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Bag issues pose challenges for Maine chip companies

Maine companies say lead times for potato chip bags have been stretched out, and this creates new obstacles for their products.
Credit: Kelly Brodeur

MAINE, USA — Some Maine companies say production issues with potato chip bags are creating new challenges for their products as they find workarounds to stock store shelves with their foods.

Rhett Fox with Fox Family Chips told NEWS CENTER Maine lead times (the time between the initiation and completion of a production process), and prices are up, but the company has been dealing with these obstacles by keeping at least a two or three-month supply in stock. 

"We do try very hard to purchase as much as possible in this country," Fox said. "That has been paying off big time. You can't preach 'buy local' if you don't practice it. Or you shouldn't." 

Fox added the actual supply of chip bags hadn't affected his company all that much. 

"Don't get me wrong. Business in today's world has a whole bunch more challenges," he said. 

Kelly Brodeur, owner of Vintage Maine Kitchen, said the company purchases such a large volume of bags that it has been able to stay ahead with most of its flavors and sizes. 

But Vintage Maine Kitchen has had to substitute stock bags with sticker-type labels for some chips. The difference can be seen in the photo above. 

"We are thankful that our customers have made it known to us that they love us for our chips and not just our pretty bags," Brodeur said. "We are using the time to explore more eco-friendly packaging options." 

The owner explained the global supply chain hasn't recovered from the pandemic and was worsened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as rising energy and freight costs. 

Brodeur added it's not just potato chip bags. This is happening with glass bottles, jars and lids, and basic food service supplies. 

"It's not a shortage like things disappearing from the marketplace, although that is the case with a lot of raw materials from Ukraine, like sunflower oil," she said. "It's a longer lead time, and increased costs that [don't] line up with working capital needs. So, previously, maybe it was a four-week lead time, and now it's eight or 12 weeks. In Maine, peak season is over in 12 weeks."  

The lead times increased in 2020 and again in early 2022 when fuel prices surged, according to the owner. 

"We had some delays late last year that left us without bags for our Maine Maple Potato Chips, and customers were calling and showing up at our door because they couldn't find Maple Chips," Brodeur said. "We decided to use a stock bag with a sticker to get them back on the shelf." 

Those bags eventually arrived, but when lead times and prices increased again earlier in 2022, Vintage Maine Kitchen chose to use stock bags for the time being as it explores other packaging options. 

The company is testing some compostable bags, and if they work out, Vintage Maine Kitchen will make that move by fall, according to the owner. 

"As far as 'shortages,' I would expect them to continue as long as fuel costs are up," Brodeur said. 

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to Frito-Lay for comment on whether it's experiencing similar challenges with potato chip bags, and this story will be updated when the company responds. 

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