Sterno Products closed out 2019 having had one of its most lucrative years. Sales were up, the factories were busy, and it was looking like 2020 was going to be another great year. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing caterers and restaurants alike to shutter their doors, which left Sterno wondering where this left them.
The California-based company eventually decided to shift its priorities at two of its plants, rather than producing insulated food bags and ethanol chafing fuel, they will now be producing cotton masks and hand sanitizer.
“We just felt that it was something that we could jump in and start doing,” said David Amirault, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development for Sterno.
Sewers at Sterno's LaPorte plant have already been able to produce 30,000 cotton masks. Photo courtesy of Sterno Products.
Sterno first decided to start producing the cotton masks at their LaPorte plant in Indiana a couple weeks ago because there was obviously a need for masks at the local hospitals, and they had built up enough of a stockpile of their insulated bags.
“So, we started working right away,” Amirault said.
After finding a supplier to provide the material, Sterno’s staff of 25 sewers went to work making the masks. The masks that they are producing are woven, double-ply cotton masks, not the N95 respirator masks used by healthcare workers when dealing with COVID-19 patients. So, these masks are being distributed to nurses and other workers who are not directly working with those patients. The team of sewers has already been able to produce about 3,000 masks, and they are hoping to be able to make 100,000 over the course of the next several weeks.
“When you have a good team, a talented team,” Amirault said, “you can get a lot of things done.”
Sterno will switch production back and forth as needed between insulated food bags and masks.
“We’re going to keep producing as long as the demand is there,” Amirault said. “Everyone is looking for masks and we need to support locally.”
Sterno will next be switching its Memphis, Tenn. plant, which had previously been producing ethanol chafing fuel, over to producing hand sanitizer for the food industry. The plant should be able to produce around 5,000 gallons a week, Amirault said.
Sterno will be able to produce 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer a week. Photo courtesy of Sterno Products.
Amirault said it has been a great feeling knowing that they have been able to pivot their production lines to support the greater good.
“To see the immediate impact this is going to have is very encouraging,” he said. “That’s really what motivates all of us, because when you know the bigger picture and you’re helping people to protect themselves, you couldn’t be more be proud.”
See a video of Sterno’s mask production in action by clicking here.