Made in Alaska: The Alaska Chip Company
Potato chip company expands to produce popcorn
ANCHORAGE - Its name may be The Alaska Chip Company, but this day, company president and co-owner Ralph Carney was cooking up something different: popcorn.
"Popcorn is a really fun product," he said cheerfully as buckets of popcorn slowly rolled down the line at the company's factory. "Everybody likes popcorn."
After years of making Alaska-grown potato chips -- using Alaska-grown potatoes -- Carney decided to expand.
"We make one batch every three minutes, and so with three [poppers], that adds up to a lot of popcorn real quick."
He said the trick is to keep it simple.
"We pop ours in what they call a wet pop, which means you're cooking it in oil," he said, standing in a warehouse full of palletized jugs of peanut oil. "Just like grandma on the pan and shaking it on the burner, we're doing the same thing." Ralph explained how excess capacity in the chip line during the winter meant he and his wife Darcy, who helped him start the company a decade ago, pushed them into exploring other options in the snack market.
Popcorn was easy, popular, and healthy. And, most importantly, it could be created and packaged on the same equipment the company used to make its eponymous potato chips. But just like the starting the business ten years ago, Carny said, expanding the business in this way wasn't easy.
"You take a big risk when you decide to quit your day job and start a small business," Carney said. And every step along the way -- making that first business card, making the first prototype, getting the first loan, and so on -- has also required some risk.
"There's still that moment of, 'OK, here goes,'" he said. "There came that day when you fill up the fryer with 150 gallons of oil, heat it up to 320 degrees and put in 50 pounds of potatoes and see what you get out of it."
It took time to tweak those early chips recipes to match the first batch the Carney's made in their kitchen. Now they're shipping their chips and popcorn all over the state, and selling just shy of half a million bags of snacks a year.
"The popcorn can... go from the popper and into the bag in 10 to 15 minutes. So it's very fresh," Carney said. And getting those fresh snacks on the shelves, from Barrow to Big Lake, is all part of how the Alaska Chip Company keeps some of Alaska's favorite snacks under wraps.