Embracing the Spuds
Interview with Shirley Hutner | Photography as noted
When Dieffenbach’s, a family-owned business that specializes in kettle-cooked potato chips, realized blemished potatoes were going to waste, it saw an opportunity in the market to embrace the imperfect potatoes and turn them into delicious potato chips, helping farmers and saving millions of pounds of potatoes.
When and where did Dieffenbach’s originate as a company?
In 1964, Mark Dieffenbach started making his own potato chips on his kitchen stove in Berks County, Pennsylvania. His chips became very popular with family and friends; a short time later he built his own kettle cookers, which the third generation of the Dieffenbach family stills uses today. As the business grew, Mark needed larger fryers and expanded from his kitchen to a small plant in the garage.
Where did the idea for Uglies come from?
When the company began, we would sometimes receive potatoes that weren’t perfect. They were still great potatoes, but they did not meet our standards for a Dieffenbach’s-branded product. We instead used those potatoes to make chips that we sold only in our factory store. Consumers loved them, so we decided to develop the national brand Uglies. They were introduced at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in 2017. The brand has taken off, and we have saved over 3.4 million potatoes since then.
How do USDA Grades and Standards for Fruits and Vegetables affect the produce industry?
Since 1945, the USDA Grades and Standards for Fruits and Vegetables has defined what is “perfect produce” to the fruit, vegetable, and specialty-crop growers and buyers. Although the standards are voluntary, produce that doesn’t meet these standards gets rejected. We’ve become accustomed to expecting our tomatoes to be perfectly round, our vegetables symmetrical, and our fruit unblemished. These expectations have driven up the costs of produce and created the problem of food waste. Each year, six billion pounds (26 percent) of produce goes unharvested or unsold for aesthetic reasons. Much of the rejected produce goes unused and is plowed under at the farms or ends up in landfills.
Is food waste increasing or decreasing?
While the trend of food waste appears to be increasing, consumers, producers, and retailers are becoming more aware of the issue and are finding creative ways to deal with this crisis.
Where do the potatoes that make Uglies come from?
We rescue these potatoes at different stages of the supply chain—as far back as the farm all the way to the doorsteps of a potato chip plant.
How does this help farmers?
We are creating a market for these unwanted potatoes and turning a bad situation into a positive, not only for the farmer but also for the community and the planet.
Will you briefly take us through the process of making a potato chip?
We are able to use our same production lines for Uglies as we do for our other root vegetable chips. The potatoes come in via truckload and are placed on a conveyor belt, where they are sorted, washed, and peeled. The potatoes are washed once more and then sliced. The sliced potatoes go into the kettle to be cooked and are then seasoned to perfection, bagged, and packed into a case.
What flavors do you offer?
Original Sea Salt, Barbecue, Buffalo Ranch, Salt and Vinegar, and Jalapeño.
What was the idea behind the packaging?
We wanted to develop packaging that really conveyed our brand, Uglies. The idea at first was that we were using reject potatoes, which is where the thumbs down came from. But we took the word “rejected” off the packaging because some retailers thought we were using inedible potatoes. We wanted to add a little fun to our packaging, and that is how Sir Spudly came to be. Each bag has a different version of Sir Spudly wearing some type of hat, like a cowboy hat or a top hat.
Where are Uglies potato chips sold?
Uglies are sold at local grocery stores in Pennsylvania and online at Amazon and ugliessnacks.com.
How many facilities do you have?
Right now, we have two facilities—one in Womelsdorf and one a few miles down the road in Bethel.
Does being in Pennsylvania inform some of the decisions the company makes?
We are in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch area where many snack food companies started. We have a lot of resources in this area for a family company to be successful.
What has been the consumer response to Uglies potato chips?
We have had a great response—consumers love the product. I was just on the phone with a consumer yesterday who said our barbecue seasoning was the best she ever tasted. Consumers also like to know they are helping to reduce food waste and that we are donating 10 percent of our profits to a local hunger-fighting organization.
What is the ultimate goal for Uglies?
Our goal is to be able to create a market that is large enough with the Uglies brand that we don’t have to turn away any ugly potatoes. While we saved 1.6 million pounds of potatoes in 2019 alone, there are far too many more that went to waste. Along with reducing food waste, every potato we upcycle into a premium product allows us to donate to the local charity. We love our consumers and want to bring them the best tasting chips in new and exciting flavors while also bringing a little fun to their lives with our whimsical packaging.
For more info, visit ugliessnacks.com