It’s been hammered into our malleable brains since childhood, so of course, we all eat nutritious fruits and veggies for a healthy body. At least that’s what most of us like to tell ourselves.
But in moments of weakness, our tastebud rationalizer tells us that fruits and vegetables are a great counterbalance for the not-so-nutritious snacks we crave – like potato chips.
On a summer camping trip we found ourselves in south-central Pennsylvania near the pleasant, small town of Hanover. The area was a cool respite from the southern heat, but little did we know that there was an added bonus attraction: The Utz Potato Chip Company and its free factory tour.
I’ve always been a sucker for factory tours, and not just because of the free samples. I think this curiosity goes back to elementary school when my class toured the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. Since that day, I’ve always been amazed at how engineers can mechanize mass production, particularly for something like chips.
Drop a baking potato on a bare foot and you’ll get a feel for what a tough tuber it is, but slicing makes it considerably more delicate. So imagine the challenge of designing the machinery to peel, wash, slice, fry, season and bag a thin, fragile chip without turning it to crumbs. And in one sentence, this was the educational, entertaining and hunger-inducing tour of the Utz Potato Chip Factory.
On the self-guided tour visitors walk along behind a glass-enclosed observation gallery that looks down on the factory floor. And there’s a perfect view of the entire process from raw spuds out of the semi-truck to boxed bags of salty bliss in the warehouse.
They say the glass is designed for safety, but I think it’s to prevent snack-starved visitors from diving head first into a conveyor belt piled high with hot, fresh chips.
The tour was great fun, but it also helped that we got a bit of extra attention from the tour attendant. One of the staff noticed our State of Georgia plates on our car in the parking lot, and that made us far-traveling dignitaries. He was a jovial fellow and natural raconteur, and his stories of town and company history were a pleasure to hear.
Hanover is about 15 miles east of the Gettysburg Battlefield, so if you need a break from the Civil War, drop by for the Utz Potato Chip Factory tour. I promise it will won’t be as mentally demanding, and there’s a free bag of chips at the end.
James & Terri
Makes me also want french fries…
Ron, I think that most people, who are being honest, would say that any fried potato – when eaten in moderation – is a good thing. ~James
Yum! This was a fun post that had me smile all the way through. Even though I am a healthy eater. Really! Made us wonder why we didn’t visit the Cape Cod factory while on a one-week house and pet sit on Cape Cod last fall. 🙂
Liesbet, from what I’ve seen of the Cape Cod brand, their flavors are unique and terribly up-market. Why have plain ol’ original when you can have “Infused Mediterranean?” ~James
Because the plain old tastes yummy and has less ingredients? We also like them, because they use canola oil, which is one of the better oils. 🙂
What a fun visit, thanks for taking us along! I agree that the mechanics of manufacturing are fascinating, to me they convey the proof of human inventiveness much more than some of the “miracles” of the software sector. The variety of chips is mind-boggling (seen from Europe, almost a sign of USA over-abundance 🙂 ). But after the visit, were you able to actually eat some? no overpowering – though good – smells for example? After visiting a chocolate factory years ago, I couldn’t eat any for months 🙂
Bea, yes there were samples and they had a store where we could buy all we wanted. The cool thing about the store was they had some of their “experimental” flavors for sale. I bought a bag of some sort of hot-pepper chips that truly set my tongue on fire. And this tour was totally behind glass, so we were shielded from the noise and smells. ~James
Thank goodness for the glass 🙂 I’d probably have loved trying out some experimental flavours too
What a crunchy (de)tour! YumUtz 😉
Good word play there Amit. In your part of the world I love the rice flour snacks. I tried some curry-flavored varieties that were delish. ~James
I love these type of tours and the way they make me look at everyday items with a new appreciation. That bag of chips at the end would be a nice reward too! 🙂 Anita
Anita, the freebie chips were good, but these folks are no fools. The Utz store was on site, and they had some wonderful “experimental” flavors for sale. We left with waaaayy more chips than we needed. ~James
Thanks. We love factory tours. We even once toured a “pet casket” factory – no free samples, however.
Pet caskets?? Wow! That tour must have been interesting for lots of reasons. It got me to thinking back on all the tours we’ve done, and most seem to be food or drink. Ummm – not sure what that says. ~James
The Utz Dark Russets are a staple at our house!
Hey Brenda. It’s good to hear from you. We were amazed by all the varieties of chips that Utz makes. I don’t remember Dark Russets, but I’ve never met a potato chip that I didn’t like. Hope all is well with you guys. ~James
Like you, I love factory tours. I think each one of them is an engineering marvel … but I have to admit, I’ve never given potato chips a thought. You’re right … it is a miracle that a bag of chips can be purchased that isn’t complete mush.
Joanne, we toured a Budweiser beer plant, and while I’m not fond of their beer, being able to see the complex engineering involved to get the beer into cans and out the door was great. If you like mechanized marvels, try a beer plant tour. ~James
I went on a beer tour in Detroit during my university years (I went to university in Windsor across the river).
They were VERY generous with the beer ‘samples’ and I don’t remember a single thing from the tour 😉
You’re right – maybe I’m overdue for another one. Better yet, a tour in your neck of the woods at a bourbon plant 😉
Well, guys……now we’re talking!!!! Or maybe chipping.
Sayra, this tour was great fun, and this company has an interesting history. It was started by a husband and wife who cooked the chips in their kitchen. Now that’s a cottage industry. Good to hear from you. Hope all is going well in SA. ~James
Could you smell the potato chips? I bet that aroma drives visitors bonkers. Nice tour. I’m not a huge fan but it’s true, you can’t eat just one. Sigh.
Tess, we really couldn’t smell the chips on the tour or outside the buiding. But that’s not the case with all food factories. There’s a large Peanut Butter factory near downtown here, and when the wind is right. it’s sure to send me to my pantry. ~James
Salt. Now I’m hungry!
Salt – that’s it isn’t it? I don’t blame my lack of willpower for my love of chips, but the fact that the craving for salt is hardwired into my DNA by my pre-historic forbears. How’s that for a juicy rationalization? 🙂 ~James
It’s always been mine!
I’m waiting for you two, to go to a chocolate factory. Great post.
Thanks Leslie. We’ve never toured a chocolate factory, but if we see one we’ll definitely do the tour. I just need to avoid stopping in the factory store afterwards. ~James
They’ll have samples, James.
I love factory tours as well. The ones I have been on have mostly been chocolate factories, so much more healthy!! They always give out samples.
Darlene, candy samples are always a wonderful hook for me. In the tourist towns in the southern US (New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston) there’s always someone standing outside candy stores with praline samples. And it never fails that I get sucked in the the store for a purchase. ~James
Would have loved to go there when I was at Getysburg, had I only known.
Sorry you missed the Utz tour Terry. But, the town of Hanover is an unlikely place for a big chip factory, and it’s a great small-town success story. Next trip perhaps. ~James
Yum! I grew up in PA and my family still lives there, so we’ve eaten our share of Utz chips (and pretzels). I love factory tours also (have not done this one); my favorite from childhood was Heinz and the best as an adult was the Guinness brewery in Dublin!
Lexie, brewery tours are always fun, and as I said to someone else, the engineering required to get the beer into the bottle or can is always a marvel to me. Of course, in my neck of the woods, the Bourbon Trail is a big deal. Most of these old-house distillers are steeped in tradition and history so they’re all pretty neat. And the tastings at the end aren’t too bad either. ~James
I admit we have done very few factory tours but you have planted a seed. Perhaps the fact that I found myself salivating while reading has increased my curiosity! I could hardly believe all of the flavours at the end. Any ketchup chips? Apparently that is a Canadian only taste. 🙂
Sue, as a matter of fact, we did sample ketchup-flavored chips, and they were not bad, but we preferred the hot pepper types. And since I’m a chip expert now, I can tell you that they can change the flavor easy-peasy. The flavor that gets added to the chips is the very last step before bagging, and it really is no more than bags of flavoring powder dumped into a large hopper/shaker thingy (notice the impressive use of technical jargon) with the cooked chips. So the possibilities are endless: dill pickle/banana chips anyone? ~James
Must be that free trade business that we shared the ketchup trick. 🙂 Yes very impressed with the technical jargon. Clearly a chip expert!
How fun! I love factory tours, too. Anything that gives me a behind-the-scenes peek is a delight for me.
Juliann, this place was low key but lots of fun. The company was started by a husband and wife … literally in their kitchen. I was amazed by all the different flavors. ~James
Interesting tour and the freebie at the end is always welcome😄 Looks. Like they have some very interesting flavours?
Gilda, as I said to someone else, the flavor added to the chips is the very last step before bagging so it’s an easy matter to change the flavor. Would’nt it be fun to be in the tasting group? ~James
Always curious about those Utz chips I’d see on my travels. MY first factory tour was with the Cub Scouts, and we got the Coke bottling plant AND the Mike-Sell’s potato chip plant in Dayton Ohio back-to-back! Thanks very much.
Thanks for the comment Brad and for dropping by the blog. My very first factory tour was Coca-Cola as well, and it was a marvel for this young, small town boy. Coke has gone global, but I hope that somewhere they’re giving factory tours. ~James
You had me at “free bag at the end.” I, too, am a sucker for factory tours. There was even a series on one of the HGTV-type networks about how food is processed — and I loved it, just can’t remember the name. Thanks for the pics. But I still don’t know how they keep from breaking all those chips!!!
I remember that show Rusha, and I enjoyed it as well. And I believe it was called “How it’s made.” I really liked the variety of the topics – one week it was cars and the next chocolate. The clever engineering is always a marvel to me. ~James
Reblogged this on The East Coast Life…With Style.
Jim, thanks for reblogging our Utz Potato Chip tour post. As I said, I’m a sucker for these factory tours, and the Utz tour was great fun. ~James