About Herb's Snack Foods

Getting To Know Herb

Let's peek into the future of HERB'S, the newest brand of pickled snacks in the marketplace. For any pickled snacks aficionado, it will be fun to look behind the scenes as to how Herb (Jr.) "Sonny" Wagner, and his family have played a huge part in building some of the largest brands in the pickled snacks market today.


Back in the early 1970's, Wagners' began producing the pickled sausage product that became known throughout America as "Magic Chef" and "Big Mama." The brands were owned by the now defunct Acme Packing Company, Baltimore, MD. We caught up with Herb Wagner so he could explain the heritage in his own words:


Q: What was the genesis for the growth of Wagner Provisions?


HW: For several years we worked hand-in-hand with the Specter family, owners of Acme Packing Company. We had a great relationship, but as Acme grew and introduced other products, they built a plant and integrated all products under one roof.


Q: After Acme began making "Big Mama" and "Magic Chef" in-house, what did you do?


HW: We concentrated on building our pickled meats business and we sold hot dogs, kielbasa and other sausages in the mid-Atlantic market. We were doing fine, and then the break of a lifetime came our way.


Q: Explain, please.


HW: In 1990, we were approached by Don Knauss, owner of the Knauss Dried Beef Company in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. He planned to expand his business to include meat snacks and launch a joint venture partnership known as the Knauss Snack Food Company with Jeff Fisher and Brian Fleming. Our family agreed to provide his new venture with pickled meat snacks. So we started making gallons of pigs feet, pickled hot sausage, and pickled pigs knuckles. We later began packing pickled onions. The new company launched the Hannah's Brand in 1991. Success was immediate. Next, we packed half gallon and quart sized jars.


Q: Did Wagner's only make gallon pickled snacks for Knauss' Hannah's Brand?


HW: Oh my gosh, no, Don Knauss never wanted to have vinegar brine in his plants, so we also became the single source for the 1 oz. and 2.2 oz. vac pak sausages. From the time it was launched, Hannah's, which competed in the market place directly with Penrose and Big Mama, was a huge success.


Q: While supporting the growth of Knauss' Hannah's Brand, did you continue to market your own
     Wagner's Brand?


HW: (Smiling ... and shaking his head a bit) I would have loved to keep growing the Wagner brand, but it seemed that as soon as we could catch our breath to do so, Knauss would expand again. Their (and our) growth was phenomenal. We added smoke houses to our facility, and we grew right along with them.


Q: Were you ever concerned about having the majority of your business dedicated to the
     Knauss Snack Foods Company?

HW: Call me foolish, but when Don Knauss shook my hand and looked me in the eye and said we had a deal in 1990, I knew I could trust him. The same level of trust was ever-present with his son Bill and his grandson Troy. Just wonderful people!


Q: Back to the story. What was the next step in the growth phase?


HW: Well, the next big growth spurt came when Knauss earned the Lance sausage contract from GoodMark (now ConAgra). Later, we started to make the pickled sausages that Knauss packed for Golden Flake in Alabama.


Q: Are the products made by Wagner distributed primarily in the Southeastern US?


HW: You may have to confirm it with the snack food guys, but I feel certain that the product we make is sold all over the United States and even in Puerto Rico.


Q: You and your family were instrumental in helping other companies build some of the leading
     names in the pickled snacks business today. Do you have future plans?


HW: To be truthful, we have had several opportunities to sell Wagner Provisions over the past year. Other companies have approached us to do co-packing, which we will do under the right circumstances.


Q: Was selling the family business a consideration?


Of course we talked about it. Young Herb (Herbold III) is now managing the business. We have a great plant manager Tim, who is like another son to us. They have the drive, the desire and the energy to keep it growing. Plus as we launch the HERB'S Brand, we are fortunate enough to have a few guys who understand the snack food business, and brokers who have expressed interest in helping us make it happen.


Q: Is that why you are launching the Herb's Brand now?


HW: As Yogi Berra once said, "it's deja vu, all over again." We want to protect our immediate family and our extended family. Nothing stays the same. The market changed. The pickled meats segment has consolidated. Many of our competitors have gone by the wayside. Weber's in Newark (NJ) is out of business, Roger's in New England has shut down. Add to that the fact that the original Knauss Snack Food Company was sold a few years ago and then sold again last year and melted into a larger company. New people are now in charge. They will ultimately move production into their own facilities.


Q: So, that is a long way for you to say that "necessity is the mother of invention?"


HW: Let's just say that our company is over 70 years old and we are planning for the future. We are more energized today than any time in our history.


Q: What are you going to do differently?


HW: Learn from the past, and make Herb's a success in every way!


Q: In every way?


HW: Call me "old school." I like to keep it simple. We believe in providing a quality product. We commit to deliver when the customer wants it. We believe in honor, trust and true appreciation. Those are our values. That is what Herb's will strive for every single day!


Thank you, Herb Wagner, may the next 70 years at Wagner's be as exciting!