With so many snack producers in the region, York County in Pennsylvania has earned the reputation as the “snack capital of the world.” As the largest employer in Hanover, Pa., Utz Brands has strengthened its connection to the community as it celebrates its 100th anniversary.

During the past year, the Rice and Lissette families — part of the third and fourth generation of the Utz family legacy — significantly increased their contribution to the Rice Family Foundation, which was formed in 2017 through a contribution from the Rice and Lissette families.

Their recent contribution of $20 million in Utz Brands shares will allow the foundation to increase its annual giving by about five times, aiding local organizations supporting the education, health and general well-being in Hanover and the broader central Pennsylvania community. In 2020, the foundation contributed to 35 nonprofits in the region.

Dylan Lissette, chief executive officer of Utz Brands, noted that Hanover will play an active role in the success of the company going forward.

“As we look to the future, our family will continue to keep its focus on our community and organizations and initiatives that make it such a wonderful home,” he said.

Founded by Bill and Salie Utz in 1921, the company has maintained a legacy of family leadership over the years. F.X. Rice, who married Bill and Salie’s daughter, became president in 1968 after Bill Utz passed away. His son, Mike Rice, was named president and CEO in 1978 when F.X. Rice retired. Mr. Lissette from the fourth generation was appointed CEO in 2012. Now fifth generation family members also work for the snack manufacturer.

Today, the public company has about 3,300 associates, many of whom work in 15 plants located in Pennsylvania, Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington.

Each week, those plants produce more than 5.5 million lbs of potato chips, pretzels, cheese snacks, tortilla chips, party mixes, pork rinds, veggie snacks and more.

These items are sold nationally under a battalion of “power” brands that include Utz, On The Border chips and dips, Good Health, Boulder Canyon, Hawaiian Brand and Zapp’s, to name a few. The company also offers several smaller “foundation” brands such as Vitner’s and Tim’s Cascade Snacks that are regional favorites with a loyal following all their own.

Tucker Lawrence, executive vice president and chief supply chain officer, said manufacturing at Utz Brands has always been about the pursuit of excellence, a core value that’s deeply embedded in the roots of the region surrounding Hanover, where its four plants that still account for 50% of total production.

“It’s a community where if your parents weren’t farmers, your parents’ parents probably were,” Mr. Lawrence explained. “There is an incredible work ethic here.”

Reflecting on the snack manufacturer’s history, Mr. Lawrence noted its commitment to production started with the Utz founders and has continued under their children and in-laws in the Rice and Lissette families. Along with them, many Hanover households have grown up working for decades at the snack producer.

“In many cases, generation after generation of our workforce here have continued the pursuit of this highest quality to delight our consumers,” Mr. Lawrence said.

Today, the snack maker relies on its experienced workforce to simplify — or “Utz-ify” — the complex operation. Primarily, Mr. Lawrence said, that means ensuring the historical commitment to quality becomes integrated into the latest in continuous improvement programs such as Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and manufacturing executing systems that drive quality assurance, food safety and operational efficiencies on a real-time basis.

“When you have that kind of tenure, they understand the business, our customers, the consumer, and our sales and our organization,” Mr. Lawrence said. “I wish I could tell you there’s some sort of wizardry that we use that automatically makes the complexity go away, and we can solve everything, but that’s not the case. It’s really hard work from dedicated associates who are continually striving to be successful in everything we do.”

Fritz Livelsberger, recently retired vice president of manufacturing who worked at the Hanover plants for more than 30 years, noted that Plant 1 — the first Hanover modern-day potato chip operation — opened in 1949 on Carlisle Street while Plant 2 started pretzel production with two lines in 1971.

Next, its High Street facility, a chip plant and the home of its headquarters, started up in 1991. Utz then purchased a building for Plant 4, which now runs seven days a week producing cheese balls and snack mixes.

He said these facilities expanded as demand for its core products and the company grew geographically while venturing into new snack categories over the years.

“It was a fun time for everyone because we were growing constantly, and you don’t realize what you accomplished until you’re done and look back at it and see what everyone within the company built and how big it became during that period,” Mr. Livelsberger observed.

At the High Street plant, more than 20 trucks arrive daily, each carrying nearly 50,000 lbs of potatoes. They feed the five potato chip lines that together produce more than 17,000 lbs an hour. Dusty Lehr, plant manager, noted a Spudnik sorter separates the large potatoes from small ones with the bigger potatoes feeding family-pack lines while the little ones go to small bag operations.

After sorting, the potatoes enter a peeler to remove the potato skin using a material like an “industrial grade sandpaper,” Mr. Lehr said. Then the potatoes enter a rotor slicing system, which uses a measuring system to ensure thin slivers of potatoes are cut consistently to 1/1,000 of an inch.

After rinsing off excess starch that would have created a darker, less tender chip, the potatoes fry for 2 to 7 minutes and are salted immediately afterward so that some of the flavor is immediately absorbed into the chips.

Mr. Lehr noted that a Key Technology optical sorter then purges chips with blemishes beyond product specifications before they enter the updated Heat and Control turnkey system that includes conveyance to the seasoning area and then the packaging department including Mettler Toledo metal detection.

On an upper level, the chips travel along a FastBack horizontal motion conveyor that feeds them to multiple seasoning systems. Mr. Lehr said the systems monitor the amount of chips entering the seasoner to ensure the precise amount is applied to the chips to obtain the optimum flavor. The chips then enter Ishida scales that precisely weigh the amount of chips for the vertical form/fill/seal bags below.

After forming, filling and sealing, the bags are casepacked for DSD distribution in reusable boxes or in tape-sealed cases for warehouse distribution before palletizing and traveling to the distribution center.

Mr. Lehr showed off the plant’s new robotic system that automates the normally labor-intensive variety pack process. The system relies on ABB robotics that pick small bags of snacks, such as Utz pretzels, chips and cheese curls, and automatically creates variety pack sacks, which are growing in popularity.

During Baking & Snack’s visit this summer, the plant’s engineers were recoding another robotic operation so that it also handles higher count bags in a box. Mr. Lehr said the system can run seven days and five nights a week. The repack department also has a semi-automatic line for specialty variety packs.

Meanwhile, the warehouse for the facility’s DSD system, which used to serve some of its routes, was transferred offsite to distribution centers that are now fed by tractor-trailers and are closer to delivery destinations.

The move also frees up space for expanding manufacturing capabilities while reducing the driving time on many local routes.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Utz Brands, click here.