Newman's Own, Kettle Foods, and Naked Juice In Sync with Customers

Newman's Own Organics, Kettle Foods and Naked Juice are in sync with their customers in ways envied by mega competitors.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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"No long-lasting, synthetic pesticides or herbicides are sprayed on organic veggies and fruits," she writes. "The livestock grow without hormones meant to fatten them quickly and without the antibiotics necessary to keep them from getting sick in overcrowded feedlots. The land and feed is also certified organic. On organic farms, the soil, water, air and all living creatures (including humans) are spared the stress of assimilating compounds that are proving unnecessarily complex and threatening. Biological reality has proven volume and price are poor substitutes for a healthy ecosystem."


Kettle Foods: Passion for chipping in

It's the stuff entrepreneurial dreams are made of. With a lot more passion than capital, a starry-eyed, idealistic and enterprising 27-year-old Cameron Healy began driving a beat-up van along Interstate 5, selling cheese, roasted nuts and trail mixes to natural food stores from Seattle to Eugene, Ore., in 1978.

"I had no master plan, but I knew the priority for quality lifestyles and values would be growing into more mass markets as baby boomers matured," says Healy. "I wanted to develop products of natural integrity that could be flexible in both the natural food and mainstream markets."

His dream led to the 1982 founding of Kettle Foods Inc., Salem, Ore., making the only natural, hand-cooked potato chips in the Western U.S. at the time. "Although he pioneered a multi-million dollar segment in the potato chip segment, Healy continues to combine a community-oriented and family-style approach to business, and it remains privately owned so he can do things his own way," says Kettle ambassador and historian Jim Green.

Healy's "own way" and unique philosophy is in sync with the increasing demand for natural/organic foods. Kettle Foods supports sustainable farming methods that produce food grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in naturally nourished soil. One of the first brands to recognize the health benefits of trans fat-free products, Kettle Food products are, and have always been, cooked with expeller-pressed safflower and sunflower oils (they contain no hydrogenated oil and no more than 10 percent saturated fat).


Rising Stars: Kettle Chips (3 varieties)
"The introduction of Kettle Potato Chips was a tremendous success, and we immediately had trouble meeting demand," says Jim Green, Kettle's ambassador and historian.

Tortilla chips are made from organically grown corn and a patented process of adding sprouted corn to the masa. Only Northwest Russet potatoes, a variety high in natural sugars, are used for the potato chips. They crystallize during cooking and lend amber color to the chips. Even though processing organically grown potatoes presents challenges, Kettle's potato chips have been organic since 1989.

Opening a bag of Kettle Chips, one sees tawny gold chips in a variety of sizes and shapes. The potatoes are cut thickly at all angles with the skins on. "Just as with people, we respect their individuality and, as a result, no two chips are alike," says Chief Flavor Architect Carolyn Richards. Stirred by hand with a tool inspired by a garden rake, the chips react by forming crunchy curves and nooks of flavor - flavors from real lime, sea salt, vinegar, honey, roasted red peppers and other natural ingredients. Always on the lookout for daring flavor combinations, Richards oversaw the development of Spicy Thai and Cheddar Beer last year, and her current favorite is Roasted Red Pepper with Goat Cheese, rich cheese blended with sweet peppers, tomato, onions, parsley and garlic.

Stellar growth and expansion between 1984 and 1988 led to the addition of new cooking and packaging equipment. "The introduction of Kettle Potato Chips was a tremendous success, and we immediately had trouble meeting demand," says Green. "We actually had to ration them at first. Soon a production facility was built and Kettle Chips were made as fast as they were ordered. Production capacities were increased to meet the expanding popularity of our products."

Adding a halo to chips

Kettle Foods' organic line, introduced in 1989, was inspired not just by emerging market trends but from its own employees. Kettle Foods' product line today includes: Kettle Potato Chips; Organic Kettle Potato Chips; Kettle Bakes Baked Potato Chips; Krinkle Cut Kettle Potato Chips; Organic Kettle Tortilla Chips; Kettle Roaster Fresh Nut Butters and Kettle Quality Handcrafted Nuts. Kettle is the No. 1 salty snack brand in U.S. natural supermarkets, according to market research firm Spins. With 550 employees, and revenues of $185 million in 2005, Kettle Foods has a healthy bottom line.

Although a healthy bottom line is important, Green says it sometimes seems half of the employees are trying to donate money and resources to support the environment and fight hunger. Green champions the donation of money, product or time to more than 200 organizations around the country. The company also delivers some 175,000 lbs. of potatoes to food banks in Oregon. "We certainly don't want to curb our people's unconventional enthusiasm to make a difference," Green adds.

Healy and his son took a six-week motorcycle sabbatical in Europe in 1987 to research European specialty food markets, and found a unique niche for their hand-cooked chips. A sister operation was founded in Norwich, UK, and production began in 1988. Kettle products have distribution in all 50 states, as well as Canada, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Guam and Western Europe.

After outgrowing its original facility in 1999, a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility was built in Salem at a site along Mill Creek, next to a beautiful stream and wetlands. Employee volunteers led an effort to restore a nearly two-acre wetland system, which improved environmental conditions, prompting the return of nesting herons and other wildlife.

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