Ketchup, BBQ, salt and vinegar, sour cream and onion, dill pickle, even Atlantic lobster. Think of any flavour and chances are you’ll find a bag of chips that corresponds with your craving.
Generally, flavour is as far as we go when it comes to thinking about potato chips. We don’t really ponder the type of potato or what happens to it on its journey from sprout to chip.
But that’s exactly the journey president and CEO, Ryan Albright, is concerned about when it comes to his company, The Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company. The company is located in Hartland, New Brunswick, home of the longest covered bridge in the world.
Potatoes have been synonymous with his family for generations.
Explain your company and how it came to be:
My brother Matt and I are fourth generation potato farmers and our great grandfather started farming in the early 1920s. In 2004 while we were still working for our father and our grandfather, we started Carleton County Spud Distributors to buy and sell potatoes from the Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Maine to different markets, mostly to potato chip companies. After a couple years we purchased the family farm in 2006 and in that same year we formed the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company. We spent three years on product development, marketing and building the production plant before we launched the first bag of chips in December 2008. The first chips were delivered from my Toyota Corolla to local stores and set up on wooden racks that we had made locally.
Have you changed your model along the way?
Yes, most definitely. We evolve and change everyday as any good business must to stay on top of market trends, efficiencies and better ways to improve how your operation is conducted. At first we only made our brand, but now make other private brands under many other labels for the US and Canada. In Atlantic Canada we own our own distribution network of company trucks and distribute many other “partner” brands, such as Jack Links beef jerky, Pop Shoppe pop, Calypso lemonade, Beanitos, Muscle Milk and many others.
How has technology impacted your business?
This is a huge aspect for us right now to improve the flow of information within IT systems. We are merging a handheld system that works from all the drivers’ iPhones, which they use to create invoices at the store level, and then that information will be uploaded to our main system at the plant. We are also implementing a new inventory management system that will be fully integrated at the plant, warehouses and trucks. On the production floor we are automating more and more things every year to keep us efficient and maintain quality standards all the time.
Who are your main competitors?
It really depends on the area we are selling and what section we are positioned in the store. If we are in the natural food section, then we are competing against other natural food brands.
Why are you better then they are?
We are the only plant in North America that uses the dark russet potato to produce all of our chips. We are the only Canadian sweet potato manufacturer, and also the first company ever to be certified gluten-free when we launched our chips. Our premium russet potatoes are all grown on our family potato farm. We are all-natural, kosher-certified, no artificial colours or flavours and no trans fat. We also only use sea salt.
From whom do you seek advice for your business?
I learn as I go. I make the final calls and will live by my decision, good or bad. I will hold it on my shoulders. I did not go to university, however my team is all educated in a specific area and do well at what they do. At first when we had 4-6 employees it was more difficult, but now that we have 100 I can utilize all the strengths of all the people that are here.
Can you describe your customers?
Our customers are from all areas: Grocery stores, gluten-free sections, natural food sections, convenience stores, bowling alleys, restaurants, private label, etc. Customers love our products because they know we grow the potatoes ourselves, it’s all natural, we use premium dark russet potatoes and our chips are made with bold flavours that are loaded with seasoning.
What are the biggest issues for running this business?
When you are building a brand from scratch there is not anything that isn’t challenging. We have made a lot of mistakes but try not to make them twice. You need to be able to delegate, know your business better than anyone and have such a passion for it that you go above and beyond putting your time in.