When asked to flash back to June 4, 2016, William “Chip” Mann II replied, “Let’s not,” rolling his eyes while shaking his head. That’s the day when he received a text at 6:20 a.m. from Pretzels, Inc.’s plant supervisor in Canonsburg, Pa., that simply said, “We have a fire. Everybody is out of the building.”
Mr. Mann, who serves as co-chief executive officer along with longtime friend Steve Huggins of the Bluffton, Ind.-based snack producer, eventually took some solace that the Canonsburg disaster could have been much worse.
“The fire happened very fast, but everyone was safe and got out quickly, and that’s the most important thing,” he said.
For several years, Pretzels, Inc., had steadily built up its peanut butter filled-pretzel business, and the Canonsburg facility was the only place where it produced such snacks.
Suddenly unable to serve that rapidly expanding segment of this market motivated Mr. Huggins and Mr. Mann to attempt an ambitious, almost unheard-of start-up of a new manufacturing facility within nine months. The private label and contract manufacturer produces filled pretzels not only for its customers but also under its Harvest Road brand.
“We were dark on the shelf with our filled pretzels, so there was a sense of urgency to rebuild as quickly as possible,” Mr. Mann recalled.
The irony — or perhaps just a coincidence — is that Pretzels, Inc., had made a corporate decision to upgrade and expand the Canonsburg facility just two weeks prior to it burning to the ground.
With an overall expansion strategy already in place, it took just a few days for Mr. Mann and Mr. Huggins to take their entrepreneurial family-owned business in a new direction — one they expect will abound in opportunity for the long run.
Today in Plymouth, Ind., the new 45,000-square-foot operation houses a single production line that primarily turns out its signature peanut butter-filled pretzels as well as gluten-free varieties.
Located on 8.8 acres, the plant has ample room to ultimately expand to a total of 135,000 square feet. In fact, due to accelerated growth, Mr. Mann just announced that a second identical line will be added this summer within the current building’s structure.
Because it cranks out snacks made with allergens such as peanut butter, the Plymouth operation nicely complements the company’s 206,000-square-foot Bluffton flagship plant. That facility currently operates eight lines that annually produce 75 million lbs of conventional pretzels of all shapes and sizes. It also has two extruded corn lines that crank out 15 million lbs a year. In all, about 300 people work in Bluffton.
Plymouth’s SQF Level 3 facility was designed with the help of The Austin Co. and built to the highest sanitary standards rated for protein, according to Paul Schaum, chief operating officer, who spearheaded the start-up. In addition to making products with allergens, the Plymouth operation provides additional capacity for the company as it grows.
Initially, the Austin consulting firm gave Pretzels, Inc., 22 potential preselected build sites across three states. The snack manufacturer narrowed the list to two locations within a 90-minute drive from its Bluffton headquarters — Plymouth and Warsaw, Ind. Eventually, Plymouth won out because it had a suitable shell of a building available while Warsaw was a greenfield site.
“To save three months of start-up time, we chose Plymouth,” Mr. Schaum said. “It was imperative for us not to have a significant delay of any kind.”