Through a combo of heritage and modernization over the past century, the town of Hanover, PA, has become one of the snack food capitals of the world — home to potato chip giants like Utz Quality Foods, and Snyder’s of Hanover (2016’s best-selling pretzel brand in the US).
More importantly, in an industry where even the largest multinational snack-glomerates struggle to keep up with the ever-changing tides of ‘big snack,’ a small town of 16k people has managed to maintain its empire. And it all started with that Dutch flavor.
Living lard in Hanover, PA
According to food historian, William Woys Weaver, the Dutch mixed their own culinary traditions with American innovations to make hard pretzels and potato chips some of the most recognizable Pennsylvania Dutch foods.
But, it was Dutch cuisine’s penchant for pork products that helped put its pretzels and potato chips on the map. The Pennsylvania Dutch diet includes everything from sausage to scrapple to hog maw — but most importantly, the tasty lard that helps put the crunch in its snack.
Then the 20th century hit
Even with the recipe perfected, it wasn’t until the Pennsylvania Turnpike was completed that Pennsylvania pretzel- and potato chip-makers were able to expand their footprint.
According to Weaver, once it became easier to ship food to metro areas outside of Pennsylvania, Hanover’s snack companies capitalized on the low cost of rural labor without the fear of city workers unionizing.
Today, Hanover continues as a snack food hub by trying its best not to fix what isn’t broken. Over the years, some of Hanover’s companies have folded into larger operations, but others (including Utz) are still family-owned and operated in the same small town.