What Happened To The Family-Owned Beer Chips?
It’s quiet in the house tonight, and I’m getting a cold one, which got me thinking back. That made me wonder what the heck happened to my beer chips?
The family-owned Beer Chips was part of the KLN Family Brands group and was located in Perham, Minnesota. KLN began in 1964 with Tuffy’s Pet Foods, and it has expanded since then.
The first beer chips were made by adding beer to potato chips in 1965, but the recipe soon changed to make it without alcohol in 1975. It became one of the most popular snacks at high school football games across the area. But what happened to beer chips?
Like most things, some companies just don’t work out. That’s true for beer chips, too. KLN Family Brands is a proud owner of much familiar food brands-from Tuffy’s Pet Foods to Swedish Berries and Lazy Town Popcorn-but one of its biggest acquisitions turned out to be its very own failure.
See, in 1975 KLN purchased family-owned Beer Chips from a Minnesota man named Roger Kasperson who had been making them since 1964. KLN was excited to get its hands on such an iconic brand and thought that with a little extra funding and some strategic marketing, they could turn Beer Chips into one of their biggest sellers.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. They invested more than $10 million in R&D and advertising to no avail-the product just wasn’t selling well enough to justify continuing production.
They shut down production at their Perham plant in 2014 and laid off all 70 employees there-and although they still own rights to sell beer chips through 2030, you won’t find them on shelves anymore. It just goes to show that even iconic brands can flop if a company doesn’t do its research before bringing it into its fold.
And we mean really do your research: According to Kasperson, KLN did little due diligence before purchasing his brand. He said that when he was first approached by KLN about selling his company he turned them down because he thought it was a scam-it wasn’t until two years later that he learned it was actually legitimate and gave in.
In 1966, Brian and Kathy Juntunen opened KLN Family Brands. Over a decade later, they had added several pet food brands to their portfolio, including Pedigree. In 1984 they decided it was time to jump into human food; they created Tuffy’s Potato Chip Company with their daughter Nancy.
Over the next decade, Tuffy’s would grow substantially but after a few failed business decisions in 1992 (like buying a pork factory instead of focusing on chips), Brian Juntunen decided to sell KLN Family Brands in 1997 and retire from business life.
That was all fine and good until 2002 when Scott, one of two sons from Nancy and Bill Kurek’s marriage asked for beer chips back for Christmas; he wanted them because no one made them anymore.
Brian Juntunen was thrilled to see that his daughter had been keeping Tuffy’s alive by selling it at a few local stores in Perham, MN. That meant that even though KLN had sold Tuffy’s in 1997, they still owned rights to make beer chips under license from Tuffy’s.
So Brian called up Scott and said I’ll sell you beer chips. Beer Chips were revived in 2005 with new packaging but little else changed about how they were made or sold. In 2011, after years of being on a strict diet for health reasons, Nancy Kurek decided to rebrand Tuffy’s as KLN Health Brands and focus on healthier snacks like nuts and popcorn.
She also moved production from Perham to a facility in Fargo, ND where it would be easier to ship all over North America. In 2014 she bought back the rights to make potato chips from KLN Family Brands so that KLN Health Brands could continue making them under their own brand name.
Overview from a former employee
I worked there part-time while in high school and full-time after graduating. I was responsible for quality control during my years there.
Every job had a position number, and there were tasks assigned to each number. As Quality Control (QC), I checked labels to make sure they matched up with products, quality of cans, etc.
Basically made sure what should have been put into a can or bottle actually went in. There were other QCs that performed different tasks throughout the production line – just depends on where they took you through training and how good you were at doing your job!
I learned a lot about beer, food, working with people, and myself during my time there. I loved my time there and still keep in touch with many of my former co-workers!
What Happened to Beer Chips?
You’re probably wondering what happened to KLN family brands, and why they no longer produce beer chips. Well, it turns out that when Tuffy was sold in 1995, there was a push to focus on a smaller number of brands with a wider distribution.
As part of these changes, new partnerships were formed that shifted KLN away from Beer Chips.
While KLN sold its own brand of hot dogs for many years (J&D’s), they eventually decided to partner with another company for hot dog production and focused our efforts on manufacturing private label pet food products rather than consumer packaged goods.
When I spoke with them two weeks ago, they were still out there making beer chips. So why did they suddenly disappear from shelves?
According to a press release issued by KLN Brands on Thursday, “It has come to our attention that [the owners] have chosen to discontinue their contract with KLN.” What does that mean for future sales of beer chips and future employees at Wild Boar Foods?
I don’t know if we’ll ever know. In response to my phone call about when we could expect a more in-depth statement, a representative said there would be no additional comment beyond what was contained in their brief press release. Lucky’s Market also declined requests for an interview.
What happened? It could be one of two possible events:
The owners decided they were done with beer chips, or KLN had something to do with it.
In any case, if you love beer chips and want them back on shelves near you (or just want answers), you can contact Lucky’s Market. If enough people get involved and make noise, perhaps we’ll learn more soon.