17128 Thu, 10/08/2009 - 4:34pm
By Andrea Lillo
Life begins at 40—for bacteria at least. The food industry says bacteria only need temperatures of 40 degrees and warmer to start multiplying. And getting rid of or preventing bacteria during cooking and storing has been a growing concern for consumers, who are more aware about food safety issues with every food recall.
That’s where food thermometers come in. For this category, the back half of the year is when the bulk of the sales take place, manufacturers say, as consumers roast, make candy, and bake—and increasingly, give thermometers away as gifts.
However, as the grilling category has grown in the summer months, so has the need for outdoor food thermometers with it. So the category sees consistent business year round.
Only 30 percent of consumers have thermometers, said Peter Chapman, executive vice president, Maverick. “There’s tremendous room for growth,” he said, and business has been up significantly.
Sources said the supermarket channel tends to go with analog thermometers because of their lower price points, and analog thermometers are about 65 percent of Maverick’s business.
“Everyone is looking for a bargain,” said Kerry Cooper, vice president, sales and marketing, Polder, with retailers looking to bring a $12.99 thermometer down to $9.99, for example, or $17.99 to $14.99.
There’s activity at the high-end of the category as well. One of Maverick’s newest additions is a high-end professional model, the #PT-100 Pro-Temp commercial thermometer, which retails for $100. “It’s for people who are really into cooking,” Chapman said. “They need accurate, three or four readings in a short amount of time.” It’s accurate to within one degree, he said, due to its Type K Thermocouple, instead of the usual thermistor most brands use.
Both digital and analog thermometers are popular with consumers.
“People love digital products; it’s as simple as that,” said Jan Murtagh, president of Component Design Northwest (CDN). She added that CDN’s thermometer sales are split evenly between the two types. But it all depends on the type of cooking the thermometer is used for, she added, as digital thermometers may be great for grilling but not good for roasting, as the cook can’t leave it in the oven. The digital ones are also more fragile than analogs, she added, because of their electronics.
How quickly a thermometer can determine the temperature—the “speed to read” — is “the holy grail in the category,” said Cooper, as manufacturers battle over who can get the fastest times. Polder’s Speed Read instant read thermometer, for example, can determine a stable temperature in eight seconds or less, he said. But for the back half of the year, the thermometer focus for consumers is less on the instant reads and more on oven or roasting thermometers, he said.
Thermometers have also become more convenient for consumers, as selectability and preprogramming temperatures are sometimes included. If a consumer is cooking beef and wants it done rare, she can set it to that and not have to think about it, Chapman said. Fish is more difficult, he added, as the USDA doesn’t have a recommendation for seafood, but it is working on new recommendations now overall.
Outdoor living has also benefited the category. “There’s been explosive business with barbecuing with both analog and digital thermometers,” said Cooper, and they make great Father’s Day and holiday gifts.
The popular tea trend has also created opportunity for the thermometer category, and CDN released its TT1 digital tea thermometer earlier this year, with settings for 18 types of tea.
Other specialty thermometers such as candy are “pretty consistent,” said Cooper, as they are bought mostly by hobbyists. “Niche is niche,” he said. And as ovens can be off by 50 degrees, oven thermometers are “a quiet but consistent business,” he said.