The U.S. snack industry established strong roots during the first half of the 20th century. Retail channel diversification, ingenious equipment engineering, and an increasingly mobile American public hungry for snacking adventure all contributed to the boom. Upstart innovators blazed their own paths across this fertile land, rich with opportunity.
Many of those early snacking pioneers continue to steer the industry today. Wyandot Snacks, Marion, OH, which traces its roots back to the mid-1930s and has grown through the years into its position today as a leading salty snacks contract manufacturer.
“Hoover and Ava Brown founded Wyandot Snacks under the original name, Wyandot Popcorn Co., in 1936,” says Alicia Sexton, senior manager of sales. “Over a decade later, the Brown family formed a subsidiary company, Popped Right. Popcorn turned into puffed snacks, tortilla chips, and corn chips. Business multiplied as we competed with Frito-Lay, supplying potato chippers and producing private label snacks for grocery chains. In 1989, the two companies merged to become Wyandot, Inc.”
This merger fueled growth. “Wyandot’s focus over the last 30 years has been to grow our contract manufacturing capabilities, which is now the majority of the business today,” says Paul Hritz, senior vice president of sales and interim CEO.
Contract manufacturing expertise
Wyandot Snacks offers manufacturing expertise in extrusion, masa and stone-ground tortilla chips, and popcorn for a wide range of customers across contract manufacturing, retail private label, and foodservice channels. “Wyandot takes a team-based approach with innovation, development, and on-going customer support,” says Sexton. “From the beginning dialogue with prospects, we like to make the lateral connections, R&D to R&D, quality with quality, and business with business. Open and regular communication help both parties understand limitations and expectations moving forward.”
Foodservice operators work with Wyandot to source salty snack needs, including for tortilla chips. “Wyandot has longstanding relationships with several foodservice partners due to our reliability, on-time delivery, and quality,” says Sexton. “We understand the need to keeping items stocked in order to keep items on the menu. We offer innovative solutions and products to help customers with their next menu offering.”
Wyandot Snacks has dedicated lines for puffed and extruded snacks, tortilla chips, and air-popped popcorn. “Our extrusion lines include multiple twin-screw and single-screw extruders,” says Sexton. “We understand that consumers are looking for innovative, better-for-you, and functional ingredients. We have the capacity and experience to bring unique ideas to life.”
While puffed, ready-to-eat snacks form the primary basis of business at Wyandot Snacks, the company does have capabilities for croutons, cereal, and toppings, notes Sexton. Its extruded products are baked, not fried.
“We have two sets of tortilla chip manufacturing lines,” says Sexton. “Our first is strictly dedicated to cooked corn tortilla chips. We purchase raw corn, grind it with a stone to make masa flour, and the chips are baked and then fried. We can make a variety of different shapes and add numerous different flavored seasonings. Our other tortilla line is dual-purpose—it can be used to make cooked corn tortilla chips or masa-style tortilla chips. This is a recent capability addition and allows us to include more unique ingredients in our chips.”
B Corporation certification
Back in 2016, Wyandot Snacks introduced a number of corporate initiatives to better and strengthen the company, including projects related to transportation, waste reduction, teammate engagement, and sustainability, notes Sexton. “We struggled for a number of years trying to define what ‘sustainability’ meant, how to create goals around it, and how to communicate these efforts to the wider team and community.”
Then Wyandot learned about B Corporation Certification via a company who was talking about it at a leading industry trade show. “After looking into what it was, we learned it was a way to merge all of our efforts into one, relatable message,” says Sexton, “using business as a force for good.”
B Corporation certification entails two parts: answering a set of questions, and then validating your answers and being audited, notes Sexton. “Any company can go onto the B Corporation website and take the ‘B Impact Assessment’ (BIA), free of charge. It is a set of about 200 questions, mostly multiple choice, ranging from ‘What you pay your employees?’ to ‘What you do in the community?’ to ‘How diverse is your company?’”
This global set of standard questions looks at your company’s status quo—and how it can improve. “There are five categories: Customers, Environment, Workers, Community, and Governance,” says Sexton. “There are more than 200 points available, but you only need a score of 80 to be certified. This means a company does not have to be the best at everything, but can choose to grow where they are strongest, improve on their weaknesses, or a little of both.”
An auditor then validates the answers. “If after the end of the audit your score remains above 80 points, you are approved to proceed with certification,” says Sexton.
“The biggest challenge we came across is having the documentation to validate what we do,” says Sexton. It’s easy to relate that your company conducts certain procedures or offers specific opportunities or benefits to employees, but verification is another matter.
“To get credit for a specific question, your company needs to have a procedure, policy, or official statement that is communicated to all employees,” says Sexton. “If you are not documenting it, in their eyes, it does not count. It took a cross-functional team a number of months to go through efforts from the previous year, and create a means to track our efforts moving forward.”
A unified voice
While arduous in spots, the journey to Certified B Corp. status provides an opportunity to elevate and spotlight the good work Wyandot Snacks had already built into its culture.
“Wyandot Snacks has always been for the community, and supporting those around us,” says Sexton. “The certification did not change how we do business, but rather provided a means to communicate our efforts in a single voice. It goes back to what our struggle has been in years past, ‘What does sustainability mean?’ Now we can say, ‘We are a Certified B Corp., and we follow a global set of standards to propel business as a force for good.’”
That’s a clear message to an increasingly competitive and consolidated snack industry—and one that will help propel Wyandot Snacks moving forward. “Our vision continues to be focused on being the leading snack manufacturing partner on innovation as it relates to better-for-you products,” says Hritz.
“The best part of working at Wyandot is the team-based culture, and that all voices matter,” says Sexton. “Leadership also values continued education, career development, and strongly supports new and working moms. I would like to continue to pay it forward, and help those around me grow to be their best just as others have help me in the past,” she notes.
“What I enjoy most is the team—their talents and our collaboration,” says Hritz. “We have an unselfish group, from top to bottom, that puts the success of our customers and the well-being of our community first. I aspire to serve others and to have a positive impact on those I meet.”
AT A GLANCE
Company: Wyandot Inc.
Headquarters: Marion, OH
Production and warehouse space: 250,000 square feet
Number of employees: 300+
Products: Puffed and extruded snacks, tortilla chips, popcorn
Paul Hritz: Senior Vice President of Sales and Interim CEO
Steve Shamrock: Executive Vice President, CFO, and Treasurer
Mike Wells: Senior Vice President of Operations
Alicia Sexton: Senior Manager of Sales