Better Made Snack Foods, the Detroit-based company that has become an icon in the upper Midwest, has a lot to celebrate — not the least of which is 85 years of treating its customers to some of the tastiest snacks on the planet.
It was in 1930 that the Cross and Peters company was founded, named after the first names of founders Cross Moceri and Peter Cipriano. Both set goals of making a better potato chip, hence the brand name Better Made.
However, it was not just the name on the side of a bag of potato chips. It became known as the way this company operates and the products it makes. Even in the early days, only the best ingredients and methods were used — at first, burlap-bagged, select potatoes were cooked in the best oil available, weighed and hand-packed into greaseless bags. Distribution first was through the company’s own stores but later grew into small delivery routes.
Today, Better Made uses 60 million lbs of chip potatoes every year, and the process is just a bit more complex. Still, the company uses all natural resources, and its chips are untouched by human hands from the time the potatoes leave the farm until the chips are consumed. For 10 months out of the year, Michigan potatoes are used with other states contributing — wherever the best potatoes can be found — for the remainder of the year.
“We try to source as locally as possible, using local companies and local labor,” said Phil Gusmano, the company’s vice-president of purchasing.
Better Made’s leadership team is committed to maintaining the high level of quality that has been the company’s hallmark through the years. Its products have evolved, keeping up with changing consumer taste preferences and adding popcorn and kettle corn during the 1960s.
Catering to the tastes of many health-conscious consumers, including millennials who are proving to be big snackers, Better Made is using lighter oil and less salt for its popcorn, which is “free of almost anything,” noted Mark Costello, vice-president of marketing. “Certainly we are looking at today’s changing food trends.”
Of course, the company began with potato chips, and those products also have changed over time.
“The evolution has mainly been with new flavors,” Mr. Costello said, noting that some recent new flavors added to the potato chip lineup include Garlic Dill Pickle, Honey Barbecue, Crinkle Cut and Cheddar & Sour Cream.
“We get a lot of feedback from our customers on both social media and old-fashioned letters,” noted Mark Winkelman, president of Better Made. He said the Garlic Dill Pickle flavor was the result of a letter from a customer who asked for such a chip.
Mr. Winkelman and his team believe the company’s point of differentiation is the quality of its products, which has led to its strong reputation among consumers.
“We’ve got a slightly thicker cut to our chip,” Mr. Winkelman said. “We use the best Michigan potatoes and the best oils we can get. We think it makes a difference. Some of this is more of an art than a science, and I think that gives us a bit of an edge.”
|Mark Winkelman, president of Better Made.|
Mr. Winkelman also believes the loyal labor force at Better Made is a big part of the company’s success and its popularity, especially in the Detroit area.
“We are blessed with incredible longevity,” he said.
As with every company in the industry today, it is essential to keep costs under control in order to succeed in an ever-intense competitive environment.
“We want to continue to drive down costs while keeping quality as high as we can so we can maintain our success,” Mr. Winkelman explained, adding that Better Made plans to expand into additional areas within its regional market of Michigan and northern Ohio.
Mr. Winkelman pointed out that Better Made is an avid user of social media to stay in touch with its consumers.
“We are making sure that people from Michigan know via the Internet they can have our products shipped to them even overseas,” he said.
Better Made has been a strong and loyal advocate of the Snack Food Association (S.F.A.) for many years, and Mr. Winkelman said the association’s work, particularly in the government affairs arena, “is of great value to us.”
He pointed to the continuing regulatory burden that emanates from the federal government as an example of the important role that the S.F.A. plays in helping to minimize that burden for its members.
“The advocacy we get from S.F.A. to help us navigate such things as G.M.O. labeling, sodium and PHOs is invaluable,” he said. “The work that S.F.A. is doing to raise the awareness of the difficulties of multiple state laws dealing with G.M.O.s, for example, is really important.”
Mr. Gusmano pointed out that Better Made works with the S.F.A. on potato breeding trials, and that the classes offered by the S.F.A. for middle management personnel helps the company develop managers as they grow in their careers.“It gives us the ability to move those people forward in this industry,” he said. “That’s the future.”