Mister Bee makes $2.6M investment
By JOLENE CRAIG
PARKERSBURG – The smell of Mister Bee potato chips is again filling the air around the West Virginia Potato Chip Co. on West Virginia Avenue.
The company bought a new fryer for $1.1 million and spent another $1.5 million to upgrade the manufacturing side of the building, said Randall Holden, president of the West Virginia Potato Chip Co. that manufactures Mister Bee.
“If you look at the facility today, the investment and where we are has really changed the business and we have come a long way since March,” he said. “Since the fire we have been working to make the product the best it can be.”
Holden also is the president of Wincore in Parkersburg. Mister Bee is the only potato chips made in West Virginia.
“If it weren’t for Parkersburg, we probably wouldn’t have made it,” Holden said. “The first year we owned it, the Parkersburg market carried this business and, thanks to the loyal local customers, we are able to grow.”
In late April the company chose to shut down operations and renovate the production end of the building following a fire in the cooker.
“The fire caused more damage than we let the public know,” said Holden. “We didn’t want people to think we were finished, but within a week we had fresh product on store shelves thanks to another potato chip company allowing us to use their facilities.”
For the past three months the Mister Bee brand of potato chip has been produced by Jones Potato Chips in Mansfield, Ohio, using the same oil, potatoes and other ingredients used in the local facility.
“There were certain things we could and could not control, but it was as close to producing a Mister Bee chip as we could get,” Holden said. “We are very thankful to our customers for their support throughout this transition.”
With the new facility, the quality of the product is at the forefront, Holden said.
To create the best chips possible, Mister Bee products are now made with Grade 1, farm-grown potatoes from Wisconsin. The fresh potatoes are brought to the Parkersburg facility by Wincore trucks on otherwise deadhead runs to give the empty window and door trucks something to carry on the return to the Mid-Ohio Valley.
“We have a working relationship with the farmers and are planning another trip to see the farm and how the top-grade potatoes are grown,” Holden said. “By having the Wincore trucks pick up and deliver the potatoes, our two companies are helping each other.”
One of the changes in the product line includes an expected January roll-out of several new flavors the office has been working on, including a honey barbecue Holden and others in the office enjoy.
“When we acquired the business a year-and-a-half ago, we looked into expanding the distribution of the products and realized it was not feasible to do internally,” Holden said. “But, with the help of another company, we are able to move into other parts of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.”
The other company is Snyder’s of Hanover, a Pennsylvania-based snack company that specializes in pretzels. Holden said representatives for the bakery approached the West Virginia Potato Chip Co. a few months ago with the intent of working with the Mister Bee brand.
“We recently signed a distribution contract with Snyder’s of Hanover and shipped our first product to them for distribution throughout West Virginia and new areas of Ohio and Kentucky in September,” Holden said.
This joint venture will put the Mister Bee product line on the shelves of many stores that already include Snyder’s of Hanover. These include larger discount and grocery stores throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky with the possibility of more growth.
“Mister Bee has a lot of potential for growth,” Holden said. “Not only locally and regionally, but in general; we have 13 different countries represented by our followers on social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) and we ship orders around the world, so we can really take this as far as we want to.”
Although the last few months have been rough, Holden said he and others in the company see the fire as a positive event for Mister Bee, which was opened by Leo Klein and his wife, Sara, in 1951 and remains the only potato chip made in West Virginia.
“The fire was a milestone and breakthrough point for us,” Holden said. “If you look at the business today, there is no way we would have had the opportunity or ability to do a complete overhaul on the facility if the fire hadn’t occurred.
“I see Mister Bee as something I love to do; it isn’t work to me because every day I see the lights go on and growth,” he said. “I want to make the business the pride of Parkersburg and I want it to represent the city well throughout the state and country.”