30 years in business: snack company tasting success

Times are good at Tim's Cascade Snacks. The Algona-based company, an up-and still-rising player in the potato chip game, keeps winning over taste buds.

Times are good at Tim’s Cascade Snacks.

The Algona-based company, an up-and still-rising player in the potato chip game, keeps winning over taste buds.

From its modest beginnings 30 years ago, the company has grown into one of the region’s most successful premium snack businesses, generating annual sales well into the millions of dollars, according to media reports.

It’s the prototypical, little, award-winning company that could, satisfying customers within its 11-Western States reach, including Hawaii and Alaska, and the far-off export markets of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

Success no crystal ball could have predicted.

“Back then, could we have seen 30 years out? No. We didn’t see 30 days out, really,” said Jeff Leichleiter, the company’s co-founder, vice president and general manager. “It was a challenge, but we adjusted. … We’re still one of the smaller, regional potato chip companies in the United States, continuing to battle the nationals (competition). … When you look at our production facility and our distribution network, we’ve done quite well with what we have, but we’re certainly nothing like the global expansion of Frito-Lay.

“We are truly small potatoes, all pun intended.”

It was Tim Kennedy who came up with the idea in 1986 to produce and sell potato chips. Kennedy, who has since retired, and Leichleiter were part of the ground-floor, do-everything-by-hand crew, producing the snacks and going store to store to distribute the product.

In time, the bold-flavored, thick-cut potato chips became a hit – a regional, iconic brand found in stores, big and small. From the beginning, the premise was to target regional tastes by developing unusual flavors of chips aimed at the Northwest market.

“It was King County the first year, then we went to Snohomish and Pierce (counties), greater Seattle, then Vancouver, Wash.,” Leichleiter said. “Within three years we were in Portland, (and by) year four in Spokane.”

That succession of growth continues today. For instance, plans are in the works to introduce the company’s Hawaiian Kettle Style Potato Chips to the Northeast this year.

The company doesn’t rest on its regular taste laurels. Along with its signature Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips and Hawaiian-spiced chips, the company produces Erin’s Popcorn. It frequently offers special batches of potato chip flavors from the past and introduces new flavors for the future.

Just to keep the customers curious.

Small in numbers, big in production

The company – now owned by New Jersey-based Pinnacle Foods Group, LLC, is about 120 employees strong, of which 80 work from its Algona hub.

It’s an efficient operation – a tight supply chain that works directly with the local farmer.

As Leichleiter explains, from the time a local farm-produced potato arrives at the plant to be processed – peeled, sliced, cooked and packaged – then shipped to the warehouse ready for delivery, takes about eight hours. Depending on distance, snacks appear on store shelves between three to five days in local markets, about 10 days in outside stores.

The company buys potatoes from five family farms and goes through 43 million pounds of locally produced spuds each year. The company has warehouses in Portland, Spokane and Lynnwood.

Tim’s produces between 12 and 15 million pounds of potato chips every year.

Sales remain strong. The company saw a sales growth of more than 5 percent in 2015 over the previous year and has seen relative sales growth throughout its 30 years of business.

Tim’s Cascade Snacks has persevered even when the chips were down. A recession, regulatory challenges and a port closure slowed sales, but the company came out of it.

“We tightened our belts, we adjusted,” Leichleiter said. “One way or another, we have learned to stabilize our business, and we’ve never had a layoff in 30 years.”

Many employees stay on – and many have retired.

Tim’s was named one of “Washington’s Best Companies To Work For” in 2008, and received the 2011 Award for Better Workplace from the Association of Washington Business. It has been frequently honored for its on-the-job training, career advancement and workplace practices

“Awesome company,” said Dennis Frost, sales distribution manager. “It’s an awesome company, producing a local handcrafted product by people who care.”

In addition, the company has won several awards for environmental excellence, including water conservation, packaging reduction, recycling and energy efficiency.

“It’s all about sustainability, working with local farmers and being a part of the community,” Leichleiter said. “We’re a tight- knit work force … good people and a good community.”