Native of Bend, Oregon, Cameron Healy got his start in the natural food industry in 1972 by founding the Golden Temple Bakery in Eugene, Oregon. At the time, the bakery, which was a product of the local yoga community, produced granola and whole grain breads and distributed them in natural food stores throughout the Willamette Valley.
After six years with the bakery and its successor Golden Temple Natural Food Distributors, Healy left to found Kettle Foods in Salem, in an attempt to get back into creating and manufacturing his own brand. Kettle Brand chips were launched in 1982 by Healy and a few of his close friends.
He started the brand with no working capital, selling cheese and roasted nuts out of the back of a beat up van to natural food stores along the I-5 corridor, until he realised how tasty tossing potato slices into the fryer was. This resulted in the very first batch of crispy Kettle Brand chips.
The term “Kettle” refers to the cooking process, following a small batch, hand-stirred format as opposed to a conveyer-belt method, resulting in the thicker, crunchier snack as opposed to a typical potato chip.
Kettle Brand chips were almost named “pot chips,” inspired from the old East Coast-way of saying “potato chips.”
Lightly Salted (now Sea Salt) and No Salt (today’s Unsalted) were the first flavors launched. Kettle Brand was also the first to make Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper when they introduced their Krinkle-Cut line in 1999, and it remains a best-seller along with Jalapeno, Sea Salt & Vinegar, and Backyard Barbeque.
Kettle are the first potato chip brand to have products verified by the Non-GMO project, and are now producing a number of different product lines, including Original, Krinkle Cut, Organic, Avocado Oil, and Almond Oil.
They have launched several new flavors using alternative oils, including being the first on the market to launch kettle chips cooked in 100% Almond Oil, which they will sell in Fiery Thai and Wood Smoked Sea Salt flavors. They also recently added a new flavor, Tropical Salsa, to their line of chips cooked in 100% Avocado Oil.
While Healy is no longer a part of Kettle Brand, the company still produces chips at its founding location in Salem, Oregon, fueled by a 600+ panel solar array system. In 2007, they opened their second facility in Beloit, Wisconsin, the first LEED® Gold certified food manufacturing plant in the U.S.
Maria Cerda Olivier, VP of Innovation and R&D is known as their "flavour architect." Olivier says the number of flavours they roll out a year varies. Some years it’s 2 flavors, while other years it’s between 4 and 7 flavors.
There are regional differences across the country, levels and combinations of heat, spice, tanginess and flavour, so they source foods from around the country to taste and compare.
"Our team draws inspiration from a wide array of sources: social media, restaurants, food trucks, consumers, trends, cooking shows, magazines, food blogs and stores. We also get ideas from eating out at restaurants/food trucks in Portland and while traveling, domestically and globally," she says.
"Flavor exploration is done by everyone on the team, including innovation managers and food scientists all of whom are foodies who love to explore and share new cuisines with the team, family, and friends. My personal inspiration comes from travel and eating out. I especially enjoy exploring new Mexican/Latin American restaurants," said Olivier. "I grew up in California where I enjoyed home-made Mexican food dishes prepared by my grandmother and occasionally eating tacos from Mexican food trucks decades ago (before food trucks were a big hit). Having lived in Southern California, Boston Chicago and Seattle, I’ve had the pleasure at eating at lots of restaurants from white table cloth, small ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants to food trucks and food festivals."