LAURA SCUDDER’S POTATO CHIPS
Born in Philadelphia, Laura Scudder worked as a nurse before moving to California. While there she became the first female attorney in Ukiah, California before moving south to Monterey Park, California, where she started her food company in 1926.
At first, potato chips were packaged in barrels or tins, which left chips at the bottom stale and crumbled. Laura Scudder started having her workers take home sheets of wax paper to iron into the form of bags, which were filled with chips at her factory the next day. This innovation kept the chips fresh and crisp longer and, along with the invention of cellophane, allowed potato chips to become a mass market product.
Scudder also began putting dates on the bags, becoming the first company to freshness date their food products. This new standard of freshness was reflected in the marketing slogan: "Laura Scudder's Potato Chips, the Noisiest Chips in the World."
Laura Scudder faced many obstacles running her own company during the Great Depression. For instance, when she tried to get insurance for the company's delivery truck, she was denied by all the local male insurance agents, who claimed that a woman would be unreliable at paying the premiums. The female insurance agent who eventually insured the truck went on to insure the entire company fleet.
At one point, Laura Scudder turned down a $9 million offer for the company because the buyer wouldn't guarantee her employees' jobs. In 1957 she finally accepted a $6 million offer from a buyer who guaranteed job security for her workforce. The new company was called Laura Scudder Inc. At the time of the sale the company had expanded into peanut butter and mayonnaise, and Laura Scudder brand potato chips held a greater than 50% share of the California market.
In 1987, Laura Scudder Inc. was sold to Borden, Inc. for $100 million. Annual sales for the chipmaker were $126 million in 1986. However, union difficulties motivated Borden to close all California plants of Laura Scudder only a year later. Borden's overall culture of mismanagement, incurrence of excessive debt to finance numerous acquisitions, and several restructurings led in 1993, led Borden to sell what remained of Laura Scudder for less than $16.7 million. However, the buyer, G.F. Industries, Inc.'s Granny Goose subsidiary was already in trouble, and was put up for sale in January 1995. In 2009, Snack Alliance, Inc. licensed from The Laura Scudder's Company, LLC the rights to produce and market potato chips under the Laura Scudder's brand. According to the J.M. Smucker Company website, the Laura Scudder's Natural Peanut Butter business was acquired by Smucker's from BAMA Foods Inc. in December 1994. As of 2009, Smucker's marketed the Laura Scudder's brand of natural peanut butter on the west coast. According to a March 31, 2010 announcement, Snack Alliance, Inc. was acquired by Shearers Foods Inc., a manufacturer of competing salty snacks in different regions of North America. At the same time (2010) it appears the original Laura Scudder's brand is being actively marketed by a California-based company. These two companies have different packaging for their different Laura Scudder's products, and the California company appears to be marketing its products nationwide.
When she died 30 years ago, the newspapers called her the Potato Chip Queen of the West.
But, as the decades have passed, Laura Scudder has faded from public memory, to the point where there is little to suggest that she existed, beyond being a name on a potato chip bag or a peanut butter jar.
So now, in a suburban city whose historical roots don't go much deeper than the trees planted in the first housing tracts developed there after World War I, Monterey Park is laying claim to its local hero.
The life and times of Laura C. Scudder will be the focus of an afternoon celebration at the city's Garvey Ranch Park historical museum on April 23.
"She was a woman in business, ahead of her time," said Louis Davis, Monterey Park's city treasurer and president of its historical society. "I can just imagine what she had to go through."
Working from a dusty two-acre parcel that she and her husband bought in 1920, Scudder parlayed a home-grown potato chip business into a multimillion-dollar food empire that spanned California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon.
Read the whole article