15329 Thu, 10/02/2008 - 10:00am
By Andrea Lillo
Bringing innovation to the grilling category has been Companion Products’ mantra since its first product, a cylindrical charcoal starter with a handle.
Now in its 25th year, the company offers thousands of products for the grilling and outdoor living categories, and has brought a lot of “firsts” to the marketplace, said Chuck Adams, chief executive officer. They include steak and poultry thermometers designed to be left in the food while cooking (1987), kabob skewers that are round instead of straight so they can fit on the plate (1997) and a cleaning brush with a replaceable head (1998), among others.
“All of these things are minor and are not going to change the world, but they are fairly important to the category,” Adams said. “Historically, our growth has come from innovation or taking something and making it better.”
Founded in 1983 by Adams and Doug Fielding, president, Companion Products came about when the grilling category had just started taking off, a trend led by Californian restaurants, which started grilling food rather than cooking it in a pan.
“They are responsible for the explosion in outdoor grills,” as people sought to do the same at home, Adams said. However, there was a real “disparity” between the cheap quality of the grilling accessories compared with the grills themselves, he said. “Our goal was to close the gap.”
With about 40 to 50 patents to its name, the company measures “success by how much a design is copied,” Adams said. “We try to bring things five years before the market wants it.”
The company still tries to anticipate grillers’ needs, and Adams sees a movement of people who own a gas grill adding a charcoal one as well because “the smoky flavor that comes from cooking over charcoal or wood fires is lost when cooking over a gas flame,” Adams said. And since “the number-one reason people barbecue is because of the flavor,” this year Companion debuted the TurboQue and the smoker box, as well as other items designed for gas grill flavor enhancement.
The TurboQue, a two-speed fan unit that fits in the rotisserie notch of gas grills, turns the gas grill into a convection smoker, while the company’s v-shaped smoker box, which fits between the heat-deflection bars of a gas grill, can be placed anywhere under the grate, even directly under the food, for “an intensified smoky flavor,” he said. They will be available separately in stores this coming spring.
Not everything has worked as well, however. Adams said it had the license for Grilling for Dummies for three years, and though it did OK, “It didn’t move the way we thought it would,” he said. “Guys want to feel like they are good at the grill,” and not be told what to do. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Adams said. “We try not to make them twice.”
As a result, the company is careful about the licenses it does acquire, and currently the list includes Keep it Simple With Katie Brown and Steven Raichlen Best of Barbecue, both of which do well, he said. The company also does a lot of private-label.
“We see ourselves as innovators of the market,” Adams said.