10 Things You Didn't Know About Utz
Though it's just one of Pennsylvania's many established chip brands, Utz has possibly the coolest story, and definitely the most-devoted fans. Started in the '20s by an ambitious couple, the brand has turned into much more than a tiny kitchen operation. Today, it's got a whole line of essential snacks, fans like Warren Buffett, and TV cameos all over the place. Find out how it all happened below, then ponder how a child chip mascot managed to get married before you did.
1. Utz is the largest privately owned snack company in America
Yes, Utz is the king of family-owned snacks, and it swears it's staying that way, lest it lose its hard-earned indie cred.
2. But supposedly Warren Buffett wanted to buy it
When billionaire investor Warren Buffett revealed his kiddie diet to Fortune earlier this year, most people fixated hard on the Coke binging and ice cream breakfasts. But another key component was Utz potato sticks. Buffett apparently loves those things so much, he considered buying the whole company. He's not actually doing that, and the Utz brass insists they never even talked to Buffett about this. But if you believe a rich dude's success lies in what he eats, you better start buying those sticks.
3. At first, William and Salie Utz cooked the stuff right in their home
A Hanover couple by the name of William and Salie are responsible for the Utz empire. The Utzes started cooking their chips (initially called Hanover Home Brand Potato Chips) in their own kitchen at a rate of about 50lbs an hour in 1921. They immediately found success with local grocers, particularly in nearby Baltimore, and soon expanded operations. But that house is still standing. It's just full of antiques -- at least as of 2001.
4. Mad Men didn't get its '60s ads quite right
While Utz was delighted when AMC featured its chips on season two of Mad Men, the company admits the depiction wasn't exactly on the mark. Utz's mascot has firmly been Salie, that little girl with the bow and painted cheeks, since the 1920s, so it wouldn't have hired a comedian spokesperson to rep it, much less a loudmouth like Jimmy Barrett. Still, it was pretty stoked for the free publicity, even if it got eclipsed by that, uh, very rude thing Don did to Jimmy's wife in the middle of dinner.
5. The snacks were a supporting character on The Wire
You'll see 'em here around 2:04, but plenty other Wire players (like Carver, on surveillance snack binges) feasted on Utz throughout the series run. Which is yet another sign of David Simon's obsession with detail -- Utz outsells even Lay's in the Baltimore/Washington markets, so these guys would definitely be eating them while pondering their next power play. Or just hiding from Omar.
6. Salie and Mr. Natty Boh actually got hitched
Local marketing agency MGH hit a home run in 2007 when it hatched its "When Baltimore gets engaged" campaign for Smyth Jewelers. The original billboard showed Mr. Boh (of Natty Boh) proposing to Salie the Utz girl. But that was just the beginning. By 2011, the campaign had snowballed into this TV ad and an actual staged ceremony between two people in respective Mr. Boh and Salie costumes. It was considered the city's "royal wedding," which is only a little sad. At least their reception was rowdier than Will and Kate's.
7. It really caters to regional tastes
The Crab Chips have held the Chesapeake Bay captive for years now, but Utz hasn't forgotten about its PA roots. This year, the company debuted a limited-edition batch of chips seasoned with Yuengling hot wing sauce. At this rate, a bizarre Tastykake mash-up can't be far behind.
8. Utz is building a chip empire
Today, Utz owns the Bachman, Zapp's, and "Dirty" brands. These acquisitions were all made in the last five years, and point to a larger snack-based domination strategy. CEO Dylan Lissette believes future Utz customers are migrating south, so he's been aggressively targeting the region. (Buying a few of the area's favorite companies was obviously part of the scheme.) If his game plan works, Utz could have the entire East Coast chip game on lock very soon. And if that happens, brace yourself for east vs. west snack carnage.
9. Sam's Club suggested the cheese ball barrels
Utz wasn't making cheese balls, puffs, or curls of any kind until the late '90s, but they proved popular early on. One customer had an idea how to make them even more popular: put them in giant tubs. Utz did just that, and pretty soon, America was eating cheese balls by the faceful out of the beloved barrels. Who was that insightful customer? Sam's Club, which doesn't buy anything unless it comes in a barrel or pallet.