Love or hate Traeger, you have to admit that they have changed the outdoor kitchen forever. Certainly, many people scoff at pellet grills for not being real smokers or good grills. I tend to be one of them. I don't hate pellet grills, but since I have a choice between my various backyard kitchens, I rarely light one.
But this article is not about the merits or faults of the modern pellet grill. It's about Traeger and the miracle they've accomplished in recent years. Today's Traeger has successfully popularized complicated, temperamental, and relatively expensive backyard kitchen equipment.
The Old Traeger
To be clear, when I look at Traeger, I see three companies. There's the Traeger that came out of the woods of the Pacific Northwest, which gained a small but fanatical following. This is the Traeger founded and operated by Joe Traeger, and eventually his children. Joe not only had to invent the pellet rack, but he also had to explain how it worked and why someone would want to have one.
This Traeger was successful. They managed to stay in business and have loyal followers. However, they never managed to contest more than two percent of the market share in the outdoor kitchen industry. Okay, but not great.
Then came the dark times. The Middle Child Traeger. In 2006, the Traeger patent expired, and more than a dozen companies entered the pellet grill business. Soon after, in 2007, Joe Traeger sold the company to a private equity firm. Manufacturing went from domestic to imported, quality declined, fans became angry, and the company faced increasing problems.
The New Traeger
Enter Jeremy Andrus, Harvard MBA and well connected Utah businessman (think of the Mitt Romney crowd). In 2014 Jeremy took over. Forbes presented a great story about all of this, and some of it is really true. But to summarize, Traeger's headquarters moved from Oregon to Utah, eliminated approximately 98% of its staff in search of new blood, and outsourced everything it could.
In five years, pellet grills went from being a medium hit to nearly seven percent of the outdoor cooking market, with Traeger controlling more than 70% of that market. They did this through amazing marketing efforts, branding, and extensive leg work to familiarize the public with pellet cookers.