The Untold Truth Of Wise Potato Chips

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Every once in a while, we all get hit with that inevitable craving for salty, crunchy, and oh-so-satisfying potato chips. It happens to the best of us. In fact, the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association estimates that the average American puts away more than four pounds of potato chips per year (the French aren't far behind). And when that craving does kick in, there are a ton of options to choose from — you've probably got at least a dozen potato chip brands at your local grocery store alone. 

One particularly "wise" choice to reach for comes from a small Pennsylvania company that's grown into a nationally beloved brand. We're talking about Wise potato chips, of course. This year, Wise is celebrating its 100th-anniversary. And here at Mashed we're up for any excuse to celebrate good food (and eat more potato chips). In that light, we've taken a deep dive into the history of Wise potato chips to bring you the untold truth of these popular snacks and the company behind them.

The Wise Potato Chip Company was created by accident

Wise potato chips are perfect proof that happy accidents can lead to great things. It all started back in 1921 in the little town of Berwick, Pennsylvania, where a humble young grocer named Earl Wise had a potato problem. Specifically, he had too many extra potatoes and no idea what to do with them. According to the Berwick town records, rather than waste the extras, Wise asked his mother to help him turn all those potatoes into chips, which they did in a copper kettle right in their home kitchen. 

Wise then decided to sell the chips out of brown paper bags in the delicatessen he worked at. He also delivered them to customers via a bike, and then later a truck (via Wise Foods). The chips quickly became a local hit, and the Wise Potato Chip Company was born. People loved them so much that a few years later, Wise and his father designed a production plant, which continued to expand in order to meet growing demand.

Wise had to start from scratch when its factory went up in flames

The Wise Potato Chip Company continued to grow for more than two decades before a tragedy struck that could have derailed the whole business. Wise's production plant went up in flames in 1944, and was totally destroyed. Wise had two options — call it quits, or rebuild from scratch. He chose the latter, and the company came back with a force. In less than a year, Wise got production back up and running and had his potato chips back on the market. And by 1946, a new factory was opened, one that was triple the size of the original plant (per Wise Foods). At the time, it was one of the largest and most advanced factories in the country (per Borough of Berwick). Wise potato chips along with the company's other snack products are still produced at the Berwick factory to this day, which has continued to expand over the years (via Retail Merchandiser).

Wise produces more than 50 million bags of snacks per month

The story of Wise Foods is the story of growth –and a lot of potatoes, obviously. What started out as one man in his mother's kitchen has bloomed into a mammoth snack food company that produces an incredibly wide variety of different products. Wise was featured on the newest season of History Channel's Modern Marvels, hosted by Adam Richman, who recently spoke exclusively with Mashed about the experience and everything he learned. That includes some mind-boggling stats about Wise.

These days, the company pumps out more than 50 million bags of snacks every single month, including 23 million bags of potato chips alone. That adds up to nearly half a billion bags of snacks each year. That may seem like an excessive amount of chips ... because it is. But it's a necessary effort when you consider the fact that Americans consume 1.5 billion pounds of potato chips annually.

Wise Potato Chips was a family business for more than four decades

The Wise Potato Chip Company, which would eventually transform into Wise Foods, was a family-run business for more than 40 years. Wise's founder, Earl Wise, ran the company until his death in 1964. After that, Wise's two sons took over as the top executives, and handed over control of the company to food conglomerate Borden, Inc. (via Borough of Berwick). Wise continued to expand, adding all kinds of different salty snack foods to its lineup.

The company changed hands again in 2000, when Borden sold Wise to a private investment firm, Palladium Equity Partners. Just 12 years later, Wise was sold to its current owner, Arca Continental (via Baking Business). The company, based out of Mexico, happens to be one of the largest bottlers of Coca-Cola in the world. And this international influence has only helped Wise expand its reach even further. 

Regardless of the corporate changes, many of Wise's loyal employees have remained over the years. As revealed in Modern Marvels, some of the factory workers have been there three, four, even five decades, making sure the great flavor we've come to know and love is never compromised.

Depending on where you are, you might not find Wise chips at your grocery store

If you've built up an appetite for Wise potato chips at this point, we don't blame you. But we've also got to break some potentially bad news to you. Wise potato chips aren't available at stores everywhere. Although, if you're located near the eastern seaboard, your chances of finding a bag of crispy Wise potato chips are higher. 

The Pennsylvania-based company has long been a salty snack food leader in the Northeast (via Retail Merchandiser). According to the company's Chief Marketing Officer, Jeremy Bjork, Wise's products are distributed in 15 states, including Florida, Georgia, and New York, as well as Washington D.C. (via Retail and Hospitality Hub). However, you can still get your hands on Wise snacks no matter where you live, thanks to Amazon. You can get individual bags of chips or giant multi-variety snack packs delivered right to your door.

Nowadays, some of Wise's most popular snacks are not potato chips

Wise's claim to fame is undoubtedly their original potato chips. But these days, that's not the only snack that people associate with the century-old brand. For decades, the company has been producing more than just potato chips, starting with Cheez Doodles. The famous cheesy snacks were launched in 1964, and to this day, Wise says it still makes its Cheez Doodles the same way, using the same original recipe. We'd call that a smart business decision, considering that Cheez Doodles have remained one of the most popular Wise products ever since they were introduced. Wise's Cheez Doodles are actually so beloved that they inspired an unofficial national holiday. You can celebrate National Cheese Doodle Day every year on March 5 (via National Today), and enjoy the perfect excuse to consume as much crunchy, cheesy deliciousness as your heart desires.

Wise potato chips have a mascot named Peppy

If you grew up eating Wise potato chips, or have gotten your hands on an older bag, you'll recognize the little owl that used to appear on all of the company's products. His name is Peppy, and he used to be a prominent feature on all of the company's product packaging and advertising, according to some archival digging from nostalgia blogger Dan Brady. Peppy was introduced in 1946, after Earl Wise opened his new and bigger production plant following the 1944 fire. According to the town of Berwick, he created the owl in honor of his mother. Perhaps it was for her "wise" guidance in helping him turn all those leftover potatoes into chips ... which would go on to become a snack food empire for Wise. 

By the early 2000s, Wise underwent some major changes to be more competitive against other growing snack giants like Frito-Lay. With help (and cash) from their new owner, investment firm Palladium Equity Partners, Wise introduced new and improved packaging for all of its products (via Reference for Business). Peppy himself was removed from most packaging, but he's still there in spirit, as Wise's current logo features the eye of an owl.

Wise potato chips are the official potato chip for the New York Mets

Next time you find yourself in New York City and want to experience one of the city's favorite pastimes, get tickets to a baseball game. If you opt for a Mets game over at Citi Field in Queens, then you'll be able to munch on as many bags of Wise potato chips as your heart desires, alongside your hot dog and cold beer, of course. Wise has been the official potato chip of the New York Mets for more than 15 years. When the MLB announced the partnership back in 2005, it was initially for a three-year deal with the team. Clearly, it was a match made in heaven, and to this day, Wise potato chips remains the potato chip sponsor for the Mets, not to mention the official Cheez Doodle sponsor as well. All this meaning you can get Wise chips exclusively at concessions throughout the stadium.

There's an entire Wise chips recipe collection

If you ask us, potato chips are perfectly delicious all on their own, but the Wise company has long seen much more potential for this salty snack. In 1959 Wise published its own cookbook with dozens of recipes, "each chosen for extra flavor and goodness," all incorporating Wise potato chips. While the cookbook feels very retro by today's standards, at the time it featured a range of classic appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Everything from shrimp balls and Roquefort dip, to a beef loaf, cheese soufflé, and double chocolate chip cookies ... all starring potato chips.

If you're looking for more modern potato chip recipes, Wise still has you covered. To this day, the company offers a huge collection of recipes on its website, featuring not only their classic potato chips, but several of their other popular products like Cheez Doodles and Pretzel Thins. Might we suggest trying out the Barbecue Chicken Mac & Cheese, the Salt & Vinegar Crusted Trout, or maybe the Wise Apple Crisp.

The Wise Cheez Waffies comeback remains a mystery

When people think of Wise, the first that comes to mind is most likely potato chips, or perhaps the company's popular Cheez Doodles. But there's another popular cheesy snack from Wise that has amassed a big fan base ... and their fate is somewhat of a mystery.

Wise started selling Cheez Waffies — made from crispy wafers with a cheesy filling that looks like a waffle sandwich — in the 1980s. It's unclear exactly if and when Wise officially decided to discontinue the snack, but as early as 2010, customers online reported that they couldn't find them in stores (via Chowhound). In 2015, fans were still looking for Cheez Waffies, with a few having luck finding some older bags on Amazon, or stashed away at a store. 

Then in 2019, Wise seemed to confirm that Cheez Waffies had in fact been discontinued, teasing in a Facebook post that the snack would be back on store shelves soon. However, two years later, and Cheez Waffies are still not included in Wise's product listing. And they appear to be unavailable on Amazon and out of stock at all major grocery stores. So who knows if this nostalgic snack will officially make a comeback or not.

Wise has been accused of ripping off customers

We've all experienced the deflating feeling that comes when you open a bag of potato chips, ready to dig into the salty, crispy goodness, only to find a mere handful of chips and a whole lot more sealed air. This was a major problem for Wise a few years ago, and even led to some lawsuits from some very hungry and very angry potato chip lovers. 

In 2017, Wise was sued by two customers who claimed the company was "misleading" people by leaving their bags of chips up to 75 percent empty in order to make more money (via New York Post). And while some empty space is necessary to protect the product (known as slack-fill), the suit also claimed that competitors' bags had more chips in them, and Wise's use of slack-fill was excessive (via Potato Pro). A judge eventually dismissed the suit (via Slate), but Wise still had to face the heat. Once the lawsuit became public, many other customers took to social media to call out Wise, posting sad photos of very underfilled chip bags (via USA Today).