Homer Laughlin Sells Food Service Division to Steelite

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Homer Laughlin China Co. and the Hall China Co. of Newell, W.Va., have sold their food service divisions to Steelite International of New Castle, Pa., for an undisclosed price.

As a result, the iconic 150-year-old Homer Laughlin is changing its name to The Fiesta Tableware Co.

Steelite will take over the manufacturing and sales of all Homer Laughlin food service-industry tableware except the company’s well-regarded Fiesta brand, which will continue to be made at the Newell plant.

Going forward, Fiesta Tableware will turn its full focus to the Fiesta brand. It currently employs more than 600, and will continue to maintain its headquarters and manufacturing facility in Newell.

Some layoffs at the Newell plant are expected but the majority are expected to keep their jobs, according to a press release from Fiesta Tableware.

“The decision to sell the foodservice divisions was very difficult for company leadership, and we deliberated and considered it thoughtfully,” said Homer Laughlin president Elizabeth McIlvain in the release. “It had to be made to preserve as many American manufacturing jobs as we could. This region has been our home for generations, and we’ve seen generations of families come through these doors as loyal employees. I thank them for their hard work in building perhaps the most iconic pottery in the world.”

The sale was effective March 24, which also marked the start of a 90-day transition period during which time Fiesta Tableware will continue to manufacture its food service lines. When the period expires, Steelite will take over all Homer Laughlin foodservice goods.

The Homer Laughlin and Hall China foodservice lines have been unprofitable for some time and the company could no longer sustain it, McIlvain said in a letter to employees.

“We couldn’t keep up with inexpensive imports,” said Katie Bricker, general marketing manager.

Workers at Homer Laughlin produce Fiestaware products. (Image: Homer Laughlin China Co.)

There will be no changes to the retail side of Fiesta product lines, “except we can now focus on it more and sell more of it,” Bricker said. Fiesta dishes and tableware are sold in department stores, including Macy’s, Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as Fiestaware Outlet Stores.

The Fiesta brand “enjoys a loyal base of followers who appreciate its beauty, heritage, American-made quality, and colorful sense of fun,” according to the company’s press release. “By focusing on exclusively on retail markets, The Fiesta Tableware Co. will be well-positioned to serve these devoted customers and extend its reach with new products grown from the Fiesta tradition.”

The company acknowledged that the name change will be jarring to some.

“Generations of customers have known it as the Homer Laughlin China Co. for nearly 150 years,” according to the release. “The Homer Laughlin and Hall China foodservice brands will still exist, but in the care of another company’s hands. Meanwhile, the Fiesta operations in Newell will continue, but with a new, yet familiar name and plans for a bright future.”

Bricker explained the reason for the company name change.

“We had been using the Homer Laughlin brand name in our foodservice business, but since we’re selling it, the name had to go with it,” she said.

Homer Laughlin China Co. was founded in 1871 in East Liverpool, Ohio, and moved across the Ohio River to Newell in 1905.

John Miles, president and CEO of Steelite International, said that Homer Laughlin food service china and tableware will be manufactured in several places worldwide.

“Homer Laughlin and Hall China have hundreds of different items with different manufacturing methods,” said Miles, a native of New Castle, Pa.

“The factories could include Stoke-on-Trent, England, Mexico or China but are not limited to only those,” Miles said.

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Steelite CEO John Miles

Steelite-stamped products are currently made in Stoke-on-Trent and other locations, he added. The Homer Laughlin foodservice lines include all types of tableware which Miles said “have been staples for nearly 100 years in North America.” He says Steelite “will be looking to employ a small number of key people to work in the Homer Laughlin and Hall China business.”

Steelite International is a manufacturer of dinnerware and flatware for the hospital industry. It has showrooms in downtown Youngstown, Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Washington, D.C. The company also has a warehouse in New Castle, Pa.

Pictured: Assorted Fiestaware. (Image: Homer Laughlin China Co.)

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.