No Small Potatoes: Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. growing into new facility | Business
TRAVERSE CITY – Corrugated columns with delicious treats do not send mixed messages.
As the Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. completes its twelfth full year of operation, the company in Grand Traverse County is preparing to open new digs in 2022.
The current location at 6806 E. Traverse Highway (M-72) is no longer sufficient, as the family company founded in 2009 continues to bubble and grow. Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. will move to a new facility at 51 W. Commerce Drive in the first half of next year.
The new 26,000 square foot manufacturing and storage facility will nearly double the size of the nearly 14,000 square foot Great Lakes Potato Chips that currently operate. A second phase of construction could add another 12,000.
“We’re running out of space right now,” said Chris Girrbach, President of the Great Lakes Potato Chip Co., from his upstairs office. “We don’t have a room anymore. That’s a good problem, but still a problem. “
The “problem” was caused by massive organic growth from humble roots as chip-chewing customers continued to devour the skin-pressed, cauldron-cooked chips, which come in nine flavors.
In its first full year of operation, 2010, the Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. processed 250,000 pounds of the root vegetable. According to Girrbach, it should be 10 million pounds of potatoes by the end of 2021.
“That’s a good deal,” said Girrbach soberly and understated what equates to a growth of 3,900 percent.
Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. products are available in nine varieties: Original, Wave Cut Original, Barbecue, Michigan Cherry BBQ, Buffalo Wing, Sea Salt and Vinegar, Pickled Jalapeno, Sea Salt, Pepper and Onion, and Parmesan Ranch. The company makes some private label chips for other companies, but its own label has grown regionally and beyond.
The potatoes and the sunflower and / or rapeseed oil are not genetically modified organisms. The potato chips are cholesterol and gluten-free and, according to the company, do not contain any trans fats.
“It’s extremely popular,” said Jim Sommerville, operations manager for Olesons Food Stores. “The product is great. It’s great quality, great family, great business. “
Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. is available at Tom’s Food Market and Oleson’s grocery stores in Traverse City. There are signs throughout the Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. facility on the M-72 letting people know this is not a retail store and redirecting customers to their “big partners” nearby, where they can buy chips, said Girrbach.
Sommerville said the potato chips are always popular with Oleson. Great Lakes is also available in thousands of stores in Michigan and six surrounding states.
“We were their first customer,” said Sommerville. “When they put their chips in stores, Oleson’s Long Lake Road was the first place they went. We were very lucky we had that.”
Preparation and a little luck were required when Chris and his father Ed founded the Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. in 2009.
Ed Girrbach, who worked in the finance department at Merrill Lynch in Detroit, had reduced his duties in the company, but is now essentially the general contractor for the new building.
“We saw something that was missing from the market and we dared,” says Chris Girrbach about the family’s excursion into the world of potato chips. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It worked really well. It was great.”
Chris Girrbach said he and his father used to go to Mecosta and get a load of root vegetables from Sackett Potatoes.
The company’s president said Great Lakes negotiated “almost exclusively” with Sackett, which also has large farms in Illinois and North Carolina.
“Without her we wouldn’t be where we are,” he said. “These are the best partners we could have hoped for. They are just great people. “
The Great Lakes Potato Chip history section states that when the business started in 2009, the Girrbachs were able to pack about 1,500 pounds of potatoes into the truck with a modified wooden crate. But it was far from an exact science.
“We kind of had to stop when the truck hit rock bottom,” said Chris Girrbach. “When the feathers hit the ground, you’ve about to stop.”
Chris said the Girrbachs eventually moved up to a panel van with a capacity of 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of spuds and then to a larger panel van with a capacity of 10,000 pounds.
“Now we only get semi-finished products with a load of around 40,000 to 50,000 pounds,” said Girrbach.
Chris Girrbach said the company would cook potatoes 1-2 days a week for 4-5 hours for the first two years of operation, processing about 1,000 pounds a day.
“We did it, we delivered it, we went and got (the potatoes),” said Girrbach about the first four years. “We did everything.”
No more space
He said the Great Lakes Potato Chip achieved “great penetration in markets outside Michigan” in 2017-18 thanks to sales partnerships. According to Girrbach, the company employs 40 people in three shifts.
“We run 24 hours,” he says. “We have a great team. We are very lucky. “
Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. now processes about 40,000 pounds of potatoes a day, and Girrbach said it can “tickle 50,000 or 60,000” over the summer months.
Girrbach said the company should hire about five employees in 2022, and possibly more when and when the second phase in its new home is completed.
Girrbach said the company recently upgraded its toilets and locker rooms at its current facility.
There have also been two major extensions to the building, but it’s still not enough at the current location, which also lacks a loading ramp.
“The reality for chips is that they take up a lot of space,” he said. “The boxes are big. We really need a lot of space to accommodate things. “
Girrbach said the new building is on track for completion on Jan. 1 and the company will then begin moving offices and building a new production line.
Before moving all of the equipment in the spring, Girrbach said, the company will run at full capacity for about a month to stockpile goods before shutting down production on a Friday and the new facility “two to three weeks later” with a “Everything” functional – hands on deck “mentality.
The aim is to have the new system fully operational by May.
“I think we are there,” he said.
Just as Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. has grown in a dozen years, it seems like plans are in place to make it a reality.
“We’re just trying to get it right and keep the promises we made to customers,” said Girrbach.