How the Pennsylvania Snack Food Industry Found Success

Fried mac and cheese freshly broken open

For Pennsylvania, a seemingly uncanny collection of snack food brands is responsible for several billion dollars of revenue each year — a significant percentage of the estimated $36 billion industry according to IBISWorld. It’s no surprise, then, that Pennsylvania and, in particular, York County, has earned the title of Snack Food Capital of the World. Several brands have a long, rich history of success with foods such as pretzels, potato chips and candy.

Snyder’s of Hanover

Snyder's of Hanover

Snyder’s of Hanover began as Hanover Canning Company, when in 1909 it was founded and started producing Olde Tyme Pretzels — its flagship product for more than a century now. Other pretzel flavors descended from this recipe, and Snyder’s also has developed a variety of dips, tortilla chips and other snack foods over the years.

In the 1940s, Snyder’s was the first company in the industry to use aluminum foil bags for its products, increasing shelf life. This innovation helped the company expand into distant markets such as Pittsburgh and New York, and demand soon increased to the point that Snyder’s opened a plant in Berlin, Pennsylvania.

Today, Snyder’s of Hanover exists as a subsidiary of Snyder’s-Lance, following its 2010 merger with Lance Inc. valued at around $1.6 billion. Snyder’s-Lance is the second largest salty snack company in the United States, after Frito-Lay, and continues to leverage the history and quality of the Snyder’s of Hanover brand.

Innovations are leading to Snyder’s growth. In February 2015, the company announced two new products, Pretzel Poppers and Bowties. In the following month, ad agency GKV detailed a new marketing campaign, “Discover the Pretzelbilities,” that showcases Snyder’s products and ultimately helps customers better connect with the brand.

Utz Quality Foods

UTZ Quality potato chips

In 1921, William and Sue Utz decided to enter the potato chip business from their home, originally calling their business Hanover Home Brand Potato Chips. With just $300, they were able to produce 50 pounds of potato chips per hour, selling their product to local markets and grocers. Today, that small mom-and-pop business has grown into potato chip juggernaut Utz Quality Foods.

Growth has been steady for the company; in 1936 it invested in an automatic fryer that could handle 300 pounds of chips per hour. And following World War II, the company built the first modern-day Utz plant, a 67,000-square-foot facility located in Hanover.

Currently, Utz produces more than 3.3 million pounds of snack foods each week. It’s the largest independent, privately held snack brand in the country.

According to Vault, strategic acquisitions have been a big part of Utz’s success. In 2011, for example, Utz acquired Zappe Endeavors, giving Utz access to Zappe’s plants in Louisiana, California and Pennsylvania. Instantly, Utz became a national snack food manufacturer. By focusing on infrastructure, new products and brands, Utz has seen a 31 percent rise in revenue from 2010 to 2012.



Tastykake is a brand operated by the Tasty Baking Company, which began in 1914 when Philip Baur and Herbert Morris started baking and delivering individually wrapped snack cakes to customers in Philadelphia. It didn’t take long for them to make money. By charging one dime for each snack cake, the company had earned $222 at the end of the first week and $300,000 at the end of the first year.

In subsequent decades, Tasty Baking Company developed new products that helped the company grow, including the Krimpet, the Tandy Kake and individually wrapped pies.

The company has taken an innovative approach to branding, sponsoring a number of sports teams to increase sales and improve its brand recognition in the region. Tastykake has been a sponsor for the Philadelphia Phillies, Flyers and Eagles as well as teams outside Philadelphia, like the Yankees, Orioles and Steelers.

In 2009, Tastykake built a state-of-the-art bakery on the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. The facility earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification as an environmentally friendly building. However, some analysts believe that Tastykake failed to anticipate the projected savings of this move, causing the stock to collapse in 2011. In April of the same year, Flowers Foods purchased the Tastykake brand for $165 million.

According to Harold Brubaker of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Flowers Foods has rejuvenated the brand. Before the purchase, Tastykakes were sold primarily through 474 delivery routes, but Flowers now sells them in 5,000 of its 6,000 territories. The report estimates that sales have increased to $425 million from $225 million since the sale to Flowers.

The Hershey Company

The Hershey Company

The Hershey Company story began in the late 19th century, when candy manufacturer Milton Hershey tried adding chocolate coating to caramels. Although that company was successful, Hershey sold it in 1900 to focus on what he believed to be the candy of the future — chocolate. He built a chocolate plant in Derry Church, Pennsylvania — later Hershey — producing candies from a milk chocolate recipe that is still in use today.

The company continued to be an innovator in the candy world; in 1907, the Hershey’s Kiss was introduced. In the ’20s, the company added Mr. Goodbar, Hershey’s Syrup and semisweet dark chocolate chips. And today, several chocolate and candy brands exist within Hershey’s, such as Reese’s, Kit Kat, Jolly Rancher and Ice Breakers.

According to Vault, Hershey’s revenues increased 8 percent in 2013 for a record-setting $7.2 billion. Much of this is due to sales increases of established and new brands, like Brookside, in the United States, as well as gains in market share overseas.

The Sweet Taste of Success

Clearly, Pennsylvania is no stranger to household snack food brands. In addition to the brands discussed above, additional companies such as Martin’s Potato Chips and Auntie Anne’s can be added to the list, representing more than $500 million in revenue.

For these stories, legacies can be attributed to the right business skills and knowledge. Innovation results in new business and product ideas. Small, strategic changes make improvements that keep the business moving forward. And, of course, each story has a distinct vision to help create success.

A strong business education can help aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs pursue their goals. At Alvernia University, an online MBA provides a solid foundation in leadership, marketing, finance, accounting and more. Graduates can leverage their education to move into leadership positions or realize their dreams of starting a new business.

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