The potato chips made by the Herr family of Nottingham, Pa., are as much a part of the Philadelphia palate as hoagies, cheesesteaks and scrapple. The current face of the company is Ed Herr, who has become a local celebrity through the television commercials ubiquitous at any Phillies game.
Herr, though, isn't just a spokesman. He's also president of Herr Food Inc., the privately owned business founded by his father, James Stauffer Herr, in 1946. Despite fierce competition from multinational food companies, Herrs chips are the top sellers in the Philadelphia area, a position he said the company works hard to maintain. In an interview with Jonathan Berr for PhillyInc, Herr talked about working in the family business where his older brother, J.M. Herr, is chief executive officer and his father remains an adviser. He also spoke of how the family's religious faith guides the company. By the way, his favorite chips are natural kettle chips with sea salt and the Red Hots.
PhillyInc: Lots of families who run businesses wind up squabbling with one another. What's your family's secret for getting along?
Herr: We do place a fairly high value on relationships. I guess it goes back to when we were growing up. . . . There were five brothers and sisters. Whenever we got into a fight or something like that, we had to take time out. We had to apologize. We had to ask the other person for forgiveness. We learned it was easier not to get into these fights.
PhillyInc: How does your family's faith guide you in managing the business?
Herr: We come from a family that believes you need to put God first. . . . It was kind of like God, then family, then business. It was a matter of keeping those priorities.
PhillyInc: Can you elaborate?
Herr: We like to give away 10 percent of our income after tax. Then on top of that, we give a substantial amount through the J.S. Herr Foundation. [Herr declined to disclose the amount.] The most attractive causes for us are usually related just to helping people.
PhillyInc: How is business going?
Herr: Business for the most part is more competitive than ever. Sales are pretty good. [But] it becomes tougher and tougher to get that bottom line where it needs to be. Business is good, not great. Our sales are up about 5 percent and our profits are about flat.
PhillyInc: How does Herrs remain competitive against gigantic multinationals such as PepsiCo Inc.'s (NYSE: PEP) FritoLay?
Herr: We work really hard to provide really great service for our customers. We are a people organization. We want to accentuate our strengths. We want to make sure that we have an edge on the next product.
PhillyInc: Have any big companies expressed an interest in buying your family's companies?
Herr: We get questions all of the time. [He declined to elaborate but maintained the company would stay independent "as long as the family was good for the business and the business was good for the family."]
PhillyInc: Is the crusade against trans fats a big issue for your company?
Herr: Potato chips have never had trans fats. Obesity is an issue. People need to have a balanced lifestyle. We think that potato chips can certainly be a part of a balanced lifestyle.
PhillyInc: How did you wind up as a TV pitchman?
Herr: It was my brother's idea that we need to make sure that we're getting the value that the consumer perceives [as a local company]. We're not like a big conglomerate. It just turned out that they thought I would be the best person to do that.
PhillyInc: Are you nervous about being on TV?
Herr: Sometimes it makes me a little nervous, but overall it's fun.
PhillyInc: What's on the horizon?
Herr: We just introduced a reduced-fat kettle chip. . . . That kettle line just took off. It went from $1 to $30 million in sales.
PhillyInc: What's the difference between kettle and regular chips?
Herr: They are cooked at a lower temperature and a little slower. It makes the chip crunchier.