Drop in some ground beef, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and spices. Press a button, head out for work and return hours later to a perfectly prepared chili.
For a while, the Instant Pot, an electronically controlled device that could pressure-cook and slow-cook food, was the kitchen tool everyone wanted. The product hit the market in 2010, quickly became a top seller, and spawned a legion of fans who called themselves “Potheads” and used their Instant Pots to create dozens of recipes.
Those Potheads are still around, making soups, stews and puddings. But over the past few years, the Instant Pot has failed to attract new fans, and its parent company is struggling.
Instant Brands, the maker of the Instant Pot and other household brands such as Pyrex, Snapware and CorningWare, announced on Monday that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The move, according to the company, will secure $132.5 million in funding to allow it to stay afloat and restructure rather than liquidate its business. The company did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday about its sales.
Ben Gadbois, president and chief executive of Instant Brands, said in a statement on Monday that “after successfully navigating the Covid-19 pandemic and the global supply chain crisis, we continue to face additional global macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges that have affected our business.”
“In particular, tightening of credit terms and higher interest rates impacted our liquidity levels and made our capital structure unsustainable,” Mr. Gadbois said.
Instant Brands said in a statement on Wednesday that the new financing would allow the company to continue paying workers, vendors and suppliers. Its entities outside of the United States and Canada are not part of the bankruptcy filing.
The company did not say whether any specific products were selling poorly. But, according to the market research company Circana, dollar and unit sales for multicookers — appliances that can cook food several ways — declined 20 percent from April 2022 to April 2023. Sales data for other Instant Brands products was not available.
The drop in sales followed a boom during the coronavirus pandemic: Multicookers and air fryers posted “double-digit dollar sales” in 2020, according to a report by the NPD Group, a market research company that later merged with another firm to form Circana. As a result, the report said, “many households now have these appliances on hand.”
Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said that “the official excuse” that Instant Brands “is giving is the debt burden.”
“That’s a common refrain from these retail companies that go into bankruptcy, that they’re carrying too much debt,” Ms. Kahn said.
Instant Brands is one of many companies dealing with a lull in sales after a pandemic-fueled spike.
Many people stuck at home during the height of the pandemic took up indoor activities, such as cooking and exercising, and bought the products they needed for them, such as kitchen appliances and Peloton bikes, said Barbara E. Kahn, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
But after lockdowns ended, people found “they don’t need another Instapot,” Dr. Kahn said, using the gadget’s popular nickname. “They don’t need another Peloton. They don’t need these things that they already bought.”
S&P Global, the credit rating and analytics corporation, downgraded Instant Brands’ rating last week because of lower consumer spending in discretionary categories; it did so again on Tuesday after the company filed for bankruptcy. S&P analysts wrote on June 8 that Instant Brands’ net sales dropped 21.9 percent in the first quarter of 2023 relative to the same period last year, for a seventh straight quarter of declining sales.
There is still hope for Instant Brands, said Smrity P. Randhawa, a clinical accounting professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, because Chapter 11 bankruptcy gives the company the chance to reorganize its business. However, part of the problem for companies like Instant Brands and Peloton is that they produce durable products that do not need to be replaced regularly, Dr. Randhawa said.
Dr. Kahn noted that companies that make what are known in economics as “durables” need to give consumers a reason to replace their products.
Dr. Randhawa, who bought an Instant Pot during the pandemic, said she still uses it a couple of times a week to make meals.
“Social media sold it to me,” she said. “It works. It’s going to probably last for a long time, so there’s no need to rush out to buy another one.”