Why did Mauviel stop using cast iron?
In December 2015, members of the food community Chowhound began noticing that many of Mauviel’s online retailers were low on stock of the cast iron handled series of pans. One person went so far as to email Mauviel about it, and Mauviel explained what was going on:
Merci pour votre Mail, je suis Juliette, responsable export chez Mauviel 1830. En effet, nous rencontrons un soucis de production des produits M’250 et M’150c à cause du four qui sert à faire les montures en fonte. A l’heure actuelle ce four n’est toujours pas réparé. Nous espérons pouvoir relancer la production de ces gammes au printemps 2016.
En vous souhaitant une agréable journée,
Juliette C, Export Manager (Asia-Pacific, South America, USA and UK)”
The important part, in English:
In effect, we are having a problem with the production of M’250 and M’150c products because of the forge that is used to make the cast iron handles. At the moment this forge is still not repaired and we hope to be able to relaunch the production of these lines in the spring of 2016.
This would not be good news for any company, but it came at a particularly difficult time for Mauviel.
First, the shortage affected every Mauviel line that featured cast iron handles: not only the M’150c, M’250c, and M’tradition lines, but also the iron-handled series within stainless-steel lines such as M’cook. Fortunately, Mauviel was already in the process of transitioning its entry-level M’150c line to a new “iron electroplate finish” handle, a stainless steel handle with a matte black finish that Mauviel called the c2. But the high-end M’250c and M’tradition lines needed cast iron handles.
Second, any supply chain issues in the second half of 2015 would affect the crucial October-November-December holiday sales season. According to multiple Chowhound posters, the shortage of handles was affecting multiple cookware stores.
As for the handles, apparently the oven of Mauviel’s cast iron supplier broke down and this has interrupted production of all the cast iron handled pieces. Copperware Delights told me they expect availability in January 2016…
There is shortage of Mauviel copper covers and also for that matter Stock everywhere of 250c CI [cast iron] cookware across the board. Cutlery and More for instance has very little stock of 250c copper. Mauviel is having some kind of production issues at the factory, or with a key supplier i think. So stock is sparse on lots of models.
But this is nothing compared to what happened to Williams-Sonoma, the exclusive retail partner in the U.S. for the M’250c, Mauviel’s high-end 2.5mm stainless-steel lined pans.
Williams-Sonoma purchases, imports, and warehouses its own stock of Mauviel, which is why they can deliver to your door in 3-5 days. Compare that to Sur La Table, which asks 10-14 days for delivery — that shipment is coming from Mauviel in France. Williams-Sonoma’s instant gratification merchandising strategy depends on buying stock in advance and having it ready for shipment, but also means that Williams-Sonoma’s website listings fluctuate according to what they have on hand at that moment. Sur La Table, by comparison, lists whatever the vendors claim is available, trading the headaches of warehousing for the headaches of dealing with unreliable vendors. Multiple times I have placed an order from Sur La Table only to have it cancelled when the vendor was actually out of stock. (I’m looking at you, Staub.)
I mention this because for the purposes of this discussion, Williams-Sonoma’s stock levels show us that Mauviel’s supply chain problems lasted for more than a year.
I counted the number of M’250c items — a single pot or a set is one item — that were offered at Williams-Sonoma.com from 2015 to 2017. Starting with mid-2015 — around the time when Mauviel experienced the problem with its cast-iron foundry — you can see month-by-month how Williams-Sonoma’s stock fluctuated. Again, this is the high-end M’250c series that required cast iron handles.
Please indulge me as I walk you through this, because I find it astonishing.
- Heading into the 2015 holidays, Williams-Sonoma had a full complement of eleven M’250c items.
- From October to December 2015, stock dropped to eight items, as might be expected during the holiday season.
- But in spring 2016, when Williams-Sonoma should be replenishing stock, quantities on hand continued to dwindle down to one saucepan in April 2016.
- The bump up to five in May 2016 corresponded with a major Mother’s Day copper sale.
- In June 2016 and for three months thereafter, Williams-Sonoma was back down to that one solitary M’250c saucepan.
- After that, from September 2016 to March 2017, Williams-Sonoma had zero M’250c pots in stock.
I’ll say it again: Williams-Sonoma ran out of its exclusive M’250c line and missed the entire 2016 holiday season. I don’t think Williams-Sonoma likes doing this. I think they would very much have preferred to get more M’250c from Mauviel and I think Mauviel would have done everything in its power to make Williams-Sonoma happy.
But what Mauviel was apparently unable to do was get any iron-handled M’250c pots made and shipped to Williams-Sonoma, possibly Mauviel’s most important US customer.
What Mauviel seems to have decided, after a year, was to abandon cast iron handles altogether and turn to the c2 coated steel handle originally intended for the 150c line. This is a two-rivet cast stainless steel handle (a shape in use for years on Mauviel’s stainless-handled lines) with a matte black coating applied to make it look like iron. This monture finition fonte par electrolyse (“handle with iron finish by electrolysis”) was announced in 2015 for the M’150c line, re-christened the M’150c2 for the new style of handle.
Williams-Sonoma received a full batch of M’250c2 pans in April 2017, finally restoring stock more than a year after the foundry incident in late 2015. These are the same handles in use today.
Opinions on the c2 handle are mixed. Stainless steel is an excellent insulator against heat, and so stainless steel handles stay cooler than cast iron during cooking. Stainless handles also will not rust as cast iron handles can do if not dried thoroughly.
But an “iron electroplated finish” is not iron. When the M’150c2 was first listed on Mauviel’s website in January 2017, it was described as “iron color finish,” swiftly corrected to “iron electroplated finish.” But it’s still just black paint, and it can rub off. The photo below, borrowed from an August 2018 post on Chowhound, shows a brand new c2 handle with a spot rubbed bare during shipping. I am surprised that Mauviel would risk this with its M’150c2 series, but truly shocked that they would extend this risk to the more expensive M’250c2 and M’tradition lines. This means that Mauviel is asking upwards of US$500 for a pan that can arrive with the handle paint rubbed off.
For its part, Mauviel may have been ambivalent about using the c2 handle on the venerable M’250 and M’tradition lines. They certainly waited a year before doing so, leaving Williams-Sonoma without stock over a holiday season. Asked about the reasons for Mauviel’s change and the rubbed-off finish, TJFRANCE added some background:
According to my sources [the change from cast iron to coated steel handles] is not a desire on the part of Mauviel. Neither a will of Mauviel to want to change. Unfortunately it was the company that supplied them with the handles that went bankrupt. I think that Mauviel did not expect this bad news or at least not so fast. So they certainly have to find an alternative without having the time to actually test their new formula!
But publicly the company describes the c2 as an improvement over cast iron. Here’s how Mauviel described the “new handles” in March 2017:
“Our customers love our copper with cast iron handles, but the cast iron handles are harder to maintain than our cast stainless steel handles,” said Tara Steffen, marketing director for Mauviel USA. […]
Steffen explained that Mauviel employees went to work in order to create a handle that alleviates that issue for the customer. The new handle, she said, looks like cast iron but is actually cast stainless steel electroplated with iron. […]
“We never thought we could improve upon our copper M’250 and M’150 cookware collections, but this new handle makes them even better,” added Steffen.
I find it hard to believe that the c2 handle was developed in response to customer complaints, but I can’t blame their marketing director for trying to make it seem so. The evidence from Mauviel’s published catalogs and websites is that the c2 was designed and photographed for the 2015 Mauviel catalog but not brought to market until January 2017. As for that press release in March 2017, the c2 may have been “new” on retail shelves but the design was already two years old and had been adopted for the M’250c and M’tradition lines after a year of supply chain delays. This hardly sounds to me like the triumphant implementation of a brilliant innovation “that alleviates [an] issue for the customer” and “makes [the M’250 and M’150 lines] even better.”
Even now, the design of the c2 handle — at least as it appears on the M’250 series — is not yet settled. Look at these two photos from Williams-Sonoma.com showing current (late April 2019) photos of two M’250c2 pans. The sauteuse bombée on the left has an indented channel on the handle shaft, the same as the polished stainless steel version. But the Windsor on the right has a solid shaft reminiscent of the traditional cast iron handle design. Perhaps Mauviel continues to experiment to recapture the right feel.
But one thing they both have in common is a coat of black paint.