Hawaiian Snack Food Maker Increases Output By 30 Percent

It was while watching an episode of the Food Network’s “Emeril Live” that James Chan, owner and founder of the Hawaiian Chip Company (Honolulu, Hawaii), was inspired to launch his own business. Watching celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse, toil over taro chips, Chan believed that he could successfully market his own recipe for the snack. To add some variety, he also decided to launch his own brand of sweet potato chips.

For an authentic flavor, Chan uses locally grown Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. Famous for their vibrant purple insides, the potatoes are native to the island of Okinawa, Japan, but are now cultivated in Hawaii. With the appropriate permits in place, Chan began his operation by making the taro and sweet potato chips in his own kitchen and selling them at a small, nearby tourist market.

As the chips gained popularity, Chan expanded his business. He eventually moved the operation into a local bakery, which served as the company’s manufacturing headquarters for several years. Now, nine years after Chan began frying the snacks in his own apartment, the Hawaiian Chip Company has relocated to a new facility with five full-time and six part-time employees.

The company’s taro chips are offered in original, zesty garlic and Kiawe BBQ flavors, while the sweet potato chips are available in lightly salted, garlic and sugar coated varieties. The Hawaiian Chip Company even offers mixed bags of mixed taro and sweet potato chips in the original and spicy flavors.

Sold predominantly in markets and gourmet food stores throughout Hawaii, the chips can be purchased in either 12-ounce bags or individually-portioned four-ounce bags. They can also be found in the regional Costco stores and will soon be available in local Target stores. The Hawaiian Chip Company also distributes its products to specialty stores in the Bay Area, Southern California and Las Vegas. Consumers can even find the authentic snack being served on Hawaiian Airlines.

When Chan started his business, the chips were only available in four-ounce bags. As demand increased, Chan realized he could begin reaching more traditional retail outlets — and more consumers — by packaging the chips in larger, multi-serve portions. To accomplish this, Chan knew he had to modify his existing operations to increase productivity and overall speed.

“The time had come to invest in new equipment that would facilitate the growth of our business,” says Chan. “Our current scale and filling operation limited our production to the four-ounce bags. We needed a more flexible system that would accommodate the larger bag format and speed up the weighing process.”

Chan decided to spend a few days at PACK EXPO searching for more accurate weighing and filling equipment. After carefully researching his options, Chan arrived at PACK EXPO Las Vegas with a short list of exhibitors to see. After viewing the technology on the show floor and speaking with exhibitors directly, Chan purchased the AW-9 AutoWeigher filling machine from WeighPack Systems Inc.

WeighPack’s AW-9 can handle weight capacities of one ounce to 10 pounds and works up to 15 cycles per minute on one or three pan configurations. It also features tool-less removal of weigh buckets and foot pedal for semi-automatic operation. There is an auto-function for automatic operation and the two-speed bulk and dribble mode offer highly accurate weight control.

After installing the new WeighPack scale, the Hawaiian Chip Company was able to bag multiple varieties of chips simultaneously, decreasing downtime by about two hours each day and increasing the operation speed by 20 percent–30 percent. The improved accuracy of the scale also facilitated the introduction of the new 12-ounce bag size.

“We were familiar with WeighPack’s products prior to the purchase, so it was an easy transition to the new scale,” said Chan. “Since making the investment, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in our output each day.”

Cutting away product waste

It was during the PACK EXPO event that Chan spotted a demonstration of what would be his second purchase: an EDC 202 slicer from Seven Chefs.

“I had not originally planned to purchase a slicer at the time, but I was very impressed by what I saw in the demo,” explained Chan. “Actually seeing the equipment in action can have a significant impact on a purchase decision.”

The Hawaiian Chip Company’s existing slicer produced chips with varying thicknesses, which significantly affected chip cooking times. This inconsistency resulted in variations in taste and appearance — and about five to 10 percent product waste.

The EDC 202 is equipped with long-lasting razor-sharp blades for extra-clean cuts. It only takes 15 seconds to change blades, ensuring fast changeover. After a two-minute belt and blade removal, the entire machine is ready for the sanitation process with full access to all machine surfaces that require cleaning.
Used predominantly to produce taro chips, the new Seven Chefs slicer improved overall quality with its larger, more consistent slicing ability. The amount of product waste has also dropped to roughly one percent.

Moving forward

After nine years of seeing his business grow, Chan continues to search for new ways to streamline manufacturing processes. After such a successful trip to the last PACK EXPO Las Vegas, he plans to return to the show this year in search of more new ideas and innovative solutions.

“I originally attended PACK EXPO after hearing about it from other manufacturers in my industry. Once there, I found that there was a major benefit to having so many solutions housed in one location,” Chan said. “This year, I hope to find other new packaging technologies that can help us expand our business and become more efficient.”

For more information about PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2009, visit www.packexpo.com.