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Fire, Fuel & Faith

A North American family business with a strong Christian faith is igniting the grill market from Arizona to England. RUPERT BATES talks to Jeff Thiessen, president of Dansons

 Rupert Bates   Summer 2022

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Canadian horses were the first beneficiaries, with wood waste from sawmills providing bedding for stables. But today it is barbecues firing the Dansons business, with its best-known Pit Boss brand one of the fastest growing grills in the global BBQ market.

The Dansons name is drawn from the family founders Dan Thiessen, the CEO and his sons, Jeff, company president and Jordan, chief operating officer. It started back in 1999, supplying wood waste for horse bedding, before moving on to pellets for fuel and heating appliances. 

Wood pellets to feed barbecues was a bit of a side line initially, before grills took centre stage and the business is now in 35 countries, with Europe, and in particular the UK, a key continent to conquer.

“The journey has certainly not been a straight one, but we remain a 100% privately owned family company, with no venture capital or private equity funding,” says Jeff Thiessen.

The family’s Christian faith drives their decisions in life and in business, with 10% of all profits going to Christian charities around the world through the Thiessen Family Foundation.


“We came from humble beginnings and stay grounded, thankful for the blessings we have been given and surrounded by a wonderful team.”

The weather played its part in the evolution and direction of Dansons. The family is from Canada. Grilling outdoors was in the blood, but the blood was chilled during long, deep winters. So the mission was to build a grill that could withstand and thrive in the coldest conditions.

“Bigger, hotter, heavier is our mantra. Our products can certainly handle a Canadian winter and anywhere in the world, even if we are now based in the desert destination of Scottsdale, Arizona in the United States!” says Thiessen, with Dansons partnering with some of the biggest retailers in the world, such as Walmart in the US. Pit Boss is also distributed across Europe, including in the UK through the likes of BBQ Land in Hitchin, north Hertfordshire, and Bell of Northampton and there is a new distribution warehouse in the Netherlands to support the European growth.

The business began in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, then moving onto Edmonton, before heading across to Phoenix, Arizona in the US, with its corporate headquarters now a 200,000ft² campus in Scottsdale. Dansons, says Thiessen, is set to become the largest dedicated producer of barbecue wood pellets in the world in the next 12 months.

“We are really enjoying bringing our authentic, dependable value proposition to Europe. It is such a growing BBQ market, especially in the UK.”

 

 

Dansons is constantly innovating, vigorously seeking better solutions to deliver greater customer value. “We are always developing the next thing to stay ahead of our competitors, who we have a lot of respect for.”

Retailers are an important part of the sales and marketing proposition, with Thiessen recognising that retailers know the end-users in their own backyards better than Dansons do. “We listen to our retailers and develop product with them, working collaboratively.”

The company stays loyal to its original designs too, if customers still demand them, rather than taking a harder commercial view and simply rationalising their product lines. As well as wood pellet grills, Pit Boss offers gas, charcoal and combination barbecues and smokers.

“In my opinion, once you’ve tried wood pellets you don’t go back. It is the convenience of gas with the rich flavour profile of wood pellets. It feeds itself and you enjoy the food coming off it,” says Thiessen. 

In North America, says Thiessen, wood pellet grills represent around 20% of the market, up from less than 2% a decade ago. “I believe wood pellet will be bigger than gas one day.”

He also sees the growing trend, where budgets permit, for people to own more than one grill, looking to experiment with a range of equipment; different ways to cook and flavours to create.

“Wood fuel is such a key part of the BBQ experience and enjoyment, be it hickory, alder, apple, cherry or mesquite.”

Thiessen says he is my no means a pit master, but he is always in great demand from his family and friends to cook the steaks on his Pit Boss.

“Word of mouth is a great marketing tool. I have had kids of friends asking why their parents can’t cook steak like Jeff, prompting my friends to go out and buy a wood pellet grill. I’m an average griller but can cook exceptional barbecue food in my backyard.”

The Pit Boss brand has aligned itself closely to motorsport. It is the official grill of NASCAR, while British MotoGP rider Sam Lowes is one of its sporting ambassadors, along with German MotoGP rider Marcel Schrötter and retired German rider turned broadcaster Alex Hofmann. 

Other sporting ambassadors recently appointed are French footballer Anthony Modeste, a forward in the German Bundesliga with FC Cologne, and Olympic skiing medallist Tina Weirather from Liechtenstein.

Dansons also has Louisiana Grills in its stable along with Country Smokers. BBQ spices and sauces, as well as a range of accessories, are in the repertoire too, always exploring new foods, flavours and cultures to add to the menu, recognising that grilling is not just about cooking styles, but lifestyles.

Pit Boss is coming to European shows this summer, including spoga+gafa, the garden trade fair in Cologne, Germany; SOLEX, the Summer Outdoor Living Exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham, England, where BBQ magazine is media partner; and also the Smoke and Fire Festivals in Ascot and Colchester, where BBQ magazine is also the media partner of the events.

Innovation, technology, design and engineering, underpinned by strong family values and deep Christian faith, are a powerful combination, firing up grills around the world. The UK barbecue market’s premier league is getting bigger, bolder and more competitive and the clue to Dansons’ ambitions is in the Pit Boss name, not to mention the speed and power of its sporting ambassadors.


 


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