Natural lump charcoal is made from a variety of different woods and marketed under many different brands. Retail opportunities range from farmers’ markets to local expos & shops, to franchise grocery and hardware stores, to big box stores, most of which carry one or more brands of lump charcoal. Specialty bakeries, restaurants, and caterers can make loyal customers with seasonal or year-round needs for a consistent supply of charcoal. To successfully market lump charcoal, it’s important to understand the product and why the demand for it has steadily increased. Successful marketing may include the production of brochures or labeling aimed at educating consumers about the advantages of grilling with lump charcoal.
Better than briquettes:
Sales data reflect what consumers have found out. With faster lighting times, better control over temperature, low ash content, long burn times, and the flavor it imparts to grilled foods, lump charcoal is superior to briquettes in many ways for outdoor grilling and BBQ. The key is that lump charcoal is made from 100% natural wood, with no fillers, binders, or petroleum-based additives. With the opportunity to market locally and use wood from sustainable forest management practices, lump consumers have found that cooking with lump charcoal makes good sense for the economy and the environment.
Although briquettes sales have remained flat for the past ten years, lump charcoal sales in the U.S. have more than tripled (source: Heart, Patio & Barbeque Association).
To market natural lump charcoal as a premium-grade outdoor cooking fuel, it’s generally necessary to sort the pieces into sizes that meet customer’s needs and expectations. Highly-rated lump charcoal brands usually contain chunks in the package that range in size from about 1-inch to 4-inches. The more uniform pieces, the better. Effective sorting also removes ash and dust that are not desirable to have in bags sold for outdoor grilling. Sorting can be accomplished by as simple and crude a method as straining raw chunks over a metal screen, breaking large chunks to no larger than 4 or 5 inches, and letting the fine chunks and powder sift through. A more efficient approach uses two or more sized screens to separate charcoal into grades ranging from fine to coarse. Rotary sorters can also be fabricated that allow a continuous feed of charcoal, sorting the material from fine to coarse as it passes through a rotating drum lined with screens of increasing mesh size.
Sorting charcoal through a 1-½” screen
Tray-type sorters with small and large mesh sizes.
Range and quantity of sorted charcoal products from a kiln batch.
A common way to package lump charcoal for sale is in sewn-closed, multi-walled kraft paper bags. Most producers use bags that hold between 5 and 20 lb, with the most common sizes in the 8-10 lb range. These bags are inexpensive – around $.50 each – easy to load and handle, strong, and allow for pre-printed or paste-on labeling. Pre-printed labeling saves time and expense, plus uses valuable space on bag fronts, backs, and gussets. In cooperation with the New River-Highlands RC&D Council bags displaying the pre-printed “Green Grillin” brand were produced for use by small-scale producers in a resource development project in Virginia. Bulk sales can be accommodated by delivering charcoal in metal cans, which make convenient, reusable containers for transporting and storing lump charcoal.
Kraft bags are closed with a sewing machine specially-designed for bag closing. For small-scale operators, a hand-held portable bag closer is easy to use and affordable. Several models can be found from online suppliers for under $500.
Marketing cost worksheet
A number of costs are associated with charcoal making, related to both the production of charcoal and marketing it as a premium-grade outdoor cooking fuel. The following Excel™ worksheet (click here for worksheet) was designed to calculate costs to aid in planning for a small-scale charcoal enterprise. This worksheet assumes you have a supply of wood available to you and you’ve located your kiln at the site where the wood is kept. Labor expenses for loading and tending the kiln are accounted for in the worksheet, as are the labor costs for unloading, sorting charcoal, and bagging it for sale. Every batch of charcoal requires some expenditure for consumable supplies such as sand, heat-resistant caulk, or foil. Packaging expenses are also accrued for every bag produced, including the packaging material itself, labeling materials and supplies such as string for closing bags. Use this worksheet by adjusting the expected yield of charcoal produced in a batch, size of bags you wish to fill, a proposed selling price, and estimated production rates and costs for supplies and labor, to see what profit might result from making and selling your own lump charcoal.
Bag Closer Resources:
- Producing and marketing natural wood "lump" charcoal home
- Charcoal-making resources
- Marketing resource
- Outreach [rogram
- Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation
- Virginia Department of Forestry
- Virginia Cooperative Extension
- Virginia Forest Landowner UpdateResource Conservation and Development
Dr. Phil Radtke
Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation
319 Cheatham Hall (0324)
Blacksburg, VA 24061