Wise Foods started out as Wise Potato Chip Company, founded in Berwick, Pennsylvania, in 1921 by a young man named Earl Wise, Sr. He owned Wise Delicatessen and began making potato chips as a way to make use of excess potatoes, initially cooking them in his mother's kitchen, and then selling them to customers in brown paper bags. At the time, potato chips were generally kept in glass display cases or cracker barrels, and scooped into paper bags for customers. The bags developed grease spots and did not keep the chips fresh for very long, eventually leading to the development of waxed paper bags. Wise's chips proved an immediate hit with customers and soon the delicatessen owner became a regional potato chip mogul, remodeling a garage to serve as his initial factory. He had his first delivery truck by 1922. For a logo he decided on a picture of an owl, a creature known to be "wise."
The snack industry and the fortunes of the Wise Potato Chip Company improved dramatically after World War II. Per capita consumption of potato chips in the United States increased from 1.91 pounds in 1945 to 2.56 pounds a decade later. Corn chips, pretzels, popcorn, peanut butter sandwiches, crackers with cheese, and fried bacon rinds also grew in popularity.
In 1964 the Wise Potato Crisps company passed out of the Wise family, when it was acquired by the Borden Condensed Milk Co.. In 1968 Wise Potato Chip company, which now sold popcorn, Cheez Doodles, Bravos Tortilla Chips, and other snack foods changed its name to Wise Foods, Inc. In 1989 Wise acquired Moore's Quality Snack Foods, which also produced salty snacks marketing mostly in Virginia and the Carolinas.
In October 2000 the company finally changed hands, bought by the private New York investment firm of Palladium Equity Partners L.L.C. for $96 million. Because Wise represented the firm's first involvement in the food business, Palladium teamed up with a specialist in the field, Ardale Enterprises, whose principals, J. Robert Hall and Keith Lyon.
As eating habits changed and health concerns over salty snacks increased, Wise introduced new flavors, but did not follow competitors into offering healthier alternatives. Wise made some changes in the 2000s to improve its competitiveness. It closed the Quinlan Pretzel Co. plant in Denver Pennsylvania, in 2002 and contracted with another area company to make pretzels under the Quinlan name.
In 2004 Palladium began infusing cash to help Wise in its efforts to cut into Frito-Lay's share in Wise's key markets, including the introduction of new packaging for all of its products. Much of the money would be spent on the New York City metropolitan area, Wise's largest market. In the summer of 2005 Wise forged direct ties to the New York Mets through a multi-tiered, three-year sponsorship deal that made Wise the Official Potato Chip of the Mets. As such, Wise products would be sold exclusively at Shea Stadium, where Wise also would receive extensive signage in center field. In addition, Wise would air frequent radio spots on the team's Spanish-language radio broadcasts. There was every indication that Wise would fortify its position in traditional markets, but whether it could successfully compete against Frito-Lay on a larger stage remained in doubt.
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