National Presto Industries

Billboard outside of National Presto Industries headquarters in Eau Claire, 2008.

EAU CLAIRE — National Presto Industries saw its sales grow by $44.1 million last year as more of its defense and housewares products were delivered to their customers.

The Eau Claire-based company released its year-end financial report recently, detailing how sales grew during a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as challenges it posed to the company.

Leading last year’s sales growth was $25.5 million more in shipments from its backlog of defense products for the U.S. Military. The company’s defense segment makes medium-caliber training and tactical ammunition, energetic ordinance items, fuses and cartridge cases.

Presto’s housewares and small appliances experienced 18.4% sales growth last year, moving $18.2 million more of the cooking products the company is known for.

“That increase was largely due to increased demand driven by the COVID shutdowns/edicts, which caused consumers to prepare most of their meals at home,” Maryjo Cohen, the company’s president, said in a news release.

But she added that the pandemic did cause some logistical issues in distribution and supply chains, which did limit those sales. Many other manufacturers have also expressed similar problems when the flow of raw materials or components used in their products had been disrupted by plant shutdowns or difficulty getting shipments from overseas in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Presto’s 2020 housewares sales figure also accounted for the impact of a voluntary safety recall the company announced earlier this month for two models of its indoor electric smokers, the news release stated.

Cohen expects demand for the company’s kitchen products will persist this year until people return to eating at restaurants to the degree that they did before COVID-19.

“Until state and local regulators loosen their hold and consumers are comfortable eating out again, meals will be prepared at home and demand for the Housewares/Small Appliance segment’s products should remain strong,” she said.

Cohen also is forecasting another strong year for the company’s defense segment due to its still-healthy backlog.

Presto also owns two startup businesses under its safety segment — self-service fire extinguisher producer Rusoh and building hazard early-warning system company OneEvent Technologies.

That third segment also saw increased sales last year, but to a small degree, according to the news release. Those safety-based businesses were severely hampered by the COVID shutdown and edicts related to the pandemic, the news release stated.

“Although additional progress is anticipated, the startup safety segment will continue to face many of the COVID regulatory related challenges that hampered it in 2020,” Cohen stated.

Across all three of its business segments, Presto had $352.6 million in net sales during 2020, up from $308.5 million the year before — a 14.3% increase . Net earnings last year were nearly $47 million compared to $42.2 million for 2019, which was an 11.2% rise in profits.

The news release noted that last year’s growth in sales and earnings were even more impressive than they appear due to some one-time gains included in the 2019 figures. In 2019, Presto’s revenues included $9.4 million from the negotiated termination of a commercial foreign supply contract and a $1.68 from a settlement related to the sale of the company’s absorbent products division to Drylock.