There have been fire pits, pizza ovens and even inflatable hot tubs, but now the wood pellet barbecue is the object outdoor lovers are expected to queue up for in the days and weeks ahead as the weather turns warmer.
Temperatures on Saturday reached up to 20C (68F) for the first time since October. The Met Office said the mercury hit 20C in Kinlochewe, north-west Scotland, with highs of 15.3C in Castlederg, Northern Ireland; 17.3C in Bridgefoot, Cumbria; and 18C in Valley, Anglesey.
The warm weather is set to continue this week thanks to the jet stream tracking well to the north of the UK, letting high pressure dominate from the east.
John Lewis says that wood pellet cooking has emerged as one of the fastest-growing sales areas in the outdoor cooking category because the grills are “as convenient as gas but match the flavour of charcoal”. The department store is stocking grills made by the upmarket US brand Traeger for the first time this year.
The cheapest Traeger sold by John Lewis is £900 but for that price you are at least able to step away from the grill and socialise because it can be operated remotely using an app on your phone. Competition in the market includes brands such as Broil King and Weber but all come with a hefty price tag compared with a kettle barbecue, which can cost under £100.
The past two years have seen Britons turn their outdoor spaces into “alfresco living rooms”, says Andrew Tanner, Habitat’s design manager. The supply of garden furniture was disrupted during the pandemic and this year shoppers are eager to get out in front, with sales of Habitat’s garden sets already double what they were this time last year. Customers are buying multi-purpose pieces that work indoors as well as out, Tanner added, especially quirky Instagrammable styles such as egg-chair swings and hammocks.
The sales picture at household specialist Lakeland also shows people getting in the mood for the warm weather, with demand in the past week up for everything from £3 citronella outdoor candles to £35 festival-style festoon lights – to create outdoor atmosphere – and £700 Ooni pizza ovens.
“We can definitely see people are planning on spending more time in the garden over the next few weeks, with sales of our outdoor ranges doing well,” said Wendy Miranda, its customer ambassador. It has also seen an uplift in sales of acrylic “crystal-look” glassware designed for use outdoors.
The profile of consumer spending has changed dramatically during the pandemic as, with foreign holidays out of reach, an extra £500m was spent in DIY stores and garden centres in 2021. Britons also took up new pastimes: 1.2 million new gardeners spent an extra £51m on plants and related paraphernalia.
The good weather is expected to spur the country’s legion of gardeners into action. Julie Murray, marketing director at the Notcutts chain of garden centres, said that customers were growing their own veg in increasing numbers as well as trying to attract more wildlife by creating insect hotels and bird boxes.
“We are expecting people to be out in their garden this weekend,” said Murray. “If you are planning to grow your own this is the time for propagation to start. Lots of people will be buying feed or planting out potatoes.”
But the sales trends detected by food retailers suggest that other people plan to just relax after a difficult winter. Ocado said searches for the word BBQ on its website were 60% higher last week than the one before, while the number of people searching for Pimm’s was up by about 30%.
The same was true at Waitrose, where rosé wine sales were nearly 50% up on the previous week. Sainsbury’s was anticipating a run on barbecue fare such as burgers into the middle of next week with shoppers stocking up on ice-cream too.