Litehouse Inc., a Sandpoint manufacturer of refrigerated salad dressing and dips, is on its way to becoming an employee-owned company.
In December, the privately held family firm sold 30 percent of its stock to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP. The shares will be held in trust for workers, who will accrue them over time through vesting.
Last year, Litehouse had annual revenues exceeding $110 million. The company has 539 workers in Sandpoint and Lowell, Mich., who produce dressings, dips and sauces that are sold in the produce aisles of grocery stores.
Forming the ESOP has been a long-standing dream of Ed Hawkins Jr., Litehouse’s president and chief executive officer, according to a company press release.
“We realized a number of years ago that we would eventually need a plan to transfer the ownership and management of the business – or we would risk seeing our business move away,” Ed Hawkins said in a statement. “We’ve worked too long and too hard to build this business and our communities, and that was not an acceptable option.”
The ESOP will help Litehouse cement its ties to both communities where it operates, said Deena Presnell, Litehouse’s chief operating officer.
“Very likely, if the company was sold to a third party, it would not continue operating in Sandpoint, Idaho,” Presnell said.
At this point, the Hawkins family still has the controlling interest in Litehouse, she said. But the long-term plan is to sell the majority interest to the ESOP, according to Presnell. When that happens, the employees will be Litehouse’s majority owners. ESOPs also qualify for certain tax incentives, which can help with plant expansions, Presnell said.
Tuesday’s announcement fits Litehouse’s homegrown corporate culture – and long history of supporting various community causes, said Sandpoint Mayor Ray Miller.
“They’ve always been and will be a great corporate citizen,” he said. “I think it’s a good move for them.”
Litehouse was started in 1958 by Hawkins’ dad, a chef who ran The Litehouse restaurant in Hope, Idaho. Ed Hawkins Sr. received so many compliments on the restaurant’s signature bleu cheese dressing that he started bottling it. His two sons – Doug and Ed Jr. – succeeded him in the 1970s. Doug Hawkins is the chairman of Litehouse’s board of directors.
About 10 years ago, Litehouse merged with another family firm, Chadalee Farms of Lowell, Mich., to form a national firm.
Litehouse sells its refrigerated dressing, dips and sauces in the United States, Canada, Mexico and overseas. The company has scheduled a Friday afternoon celebration of the ESOP with employees and their spouses.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.