The Herr's Snack Factory, located one hour north of Baltimore in Nottingham, PA is proof that from humble beginnings come great things. This true American success story will satisfy your craving for knowledge of how things work, as well as your craving for some great American snack food. The company offers free factory tours daily to give a look into the world that exists inside the bag of chips and other snack foods that we devour without a second thought every day. It is one of the few companies that invites us to watch, learn, ask questions, and of course offers a few free samples along the way.
As soon as we pulled into the parking lot we knew we were literally "in for a treat". We were informed that we would be part of the "Nachitos" group and were given our "ticket" which was actually a flattened Nachitos bag. While we waited for the appointed time, we were able to peruse the gift shop and read a little about the history of the factory. There were also picnic tables and a snack bar available for guests.
At the appointed time, our group was called and our tour began with a brief film. Here we met the Herr family and learned how it all started over 50 years ago in 1946 when a 21 year old Jim Herr bought a potato chip business consisting of 2 iron kettles, a potato peeler, potato slicer and an old dodge panel truck for $1750. He and his young bride, Mim, began their business in an old tobacco barn located the family property. After many long hours and much hard work, the company began to grow and expand to a larger location. But the road to success wasn't exactly a straight one as the company experienced a devastating fire in 1951. The only thing salvageable from the fire were a handful of melted coins that are still on display in the visitors center. Through determination and dedication, the company was rebuilt on the current Nottingham location. Through the years, the business has expanded to meet the tastes of the American public as the company moved beyond the world of potato chips by adding pretzels, popcorn, nachos, etc. and even adding new seasonings and flavors to the old traditional favorite potato chips.
Once the movie concluded, we were lead by our tour guide inside the inner workings of the factory. Our fist stop was pretzel factory where the scent of butter and freshly baked dough made the entire trip worthwhile. Here we learned the answer to one of those great snack food mysteries: How do you turn giant blobs of dough into millions of tiny little delicately knotted pretzels? From there we ventured further into the belly of the snack food manufacturing world where conveyor belts, and bizarre looking machines all performed in perfect harmony to turn whole potatoes into dozens and dozens of perfectly seasoned and measured products at dizzying speeds while we happily munched a batch of hot fresh chips taken directly from the fryer. We also learned the true identity of a cheese curl, along with some really basic snack food trivia that never occurred to us before such as the fact that large sized chips go into the larger sized bags and the smaller sized chips go into smaller sized bags. Everything that appeared to be random to us "snack food amateurs" actually had a purpose and meaning to those experts we watched working on the factory floor below.
Throughout our visit, it was very obvious that Herr's is a family business that strives to maintain a friendly relationship with its surrounding community. Though it is still run by the Herr family, the employees benefit from a profit sharing program. The company is very environmentally aware and where possible it rewards and encourages recycling everything from the factory's waste water that is used to irrigate the fields of the Herr's farm, to selling the starch from the excess potato water to a paper companies. Products that are swept from the factory floors are added to cattle food and incentives are provided to the route salesmen to recycle all shipping boxes. The company provides outreach to the community through its educational tours and even has a Bike Night each year specifically for the motorcycling community. (This year Bike Night is scheduled for August 11, 2005.)
In an era where so many of our factory jobs are going oversees, it is great to experience "made in America" from a company who's roots are embedded firmly in the Pennsylvania landscape. Herr's philosophy of giving back to the community is a win/win situation that proves manufacturing can not only survive and prosper in this country, but everyone can benefit from it.
Directions: 1-95 North to Rt. 272 NE, Maryland exit to the Nottingham, PA. Turn left on Herr Drive. Follow signs to Herr's Visitor Center.
Hours: Free tours available Monday - Thursday 9 am - 3pm and Friday 9 am - 12pm. Tours last approximately one hour. Pre-registration is available on-line.
For more information visit: http://www.herrs.com/