The Snack Capital of the World

Years ago when I was considering a trip to Pennsylvania, one of the things I was looking forward to were the factory tours.   Pennsylvania has a number of these with factories making snacks in the forefront.   York County and the town of Hanover have been called  the “snack food capital of the world.”   I am a sucker for factory tours as I love seeing things being made, so we had to plan a trip to Hanover.   Our first stop was at Snyder’s which makes my favorite snack, Snyder’s Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces.   At times I really crave them and although I certainly don’t eat them during every road trip, they are my favorite road trip snack.  During car trips in past years, I have been known to stop at several gas stations or convenience stores trying to hunt down these “delicacies” as not every place carries them.   When you have a craving for your favorite snack, sometimes it is hard to forget about it!  Even as I write this blog, I am snacking as I guess it is hard to write about them when I still have one small bag left from our factory visit!

Our Snyder’s tour started in the factory store where we would be meeting our tour guide.  While we waited for the tour to begin, we browsed the array of snacks for sale and were surprised to see more than the pretzels we were expecting.  Snyder’s became well known for their variety of sourdough hard style pretzels, but now many other snacks are made by the company such as peanut butter and cracker packs, veggie crisps, cheese crackers and chocolate covered pretzels.   We found out that awhile back Snyder’s was purchased by Lance Foods and then the end of last year, Campbell’s Soup bought the company.   So it appears that with these changes, the line up of snack foods could be updated.

During our tour we were able to walk through their huge building and see the manufacturing facility from big windows above.  We saw the raw material warehouse, the machines that mix ingredients and bake the pretzels and loads of pretzels being moved along conveyor belts to their destination for packaging.   I had never seen so many little pretzels before!   We saw how the pretzels are packaged, boxed and stored in the warehouse.  Robots are used to pick up packages and place them in the shipping boxes, but people were also working on the floor.  I wasn’t able to see my beloved honey mustard pretzels being processed, but our guide pointed out the area where they are made.  We saw piles of different colored veggie crisps in the packaging stage and although we didn’t see any, tortilla chips are also made here.  Many of the machines that are used to mix, form and bake the pretzels are enclosed making it difficult to closely observe the whole process.   We did find the tour very interesting with a lot of views of the factory floor as well as the opportunity to hear about the company history.   Snyder’s has been in business for more than 100 years and has been a major pretzel making operation.  Snyder’s does not allow pictures so I could not share any for the blog.

Our next stop was at Utz Quality Foods which is known for making potato chips.  This factory differs from Snyder’s in several ways.  The tour is self guided and called the “Chip Trip.”  You walk above the facility floor and watch from glass windows at the process below.  There is audio narration and some signage to explain the different steps of making potato chips from the beginning to packaging.  I liked that we were able to see the whole process and take photos.  Workers on the floor would sometimes wave at us from below.

We first saw whole potatoes before peeling and sorting, with bigger potatoes headed for bigger bags.   Potatoes that had greenish or dark spots were placed in a separate bin.  In the picture above, the worker inspects the problem potatoes which travel to the reject bin behind him.   Sometimes I would see a worker grab potatoes and cut off the bad spots, sending them on.  The potatoes to the left of the worker were good to go.

After being sliced, the potatoes are washed which was interesting because the water looked so foamy that I thought at first the potatoes were being fried.  But I found out it was the starchy residue from the potato being washed off.   The potatoe chip fryer was a covered machine so we didn’t get to see the chips actually being fried.  We did see them coming out of the fryer and traveling down long conveyor belts to be packaged.   I couldn’t believe how many potato chips I was seeing as they were coming from many directions.

We next saw the chips being packaged and boxed before heading on to the huge storeroom.

The Utz company has been family owned since the beginning when William and Salie Utz in 1921 began to make potato chips in their Hanover home kitchen, cooking about 50 pounds of chips an hour and selling to small local markets.  In the 1930’s the first plant was built near their home and in the 40’s, the first modern plant was built in town on five acres.  Over the years the facility continued to expand with new buildings added.  Today, Utz is the largest independent privately held snack brand in the United States, producing over 3.3 million pounds of snacks per week, half of which are potato chips.

Although we only saw chips being made, Utz makes much more.   Below is a picture showing their range of products including a variety of potato chips, tortilla chips, cheese puffs and pretzels.  We were also able to see a couple of films about the company and a really nice employee was available to answer questions and make sure visitors took a few sample bags with them after the tour.   This was our first taste of an Utz potato chip as they are not commonly available in the West.

At the factory store we were able to sample a variety of their different products.    My favorite was the Chesapeake Bay Crab Seasoned Chip, known as the “Crab Chip.”  It had an interesting flavor.

It was a fun and interesting day in the “snack food capital.”   Thanks for checking in with us!

4 thoughts on “The Snack Capital of the World”

  1. Hi Beth, I am in envy of your tours! Potato chips and pretzel pieces are my idea of snack heaven!

    Miss you guys!

  2. We are obsessed with UTZ now! Best chips on Earth! Fun tours, reminds me of Hershey tours as a kid back when they were in Oakdale 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting Matt! It is fun to find new products to enjoy, although it will probably be hard to find Utz back in California! I think Cost Plus – World Market might have carried Utz pretzels, so perhaps they will have Utz chips as well? Yes, I really enjoyed the Hershey factory tour in Oakdale too, especially the chocolate smell! It is too bad when factories stop giving tours or move out of the area – it seems so few offer tours these days.

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