Wise Foods’ dedication to innovation has the company excited for a future beyond its 95th anniversary this year.
By Chris Petersen
After 95 years of making some of the country’s favorite salty snacks, Wise Foods continues to come up with new ideas in the realm of potato chips, popcorn and other types of snacks. Making the highest-quality snack foods with the best ingredients has always been Wise Foods’ top priority, but recently the company has made a firm commitment to being the thought leader in the salty snacks category through a strengthened commitment to innovation. CEO Jolie Weber says the implementation of a new innovation center at its headquarters already has brought exciting new products to the market, and it should prove to be the backbone of the company’s continued success beyond its 95th anniversary and well into the future.
Based in Berwick, Pa., Wise Foods has been in the business of satisfying consumers’ craving for snacks for nearly a century. The company was founded in 1921 by Earl Wise Sr., who at the time was a grocer who found himself with a surplus of potatoes. Rather than let the spuds go to waste, Wise hand-made the first batch of Wise potato chips and sold them in brown paper bags at his store. Needless to say, the chips were a big hit, and soon Wise built his first production plant in 1925 to keep up with the demand. A brand-new plant was built in 1944 to replace the original and expand the company’s capacity.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Wise Foods experienced significant growth as consumers’ demand for the company’s snacks increased throughout the Northeast. With the addition of new snacks including corn chips, Cheez Doodles and popcorn, Wise Foods – and its mascot Peppy the Owl – became household names. Today, Wise Foods continues to be a leader in the salty snack food segment in the Northeast, and Earl Wise Sr. was inducted into the Snack Food Association’s Circle of Honor in 2011. The company’s high-quality products have developed a loyal following, and Weber says the company’s most recent initiatives are aimed at keeping them happy while gaining new fans along the way. The company’s acquisition by beverage giant Arca Continental in 2012 has given it added strength to realize those initiatives.
The most significant development for Wise Foods in the last year has been the launch of the company’s new innovation center, which occupies a 6,000-square-foot facility at the company’s headquarters. According to Weber, the center officially opened last October and was envisioned as a place for Wise Foods to ideate “all facets of salty snacks” and develop new products for the marketplace.
Although much of the work being done at Wise Foods’ new innovation center is being kept under wraps for obvious reasons, the first new product developed within the initiative already is on store shelves. Wise Foods’ new Cinnabon popcorn, flavored to taste like the world-famous Cinnabon cinnamon roll, was launched this past December. Weber says the company is excited to add the product to its lineup and believes future products developed in the new innovation center will be just as successful. “That was a real fun project for our team,” she says.
A soon-to-be-introduced concept that will come out of the innovation center is what the company is calling Food Truck Favorites. Working together with local food trucks in the Northeast, Wise Foods is developing ways to translate signature menu items to a salty snack platform. Weber says she expects the new innovation center to be the focal point for a slew of new products that will contribute to Wise Foods’ continued leadership in the salty snack arena. “We’re just thrilled to have that technology and that facility here in-house to drive new ideas for the company,” she says.
On Top of Trends
The addition of Wise Foods’ new innovation center comes at a crucial time for the company, as Weber says keeping up with the changing tastes and preferences of the typical consumer has been difficult at times. “One of the biggest challenges that we as a company have is keeping up with the fast pace of change that we’ve seen with consumers these days,” she says. “As a company, we are having to really force ourselves to sift through a lot of data, and there are really talented people to help us identify what are the true forward trends.”
For example, some of the biggest trends sweeping through the snack food market today revolve around more natural foods. Weber says this has had an impact on Wise Foods’ operations in everything from the ingredients it sources to the information it includes on its packaging. “For us, things like the GMO trends, those are things that are popping up that in past years were more niches, but we’re seeing that get more play,” Weber says, adding that retailers also are pushing for fewer artificial ingredients and simpler labeling. “Those are trends that are very much on the forefront and very important as we look toward the future.”
As excited as Wise Foods is about celebrating its 95th anniversary in 2016, Weber says the company is just as excited about what lies ahead in the years to come. She says the company has lofty aspirations about what the next few years hold for it, including a geographic expansion. For the first time in the company’s history, Wise Foods will be broadening its reach beyond the Northeast with the addition of a second production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
With the company’s expansion in the works and new products being developed, Weber says Wise Foods is in a good position to reach the century mark and beyond. “Innovation and new products are going to be a solid pillar and platform for us as we move into the future,” she says.