrared Sizzle Zone searing, rotisserie, indirect or traditional charcoal style.”
FOR DISCRIMINATING TASTES
Napoleon grills are only for those with serious tastes for quality. “We don’t sell to big box stores, which is about where 80 percent of grills are sold today, but through specialty retailers,” Scott notes. “Dealers add value in terms of providing better customer service, product knowledge, and after-sales support.”
Equally important, Scott adds, “Our grills are designed, first and foremost, for performance and longevity. We use only the best, nickel-based stainless steel materials. Of course, that makes us more expensive than something you might see displayed at a big retailer. But, you get what you pay for. The typical low-price grill made offshore may at first glance look the same as ours, but it won’t last more than three to seven years. A Napoleon grill will last at least 10 to 15 years, and with a little maintenance will still look as good as the day it was bought.”
And if there is, by chance, ever a problem, Scott promises immediate attention. “If a dealer or a consumer has a question, there’s a toll-free number for our Customer Care department, whose express purpose is to provide product support.”
Napoleon grills also feature the latest innovations and conveniences in grilling technology. The latest example is ceramic infrared cooking, which actually takes traditional charcoal grilling into the modern day with the advantages of easier preparation and improved safety. “Infrared technology has been around for awhile, but it’s just recently become cost effective to offer in our full range of grills,” Scott explains. “What it actually does is mimic the intense heat you get from charcoal; the orange flame of our infrared SIZZLEZONE™ is the same as the glow you’d get from a burning charcoal briquette. The difference is that, unlike charcoal, which is a bit cumbersome to use, our infrared technology can achieve 1800° F in a mere 25 seconds. What this enables you to do is sear the meat so you can lock in the juices, and then you can use the gas grill to complete the cooking process. You can also add an optional tray with charcoal or soaked wood chips for a real smoked BBQ meal, to place over the gas burner to get a more traditional outdoor cooking taste. And without having to wait for the coals to get hot, and without the hassle and danger of lighter fluid.”
Another distinguishing feature is color. “Stainless steel has been standard for the last 10 years, but we’re beginning to see demand for something different. The grill is frequently in a center island installation, and is a design focal point. Consumers want something more distinctive than the standard look for the same reason why appliances like washers and dryers are now coming in colors. Consequently, we’ve introduced models that incorporate porcelain lid finishes that come in colors such as blue, black, bronze mist and limited edition red. The Sante Fe look of our Bronze Mist is a hot seller.”
Even while the U.S economy is experiencing a downturn, Scott says Napoleon’s business is still red hot. “We are selling to the higher end, and consumers at this level are less affected by the general economy than those in the mass markets. Also, we’re opening up new opportunities around the world, so that tends to offset any dips in demand we might be experiencing elsewhere. As mentioned earlier, having a variety of “best in class” products gets you more dealer floor space and by providing products that are sold all year round stabilizes business. Napoleon’s commitment to producing quality products combined with honest, reliable service has proven to be a successful framework to ensuring the continued rapid growth of the company.”