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Troyer Farms Agrees to Sale

Dec 19, 2008 | Posted in What's New

From the Erie Times News - December 16, 2008

WATERFORD — A local tradition and one of the region’s signature products will soon be in the hands of a new owner, but the jobs are staying here.

Waterford Township-based Troyer Potato Products Inc., which bills itself as the nation’s only grower-owned chip maker, has agreed to sell itself to York-based Bickel’s Snack Foods Inc.

This purchase, which is expected to close by the end of the month, represents more than the marriage of two small snack-food companies.

Bickel’s, which was founded in 1954 by Luther Bickel — offering a unique “seared” chip in a variety of flavors — makes snacks at five plants under its name and a variety of private labels.

That company was bought in 1998 by Hanover Foods Corp., the largest independently owned maker of frozen, canned, fresh vegetables, as well as salted snack-food products in the nation.

“This will make a much larger company that’s able to compete against the Frito-Lays,” said Tricia Briggs, Troyer Farms’ chief financial officer.

That David-and-Goliath battle had become increasingly more difficult to win with each passing year.

In recent months, Troyer Farms — as the company is commonly known — rode the turbulent waves of supply and demand, watching the price of corn oil rise by as much as $200,000 a month.

“Talk about cutting into your profits,” Troyer Farms President Mark Troyer said at the time.

Troyer Farms doesn’t look much today like the company that brothers Clifford and Cletus Troyer founded back in 1967, when they decided to start cutting and cooking the potatoes that the family had been growing since the late 1930s.

Troyer Farms, which bought Cleveland-based Dan-Dee in 1984 and acquired Seyfert Foods, an Indiana-based snack-food maker, in 1984, employs about 325 people, and sells snacks in six states.

Together, those employees produce about 17 million pounds of snack food a year, including 10 million pounds of potato chips.

It sounds like a big number.

But that 10 million pounds is also equal to the extra amount of chips that Frito-Lay makes each year for Super Bowl consumption.

Explaining that competition for market share is fierce, Mark Troyer said this wasn’t the first time company officials toyed with the idea of selling.

“We have been in negotiations for years,” Troyer said, adding that past offers haven’t guaranteed the future of the company’s 325 or so employees, about 150 of whom work in Waterford.

As a result, Troyer said, previous offers weren’t seriously considered.

“The future of our employees is very important,” he said. “They are like family to us, and we know they play a major role in this business.”

Those same workers will continue to make and bag chips in Waterford that carry the labels of Troyer Farms, Dan-Dee and Seyfert.

But company officials expect there should be more work to do.

“Our distribution networks really won’t change,” said Briggs, Troyer Farms’ CFO. “They will just be getting a paycheck from Bickel. They will do the same thing, but they will also produce Bickel chips on our potato chip lines.”

Troyer, who spoke Monday afternoon with employees about the company’s plans and their future, acknowledged that some changes will take time.

“I expressed that we develop a relationship working side by side with them,” he said. “It certainly is a kind of a loss. But we wanted to be certain about the future of the plant going forward.”

The Troyer family won’t be walking away from the business completely.

The family will continue to own and operate a pretzel factory in Canonsburg. They’ll also continue to grow potatoes for the plant and to provide trucking services for the company.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

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