It takes 120 days from planting to harvesting to create a product that can be consumed within minutes, but the journey of these spuds stretches back even further.

Key points:

  • Farming families have been supplying potatoes to make Smith’s chips for decades
  • Researchers scour social media and restaurant trends to explore new flavours
  • Brand owner PepsiCo ANZ is working towards 100 per cent renewable energy and biodegradable or compostable packaging

Farmer Jason Menegazzo’s family has been growing potatoes for 50 years, and for the past two decades have been solely supplying The Smith’s Snackfood Company.

It is a legacy he feels honoured to continue on the family’s property at Galore in the New South Wales Riverina.

“We started basically as migrant Europeans coming to Australia to the small blocks in Werribie South. That was 80 years ago now,” Mr Menegazzo said.

“So it’s a long history, it didn’t just happen overnight.”

Women grading potatoes on a production line.

Members of the Menegazzo family have been involved in the supply of potatoes for crisping over several decades.(

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

)

Developing unique potato varieties

PepsiCo ANZ, the company that owns The Smith’s Snackfood Company, contracts 120 million kilograms of potatoes annually from 47 sites ranging from northern Queensland to southern Victoria.

Agronomy manager JP Smith visits farms to inspect the potatoes that are grown to make the crinkle cut chips.

Some 20 years went into developing each of the proprietary potato varieties made specifically for crisping and maximised for year-round supply.

“When the crop dies we can leave it in the ground for up to four months using mother nature as the refrigerator allowing us to have the same great quality in the middle of the winter.”

Smith’s chips marks 90 years

Women packing boxes of Smith's Chips in factory.

Once manufactured at several factories, including in Melbourne, the potato chip-making process has evolved over the decades.(

Supplied: Wolfgang Sievers, Pictures Collection of State Library Victoria

)

Introduced from England in 1931, the Smith’s brand now celebrates 90 years of manufacturing in Australia.

Frank Smith and George Ensor started the first factory in Sydney’s Surry Hills, where the chips were cooked in gas-fired pots, hand-packed, then sold in tins.

Over the decades the manufacturing methods evolved, with automation playing a major role at the remaining factories in Brisbane and Adelaide.

The process for each potato to be washed, peeled, sliced, fried, seasoned, then packaged takes 20 minutes.

Woman and man standing in front of potato chip factory production line.

Managers Nuala Power and Jason Webster oversee the manufacturing process at the Smith’s Snackfood factory in Brisbane.(

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

)

Long-gone are the days when consumers seasoned their chips using a sachet of salt included in each pack.

Chicken was the first flavour variety introduced in 1961, and the classic staples including original, salt and vinegar, and barbecue continue to this day.

Production manager Nuala Power said the company’s research and development team were constantly searching for the next big flavour.

“They look at what’s happening on social media, what restaurants are doing, what different food trends are out there in the market and they also will look to overseas,” Ms Power said.

The chips go through quality control processes which includes taste testers.

Improving factory sustainability

Crinkle cut potato chips on a factory production line.

It takes 20 minutes to create the crinkle cut potato chips on the factory line. (

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

)

Manufacturing manager Jason Webster said 95 per cent of production waste was reused, much of it going to composting and animal feed.

He said it was in the company’s interest to minimise waste where possible.

“If we’re over-peeling we’re creating more waste and also we’re then having to use more potatoes to make our finished product,” Mr Webster said.

CEO Danny Celoni said the Brisbane factory had reduced its use of water by 40 per cent and electricity by 16 per cent over the past five years.

While the current snack packaging is recyclable, the company aims to have biodegradable or compostable alternatives by 2025, Mr Celoni said.

“By the end of this year we will have 100 per cent renewable electricity from our manufacturing plants,” Mr Celoni said.

Robots packing boxes at snack factory

Automation plays a major role at The Smith’s Snackfood Company factory in Brisbane. (

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

)

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline this Sunday at 12:30pm or on iview.

Posted , updated 

Unique potatoes, dedicated farmers behind one of Australia’s longest running chip snacks
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