There is such a thing as a Wi-Fi grill. And PE is cashing in.

  • Trilantic acquired Traeger with CEO Andrus in 2014
  • Ontario Teachers partners with AEA; Trilantic and Andrus to reinvest
  • Traeger launched Timberline WiFi-enabled wood-pellet grill

Jeremy Andrus previously led a maker of colorful headphones to a $550 million IPO. Now, alongside several private equity players, Skullcandy’s former CEO is betting that WiFi-connected grills are the future of backyard barbecue.

Andrus joined Traeger Grills as CEO in January 2014, and six months later he and then-minority investor Trilantic North America teamed up to acquire control of the business. Trilantic recently recapped Traeger, with AEA Investors coming on board as majority shareholder. Partnering with AEA is Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; Andrus and Trilantic are re-investing as well.

A Trilantic consumer partner, Jamie Manges, said the recap was “an opportunity to provide some liquidity to existing shareholders but also to allow Trilantic to continue to partner with Jeremy and help guide the company through its next chapter of growth.”

William Blair and Kirkland & Ellis advised Traeger on the transaction.

Closed-lid solution

Founded in 1990, Traeger introduced a residential grill fueled by hardwood pellets. Since Andrus took over, the company developed and launched a product called the Timberline.

“It’s an [Internet-of-things] device, the first of its kind,” Andrus told Buyouts. “It has a cloud-based WiFi system which connects the grill to the consumer on their handheld device.”

The Timberline can be controlled remotely, Andrus explained, obviating the need to stay close and check the temperature throughout a long cook time (e.g., when preparing pulled pork or brisket).

And as “a closed-lid solution that you don’t have to stand over,” the Timberline can be used year-round, not just between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Traeger offers two Timberline models: the 1300 Grill retails for $1,999.99 and comes with built-in WiFi connectivity, smoker, exhaust system, meat probe and space for up to 60 burgers, 12 chickens, 82 hot dogs and 14 rib racks. The model 850 sells for $1699.99 and offers less cooking space.

Manges said Trilantic made “several successful strategic investments in the business” to create the Timberline, which went on sale in April.

Traeger hired a new head of product development, the former director of global development at Whirlpool’s KitchenAid, and build out its engineering team. “We developed the firmware, the in-the-grill technology, as well as the software that allows you to control the grill as well as search a recipe database,” Andrus said.

Cooking ribs

To illustrate the Timberline’s functionality, Andrus gave the example of cooking ribs, which “requires someone to diligently follow instructions and think about the next step.” With a Timberline, “I can open the app and go to the ‘rib’ section, and it maybe gives me 10 different rib recipes. I send it to my grill, I put a meat probe in it to measure time and temperature, and it reminds me to do certain steps along the way.”

Andrus said Traeger, which was founded in Oregon, has a dedicated base of consumers located mostly in the Pacific Northwest. It was worth making “deep investments” in the business because he and Trilantic “believed there was a global opportunity.”

“There are a number of innovations that we want to bring to market over time,” Andrus said. “We know this approach is very unique to this industry. We know this is an industry that really hasn’t innovated consistently for decades.”

Manges said Trilantic’s partnership with Andrus is “emblematic” of the firm’s consumer strategy, “partnering with talented owner-operators trying to accelerate growth.” Consumer spending has been sluggish, “but when you look at the underlying pieces, the dynamics are moving significantly.

“One of the things we like about Traeger is it’s supported by a lot of macro tailwinds: over-indexing with Millennials and being on trend with interest in food, interest in outdoor and shared experiences.”

Action Item: Check out the specs on the Timberline:

Photo of the Timberline 1300 courtesy of Traeger