Made in PA

Utz Quality Foods: Bringing Smiles to Generations of Snack Food Lovers

Winter 2019 Catalyst

The Utz story began in Hanover, Pennsylvania, in a small-town kitchen. It was 1921. William (Bill) and Salie Utz thought potato chips could be better. They believed potato chips should be made from clean, simple ingredients and that they should be minimally processed to bring out the natural flavor of farm-fresh potatoes. With an initial investment of $300, Hanover Home Brand Potato Chips — eventually Utz Quality Foods — was born.


Humble Beginnings


Using hand-operated equipment, William and Salie Utz initially produced 50 pounds of potato chips per day from their home. Salie cooked potato chips, while Bill delivered the freshly made chips to small grocers and other markets across central Pennsylvania.


To capture the spirit of this new venture, an image of a youthful yet mischievous girl, the “Little Utz Girl,” was printed on the front of every package. The “Little Utz Girl” stood as the embodiment of all things honest and good, as she still does to this day.


In 1930, with demand growing for their potato chips, William and Salie expanded their home, where the chips were still made, to accommodate their success. It soon wasn’t enough. By 1938, William and Salie moved the business into a small building in the family’s backyard, affording them more work space. They also increased their capabilities by adding automatic equipment, then capable of producing 300 pounds of potato chips per hour, a significant increase.   1938 was also the year that William and Salie’s daughter, Arlene, married Francis Xavier “F.X.” Rice, who joined the growing family business.


Readying the Foundation


1947 marked a major transition for the company, as Hanover Home Brand Potato Chips became the Utz Potato Chip Company. At the same time, the company purchased a five-acre parcel of land on Carlisle Street in Hanover, and construction of the first modern-day Utz factory began. As demand for Utz potato chips increased, the Carlisle Street factory expanded three times by 1958.


In 1968, William Utz passed away, and F.X. Rice became the company’s President. At the same time, Mike Rice, son of F.X. and Arlene Utz Rice, joined the organization, introducing the third generation to the family business.


The 70’s were a period of great transition for Utz as it used its position as the number one potato chip brand in central Pennsylvania and Baltimore to expand into the rest of Maryland and the Washington D.C. area. During this time, the world around Utz was also changing.  Pretzels, cheese snacks, tortilla chips, popcorn and other snack foods were becoming everyday staples for Americans. Utz company sales growth was rapid. To meet this demand, Utz expanded further, opening a new corporate headquarters on High Street in Hanover in conjunction with its 50th anniversary.


In 1978, F.X. Rice retired, and Mike Rice was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer, now the third generation of family to run the company.


Through the 80’s, Utz grew significantly, fueled by an ever-growing customer demand and geographic expansion beyond Pennsylvania and Maryland. Given the expansion beyond potato chips, Utz also changed its name to Utz Quality Foods, ensuring “quality” was inherent across the organization.


With customer interest in mind, Utz opened its mail order business in 1984, in response to the chorus of fans who sought Utz snacks from around the country.  By 1987, Utz opened a Tour Gallery at the High Street facility so that “Utz fans” could watch the Utz potato chips manufacturing process and enjoy a free sample, a tradition which continues to this day.


A New Dawn


With its continued focus on the customer, Utz entered the new millennium ready to meet the excitement and changes required of a new century. By this time, several major demographic shifts began to materialize:


  • The internet offered increased customer access for gathering information.
  • “Baby Boomers” entered their 50s, their most impactful purchasing years.
  • The Hispanic population in the U.S. grew at its most rapid pace.
  • Millennials, those born between 1981 through 2000, gained purchasing power and influence in the market.


While these demographic shifts had numerous effects on the economy, for snack food makers, none was more impactful than customer requests for more flavors, a demand for “better for you” snacks and the rise of snacks as a “meal replacement.” The Millennial generation led the change away from three meals a day to more “on-the-go” snacking as a means of replenishment and fulfillment. Today, more than 90 percent of customers eat at least one snack a day, with Millennial customers consuming far more.


Understanding and responding to these changes, Utz Quality Foods began to acquire other diverse and regional snack food brands such as: Wachusett®, Zapp’s® and Dirty® Potato Chips (2011), Bachman® and Jax® (2012), Good Health® (2014), Snikiddy® (2015), Golden Flake® (2016) and most recently, Boulder Canyon® (2017). These brands offer Utz the ability to satisfy demand for an even broader range of customer tastes in wider geographic areas.


As a means to further excite and inspire customers around their brands,

Utz became a much more active sponsorship partner with numerous organizations — including becoming the “Official Salty Snack” of Major League Baseball. The Utz and Major League Baseball partnership is a winning combination as each places a great deal of emphasis on quality, family and tradition.


Today, the family-managed tradition continues with Dylan Lissette, son-in-law of Mike Rice, as the company’s fourth generation leader. Utz Quality Foods is the fourth largest snack food business in the United States and the number one privately held, available in all fifty states and beyond.


Century of Heritage


Almost 100 years after its inception, Utz Quality Foods is still a family-managed business operating in the heart of Pennsylvania, the snack food capital of the world.  With six manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania alone, Utz potato chips still starts with farm-fresh potatoes and combine simple ingredients. As a result, Utz chips and other snacks are fresher, crunchier, and simply taste better, the way William and Salie Utz intended.


Each day, the Utz team works to honor the “Little Utz Girl’s” youthful spirt and century of heritage by crafting world-class snacks, which continue to put smiles on the faces of generations.


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