On the Right Track

Kettle Brand’s Tater Tracker program invites consumers onto farms

Published online: Aug 02, 2018 Articles, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
Viewed 4984 time(s)

This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Potato Grower.

“About as humble a start as can be had.”

That’s how Kettle Brand describes the company’s early days on its website. The company has come a long way since its first chips were delivered with a beat-up old van in 1982. Today, the Salem, Ore.-based company is indisputably a major player in the U.S. chip market, relying on unique flavors and recipes, sound consumer relations, and trusted growers. 

A few years back, seeing an opportunity to enhance the transparency on which it prides itself, Kettle launched a program it dubbed Tater Tracker. A website was built to showcase each of Kettle’s grower partners—about 20 around the country, depending on the year—to the folks buying Kettle chips. Packaging invites consumers to view the website, where they can get to know growers through brief biographies and on-farm videos. 

“As a brand, we’re committed to sustainability and transparency,” says Kettle senior brand manager Julie Balzer. “What better way to further our commitment than to show our fans exactly where their chips come from? Plus, it’s a fun way to give our growers their well-deserved time in the spotlight.”

 Most of the things Kettle growers say on the Tater Tracker website and videos won’t come as a shock or seem particularly profound to fellow growers. But to consumers who are wholly unfamiliar with what goes into producing a bag of chips, simple explanations of life on a potato farm can create a deep, abiding, necessary sense of trust:

  • Kevin Thaemert: “Watching all of the hard work our dad put into the farm and seeing the results from his work at the end of every year was really an inspiration.”
  • Jason Walther: “Farming is a way of life, and it becomes a part of who you are.”
  • David Fazio: “Our goal at this farm is to grow a quality product for this community.”
  • Brian Kirschenmann: “I’m trying to build the next generation of farmers. It takes a younger generation [to succeed]: people who think differently and embrace technology.”
  • Richard Pavelski: “We may not be related by blood, but we’re related by sweat.”

Balzer says Kettle’s growers have been not only cooperative, but enthusiastic about sharing their stories with their consumer base. Kettle sends a camera crew to each farm to interview farm ownership and staff and to explore the properties, capturing it all with special 360-degree cameras. The 360-degree videos are then posted to the Tater Tracker website and Kettle Brand’s YouTube channel.

“We’ve invested in these long-term partnerships with our growers, many of whom have been with us for years,” says Balzer. “Tater Tracker helps our consumers get to know these great farmers—these great people—who have committed their livelihoods to helping us make the best-tasting potatoes. It also gives them a look at what life on a potato farm is really like.”

The response from Kettle fans, says Balzer, has been fantastic. A steady stream of consumers who expect transparency and who are increasingly interested in where their food comes from continue to visit the Tater Tracker website and send in questions about Kettle’s growers.

“Interest in transparency relates to the food industry as a whole, not just to the snack sector,” says Balzer. “As ingredient quality and provenance grow in importance to consumers, traceability is a logical step. We’re excited to be able to offer this level of transparency to our consumers.”

With products originating from such honest, salt-of-the-earth beginnings as some of the best farms on the planet, there’s every reason to be excited about sharing their stories.  


Kettle Brand Potato Growers

Kettle Brand growers are spread across the country. Some are as close as an hour’s drive from the company’s headquarters in Salem, Ore., while others are thousands of miles away.

  • Allied Potato, Pasco, Wash.
  • Baley-Trotman Farms, Malin, Ore.
  • Bula-Gieringer Farms, Coloma, Wis.
  • Burch Farms, Faison, N.C.
  • Castle Rock Farms, Boardman, Ore.
  • Gold Dust Potato Processors, Malin, Ore.
  • Heartland Farms, Hancock, Wis.
  • JD Ranch, Sauvie Island, Ore.
  • Kirschenmann Farms, Bakersfield, Calif.
  • Mehlenbacher Farms, Burbank, Wash.
  • Miedema Produce, Hudsonville, Mich.
  • Mortenson Bros., Plainfield, Wis.
  • Oneida Potato Exchange, Rhinelander, Wis.
  • Sackett Potatoes, Mecosta, Mich.
  • Schmieding Produce, Springdale, Ark.
  • Thaemert Farms, Quincy, Wash.
  • Torkelson Bros., Grafton, N.D.
  • Walther Farms, Three Rivers, Mich.