It's an air fryer, it's a pressure cooker...No, it's both. The Ninja Foodi is one of the hottest holiday gifts in 2018--that is, of course, if you can get one.

Stores across the U.S. have sold out of the hot-holiday item, which retails for $199 and doubles as both a pressure cooker--a la last year's "it" gift the Instant Pot--and an air fryer, a countertop convection oven on steroids. After Sam's Club included the product on its nationwide one-day sale on December 15, the item sold out in minutes--online and in stores--eliciting the following response from a dazed store manager, according to one customer on Twitter: "We were not prepared for the interest in the item." Similarly, Walmart, Kohl's, Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond, list the product as out of stock. Amazon and eBay have them, but some third-party sellers are charging upwards of $1,000 for the device. And while you can still buy one directly on the company's website, delivery by Christmas is not guaranteed.

The 23-year-old Needham, Massachusets-based company that makes the Ninja Foodi, SharkNinja, says it is working with retailers to get the item back on store shelves as quickly as possible. The home appliance maker declined to provide sales information for the product, which just launched in September, but anecdotally it reports breakneck results.

"We have sold out numerous times this holiday season," says Kaitlyn Hebert, director of brand marketing for SharkNinja, noting the company has a big marketing push behind it, with infomercials and other ads. "It's created a really big impact." 

The Rise of Home Chefs

Americans are hungrier than ever for home-cooked meals. In July, market research firm NDP Group released a report which found that four out of five meals are prepared at home in the U.S., higher than a decade ago. Specifically, Americans dined out 185 times this year, down from a peak of 216 times in 2000. As consumers turn inward to fulfill their dining needs, cooking devices like the Ninja Foodi and the Instant Pot are on the rise.

Air fryers, generally, are gaining popularity, too. In the last 30 days, more than 11,000 people have joined Air Fryer Tips and Recipes, a Facebook community with more than 240,000 members managed by Laurie Fleming, author of food blog Fork to Spoon based in Philadelphia. She noted the devise's ease of use, as part of the appeal. "We all call it the easy-bake oven for adults."

Online groups are also sprouting around the Ninja Foodi directly. Ninja Foodi Nation, a Facebook community, began October 6 and now has nearly 6,000 members while Ninja Foodi Recipes, created a month earlier counts more than 4,700 subscribers. Each added more than 100 people within the last 24 hours.

A Lesson in Scarcity

The Ninja Foodi owes much to its hot-holiday gift predecessor, the Instant Pot, which is made by Instant Brands and elicited a similar consumer craze last holiday season. While the Ottawa, Canada-based company doesn't disclose sales figures, last December, Amazon said its customers "purchased enough Instant Pot pressure cookers to make more than nine million bowls of chili at once."

"The inception of the [Ninja Foodi] happened in August 2017, when we saw a really big spike on people using pressure cookers because of the ease and the quick-cooking element," says Hebert from SharkNinja. Consumers would go one step further and take their slow-cooked meals, such as tenderized beef or chicken, and put it into their ovens to achieve a crispy texture, she adds. So the company decided to take the popular pressure-cooking element and merge it with air frying tech to simplify the entire process. 

And though SharkNinja could be forgiven for not anticipating that sheer force of consumer demand for its devise, you have to wonder if the craze isn't part of the strategy. Has giving retailers some--but not enough--of a hot item become part of a product's recipe for success these days?

For its part, Shark Ninja says it tried to meet demand, but it exceeded even the company's own forecasts. "We have shipped thousands of Ninja Foodi's over the past several months to support our retail partners to ensure we get the consumers access as they get ready for the holiday season," says Hebert. 

Even if unintended, SharkNinja's Herbert says the company hopes the Ninja Foodi will be the gift that keeps on giving. "We are hopeful this momentum carries into 2019 where we continue to supply our audience with the Ninja Foodi."

Published on: Dec 20, 2018