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A Private Equity Firm Drove the Company that Makes Pyrex and Instant Pots Into Bankruptcy

By Nate Parker | Miscellaneous | June 14, 2023 |

By Nate Parker | Miscellaneous | June 14, 2023 |


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Instant Brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday. The electric pressure cooker manufacturer was purchased by private equity firm Cornell Capital in 2017, which blamed rising interest rates and rapid Covid-era growth for its financial struggles. Cornell also owns the Pyrex and Corelle glassware brands, which were also affected by the filing. Since its purchase by Cornell, Instant Brands expanded — or watered down — its iconic product by expanding its lineup to include sous-vide immersion cookers, blenders, air fryers, and other kitchen gadgets.

A Chapter 11 filing means Instant Brands can continue selling its products while it sheds debt, though it remains to be seen if the company can make up lost ground. A $132.5 million loan will help it remain stable while it moves forward. But it begs the question: how did a company that manufactures the most popular kitchen appliance of the last decade and the most economical, reputable glass kitchenware out there, screw up so badly? As is so often true in the tech and consumer product fields, they bit off more than they could chew.

The Instant Pot isn’t a perfect appliance, but it comes close. The 6-in-1 or sometimes 8-in-1 pressure cooker doesn’t excel at everything it does. In my experience, the slow cooker setting is too low and large batches of white rice tend to turn out gummy with scorched bottoms. But the saute function sears meat as long as the pot isn’t crowded, and the lower heat settings are great for cooking vegetables for a sauce or stew. Its original and strongest feature, pressure cooking, is as hands-off and stress-free as it’s possible to be. Stovetop pressure cookers were invented in the 17th century and for more than 200 years were extremely dangerous to the unwary user. Pressure valves were unreliable, and many people grew up hearing horror stories of pots exploding, showering the cook and kitchen in scalding hot liquids. Some people died and others suffered severe burns, leaving home cooks wary of pressure cooking despite its versatility and industry innovations that made them safe more than 40 years ago. The Instant Pot wasn’t even the first electric pressure cooker; that was invented more than 20 years before Robert Wang developed the hit kitchen appliance. And make no mistake, despite flagging sales the Instant Pot still has a cult-like following of devotees singing its praises. There are hundreds of Facebook groups and websites dedicated to wringing every possible benefit from the appliance. I converted to the faith more than 8 years ago. You won’t find a faster way to make delicious beef or chicken stock, pot roast, shredded chicken thighs, and so much more. I make more than 20 pounds of homemade dog food in mine every week, and soups and stews in it all winter. Almost every failure can be blamed on my tendency to push the Instant Pot past its limits or failing to read recipe instructions thoroughly. It’s easy to clean and store, and it saves stovetop space when making multiple dishes.

If the Instant Pot is nearly perfect, Pyrex glassware is the real deal. Whether it’s an older piece made of borosilicate and almost impervious to temperature shock or the newer soda-lime glass that’s more resistant to mechanical breakage — ie being dropped on the floor by an incompetent boob (me) — it remains nearly indestructible in the home kitchen. And should it break, it’s inexpensive to replace. Oh sure, as many commenters noted on Brian’s piece about Pyrex theft at social functions, the lids are crap and not nearly as dishwasher-safe as the company claims. But it’s nothing that can’t be resolved with some heavy-duty aluminum foil. And the bakeware itself lasts forever.

So how do you screw up the most popular glass bakeware on the market and a kitchen appliance with its own cult following? Greed. Cornell Capital was unsatisfied with recent Instant Pot sales numbers, which were on a gradual decline. A family only needs so many electric pressure cookers. They diversified their product line, leading to Instant Brand air fryers, Instant Brand stand mixers, and Instant Brand air purifiers. Instead of multiple versions of a well-made product they switched to manufacturing middling competitors to the brands already known for their quality. No one needs an Instant Brand stand mixer when Cuisinart and Kitchenaid already make a superior product with a decades-long pedigree. Costs went up while sales and quality of their side products declined, and Instant Brands began laying off workers before they turned to bankruptcy.

Cornell Capital isn’t unusual in the world of private equity firms and venture capitalists looking to make a quick buck from the gradual destruction of the companies they snatch up. The vultures destroyed retailers like Sears and Bed, Bath, & Beyond. They ruin product lines and employee compensation packages. And despite countless examples of their slash-and-burn techniques, they’re legally allowed to do so. This is why we can’t have nice things. That said, you’ll have to pry my Instant Pot from my cold, dead hands. I have phở to make.