Deal Watch: Snack company swallows Beer Chips

Britt Stern is a man of ideas.  An industrial designer born in Yonkers, N.Y., he invented a dripless ice cream cone and a no-leak coffee lid. He wrote a book about opening beer bottles that’s sold more than 40,000 copies.

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Britt Stern is a man of ideas.  

An industrial designer born in Yonkers, N.Y., he invented a dripless ice cream cone and a no-leak coffee lid. He wrote a book about opening beer bottles that’s sold more than 40,000 copies. He’s designed surgical tools, renovated a New York City loft in Gothic Revival style and consulted on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s costume for the movie Batman and Robin.

But perhaps his tastiest idea has been beer-flavored potato chips. During a visit to Portland and its annual Holiday Ale Festival in 2005, Stern realized not only that the idea was a good one but that Portland was the place to make it happen.

“I looked around and thought, wow, they really like beer here,” says Stern, 51.

He moved to Portland from Alfred, N.Y., where he’d been on sabbatical at Alfred University, and by summer 2006 he’d perfected his recipe for Beer Chips with help from Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center.

“Then I just hustled the way I know how to hustle,” Stern says.

He tended to the marketing and sales side of the business and outsourced production and shipping to Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods, a co-packer in Perham, Minn., that is part of the larger food conglomerate KLN Enterprises. His first sales were to small Portland markets, but he met the right person at a tradeshow, and within three months of launching Beer Chips he was shipping to Sam’s Club. By pushing his chips into beer aisles, not the nearly impenetrable snack food aisles, Stern quickly made his way into large national grocery chains.

First-year gross revenue hit $500,000, and the past two years it’s topped $1 million — a volume of about 40 semi truckloads of product a year.

But there’s only so far one man can take a company — Stern worked with just a bookkeeper and a salesperson, both part-time — so he sold the business to Barrel O’ Fun for an undisclosed amount in early February.

Always thinking about his next idea, Stern says he’d like to focus less on entrepreneurship and more on product development and design.

“I’m going to try and do nothing for a bit,” he says, “but I’m not very good at doing nothing.”


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