Creating the perfect bag of chips requires a staggering amount of mechanization. If you cooked potatoes the way they did in 1946, the standard grocery item would cost a whopping $25. So how does Herr’s, one of our favorite independent food brands, keep up with the times? NPR’s Planet Money visited the factory to get a look into the secrets of its process. Potatoes are no longer counted; instead, each delivery is weighed while on the truck and dumped directly into the production line. The step is one of several important new technologies that have kept the family-owned company competitive over the past 67 years.
The process of sorting is most intriguing. Ed Herr explains, “Today, we have this machine taking pictures of every chip that’s on that conveyor. Then it communicates those pictures to thousands of little air jets. These little air jets shoot out the chips that are brown.” Uncomplicated description, Ed, for a process that is undoubtedly quite scientific.
Herr says the amount of labor required if old-fashioned techniques were employed would be 10 times that of the current operation. For comparison’s sake, when the company started, four people were designated for unloading. Now, one person oversees the delivery, and that person is dealing with a much larger quantity of potatoes).
Don’t cry for the American worker, though. People who lost their jobs to mechanization, says Herr, have been assigned to other activities.