Litehouse Inc., the Sandpoint dressing maker, has cooked up plans to be poured on salads across the country.
In May, the company, which had $31 million in sales last year, merged with family-owned Chadalee Farms, a Michigan condiment maker. Both hope the new Litehouse, with combined sales of $55 million, will make its refrigerated salad dressing No. 1 in the nation.
Merger talks started two years ago when Litehouse approached the Lowell, Mich., company, asking it to produce Litehouse products.
“When we sat down, I said we were not interested in manufacturing their products for them, I was interested in putting together a national company,” said Wendell Christoff, former president of Chadalee Farms, who now serves as Litehouse vice president.
The move, which will give Litehouse a 77,000-square-foot automated plant in Michigan, will save the company $200,000 to $300,000 a year in shipping costs to the East Coast, said Litehouse president Doug Hawkins.
It will not add any new jobs at the Sandpoint plant, which employs more than 200 people, he said. The Michigan plant, just east of Grand Rapids, will add 25 more employees to the 75 currently working.
Litehouse, which now has more than 100 different recipes for dressings, began as a cottage industry in 1974, when brothers Doug and Ed Hawkins decided to turn their father’s restaurant recipes into a business.
Their fortune began in the family-owned Hope restaurant when customers would bring in jars to be filled with homemade bleu cheese dressing.
Since the first sale of a case of dressing in 1963 to a Sandpoint grocer, the company sales have boomed.
Over the past five years, sales have grown 75 percent, from almost $18 million in 1993 to more than $30 million last year.
Litehouse now ranks third in the nation in refrigerated salad dressings behind T.J. Marzetti’s and Marie’s. In the next five years, Hawkins hopes to increase sales to $100 million.
Chadalee Farms started 35 years ago when Clinton Christoff brought home a mixer and a salad dressing recipe. Now the company has branched out to four salad dressing types, sauces and horseradish. It sells primarily to the food service industry.
Christoff said he had been looking at small, family-owned companies for 20 years.
“My vision was to build a national distribution of a national brand, and this was the opportunity to do it,” he said.
Both companies had the same types of values, the same vision and the same history, he said.
“Their father started their business. My father started ours,” Christoff said.
And with plans for expansion, it’s a savory deal.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo; Graphic: Litehouse sales
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