$1,750 Builds a Potato Chip Empire

I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I am a bit of a salt-addict, Potato chips, nacho chips, popcorn… really anything crunchy and saline. So when I ran across the Herr’s potato chip factory tour in Nottingham, PA, I was beside myself. By the time I’d planned the visit, my mouth was already watering – maybe we’d great a free sample or two!

Herr’s Snacks was founded in 1946 by James Herr in Lancaster, PA. For only $1750, he bought a small potato chip company – basically just a truck and a fryer and the well-wishes of the previous owner. He paid back the loan in only three years, but on numerous occasions thought about selling the business and finding something else to do. This potato chip sales business was tough!

Original vehicle purchased and used on Herr's original route.

In 1949 he and his wife rented space in an abandoned bakery, but only two years later with business booming, a devastating fire destroyed everything they’d work so hard to build. Luckily for potato chip fans along the eastern coast, they didn’t pitch in the towel, but decided to rebuild. Today, it is estimated that the small, family-owned company has annual sales over $200 million and has actually captured some regional market share from aggressive PepsiCo and their well-known chip lines.

This morning, we were lucky enough to take a free tour of the facility, which of course began with the obligatory “company story” movie, but quickly moved to the production floor, through the glass enclosed walkway over the pretzel production line and on to the corn tortilla processing section.

Soon, we came upon a familiar scent, one that had us salivating as we moved closer to the windows. Below, huge tumblers were rolling out the days popped corn. Salted popcorn kernels tempted our attention as the tour guide blathered on about manufacturing – a buttery distraction, but I kept wondering – When do we get our free sample!?

We then shuffled to the grand finale, the manufacturing of Herr’s famous, founding principle, the mighty omnipotent potato chip.

Here we received the most in-depth schooling beginning with a well-designed production video that helped to illustrate our guide’s narration. Semis loaded with potatoes arrive each morning and are inspected by quality control, if accepted, the semi rolls onto a specially designed platform that literally raises the semi vertical for dumping – quite a sight for passing motorists.

They are then washed, skinned and sliced. Impressively, one inch of potato can render seventeen standard or fifteen kettle style chips. They are cooked in under a minute in the large machine in front of us, then salted. Though the floor was shrouded in secrecy, the process is pretty standard of most food processing, and almost identical to most snack food companies.

Finally, the best part of the tour. After learning about the product and manufacturing, our hair-netted guide walked to the floor and pulled a tray of chips right off the line. Warm and salty, and absolutely delicious! It actually made us consider making warm potato chips our standard snack… thank goodness, in addition to a bed, our car/house came with a microwave.

Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed in the factory. But it’s always interesting and often fun to see the process in action. For more information and to plan your visit… click here.