Local chip-maker expands its operations

Uncle Ray's is one of those bags of chips you can find in just about any party store or grocery in Detroit. But the people behind the potato chip maker are optimistic that it could become a go-to brand of chips in retailers across the country.

"We think Uncle Ray's has the kind of upside where we could double our current volume in the short-term," says Brian Gaggin, vice president of Uncle Ray's. "We could probably do that within five to six years."

Uncle Ray's is named for Ray Jenkins who started selling potato chips out of the back of his car in 1965. The chip maker became a wholly-owned subsidiary of The H.T. Hackney Co, one of the largest wholesale distributors in the U.S., in 2006. Uncle Ray's is now based on the city's west side, near the intersection of I-96 and Wyoming, where 175 of the company's 200 employees works. Over the last year, it's hired over 20 new employees for production work.

"About 80 percent of our employees are city residents," says Gaggin. "If our growth trend continues, we'll be adding even more people."

Uncle Ray's has lodged close to 20 percent growth over the last two years, expanding sales of its low-priced chips into a number of new retailers across middle America, including Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama. They also recently signed a deal with Minor League Baseball to become the league's official potato chip.

"It's an ideal fit," Gaggin says. "It's a family event, a reasonably priced, family fun activity."

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Read more articles by Jon Zemke.

Jon Zemke is a news editor with Model D and its sister publications, Metromode and Concentrate. He's also a small-scale real-estate developer and landlord in the greater downtown Detroit area.

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