Potato chips might be the most popular snack food in the United States. According to a 2010 report by the National Academies of Science, Americans spent over $7.1 billion on potato chips in 2009. That's $2 billion dollars more than the U.S. government spent on investments into energy research and development.
In recent months, the Lays potato chip company began a contest between three of its new chip flavors: Sriracha, Chicken and Waffles, and Garlic Cheesy Bread. Each new flavor was chosen from a pool of customer-submitted ideas. Consumers are invited to spend a few of the $7.1 billion they dedicate to potato chips, and try each flavor before voting on their favorite. The winning chip will remain on the market, and the person who suggested the flavor could win $1 million.
This got the Advocate wondering, what exactly goes into creating a new potato chip flavor? Goldberg of Deep River Snacks explained his process in a recent telephone interview.
Connecticut's only remaining potato chip company is Deep River Snacks, based out of Old Lyme. Jim Goldberg, a former West Hartford kid, started the company in 2002.
"I do most of the flavors myself," he said. "I get most of the inspiration from trying new things, and looking at trends in the market. I like to borrow inspiration from other industries. I wish I could tell you it's some sort of scientific process, but it's not."
Salad dressing companies, he said, are an especially good source of inspiration because they always seem to create very innovative flavoring.
In order to get the exact flavor impact he looks for, Goldberg relies on a few seasoning companies who have earned his trust over the years, and his own intuition. Each new chip flavor, which can take a good deal of time to craft, involves a lot of back and forth between Deep River and the seasoning companies as they search for the perfect flavor.
Currently, Goldberg and Deep River offer 11 kettle chip varieties, including everything from classic Sea Salt, to New York Spicy Dill Pickle. In addition, they produce two flavored tortilla chip styles, two kinds of 100 calorie baked snacks, and a Sharp White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn snack.
Speaking on one of Deep River's popular flavors — Jalapeno — Goldberg said that his company's first incarnation of the chip involved "looking at what everyone else did, and saying 'let's make ours better.'"
The second design centered on finding ways to make their own recipe even better. His new Jalapeno flavor was finished about a year and a half ago, and is proof that sometimes simpler really is better.
"If I wanted to have a jalapeno chip, does it make sense that is has onion and garlic in it? Not really," Goldberg said. "I came up with the idea to simplify it down to four flavors; potato, sunflower oil, salt and jalapeno."
The weirdest chip flavor Goldberg has ever designed, he says, was a tequila lime chip. "The only problem was that this smelled and tasted just like tequila, and I'm not really a tequila drinker," he said with a laugh.
The Connecticut Deep River Snacks office is where Goldberg designs the chips and where the majority of the employees work. Its chips are actually produced in the Midwest so that they can be distributed nationally and internationally.
Deep River is currently finishing the process of being certified as a company that uses no genetically modified foods.
"We're good people, and we're local," he said of what makes his company an asset to Connecticut. "We do a lot of work on the charitable side, and we source everything from the United States. We could make our packaging cheaper in China, but we do that in the U.S. instead."
Goldberg has about three new flavors in the hopper, he says, and expects a new flavor to be released at some time this year. They're redoing their tortilla chip line, and just released a new crinkle-cut sour cream and onion.
You can find Deep River Snacks at Fitzgerald Foods, in Simsbury; at the UConn Student Union in Storrs-Mansfield; or online at deepriversnacks.com.