Creating a value-added item can bring another revenue stream to a farm. For Marquart Farms in Gainesville, New York, it also has brought recognition from the New York State Agricultural Society, which honored the farm at its January forum with the 2021 Business of the Year Award.
The farm was honored for its New York Chips product line.
“It’s always nice to be recognized for the work we put in,” said Chad Heeb, vice president of operation and sales for New York Chips and New York Spuds. “We’re a small farm in a world where it seems ag is a second thought. There are still people out there who care where their food is grown and how it’s grown.”
Five New York farms provide the potatoes for New York Chips and sister company New York Spuds.
“All of them play an integral part with the growing season to stagger our storage and elongating the period we can supply,” Heeb said.
New York Chips and New York Spuds are owned by the Marquart family, whose business interests include dairy farming, trucking, bedding supply, heavy machinery repair, lumber, and Marquart Bros., a potato farm that is the parent company of New York Chips and New York Spuds.
To restaurant supply companies, New York Spuds sells bagged potatoes sorted as white A, or table-stock potatoes; white B, which are salt potatoes; and chef’s potatoes, which are bigger than white A and used for french fries.
Heeb said that the farm “fell into New York Spuds. Originally, all our potatoes were grown for chips. We found there was a need for potatoes of different sizes.”
The Marquarts farm 7,000 acres in Wyoming, Allegany and Erie counties. Half the land is owned and half is leased.
A Western New York Fan Favorite
The 5-year-old brand is widely known in western New York with saturation in the Rochester, Buffalo, Jamestown and Elmira markets.
The company’s first sale was to Wegmans, a grocery chain based in Rochester that has spread to as far south as Virginia. Tops and Walmart also sell the chips, as do independent stores.
Although he appreciates small stores carrying New York Chips, Heeb said larger stores give the brand wider visibility.
The brand is marketed as a must-have for TV sports viewers, a strategy that resonates in western New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Heeb believes men are major consumers of New York Chips, though market research has found that the biggest purchasers of the company’s products are women ages 25 to 60.
Men have increased their share of family chores in the past 50 years, but women still do the majority of household grocery shopping, according to the Pew Research Center.
Also, the chip flavors that New York Chips has discontinued because of poor sales are flavors that are typically popular among women, Heeb said.
Beyond sports fans, others spreading the word include “our other brethren in the ag world,” Heeb said. “They talk about us and search us out.”
New York Chips has always been active in assisting nonprofits with fundraisers and donating products for events hosted by the FFA or the New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association.
While these activities build good public relations, they also complicate matters when people from Albany want him to supply chips. The shipping costs to the state capital would obliterate Heeb’s profits.
The chip operation has seven employees.
Sales Increased Despite Shifting Market
Chip sales have increased 36% during the pandemic. Heeb said that growth was largely due to panic buying, and rising purchases from breweries, cideries and wineries once those businesses were mandated to sell food to stay open. Sales to schools decreased because of the switch to remote learning.
The potato operation saw a big dip as restaurants closed, although by fall, sales rebounded some as food banks turned to produce distribution to supplement their food and meet a rise in demand.
Heeb wants to continue to increase the number of Walmart stores carrying New York Chips and reach more independent stores.
As for the potato business, he hopes to get into the grocery side of potato sales instead of just selling to institutional buyers.
The New York State Agricultural Society’s 2021 Business of the Year Award winner is sponsored by the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance and Gold Star Feed & Grain.