Imlay City’s signature product to expand, creates buzz in food industry

IMLAY CITY — They’re not even in production yet, but just the concept of a new Vlasic pickle product—specifically vacuum-fried pickle chips—has created a stir in the food industry and beyond.

Thomas M. McGough, co-chief operating officer and executive vice-president for Conagra Brands, revealed the company’s plans to start making pickle chips at the company’s Investor Day on April 10. A food industry magazine was the first to report it and then dozens of other news agencies quickly picked up the story too—online lifestyle news sites, tv and radio stations almost universally praised Conagra for their pickle chip plans.

Thrillist writer Joe McGauley penned “the concept of a mess-free grab-and-go version of the Vlasic classic is more than enticing.”

Also in the works are single-serve pickle slices with no added brine.

What could the new product mean for Imlay City’s plant, the lone producer of Vlasic products? When asked if the new chips would be processed in Imlay City, the company says it’s too early to tell.

“At this point, the pickle chips are in our innovation pipeline but still in development,” Daniel Hare, Conagra spokesperson, said.

McGough, in his Investor Day presentation, identified pickles as one of five “neglected coves” when it comes to snack foods, noting that sales of shelf-stable and refrigerated pickles grew six percent over the past year. quotes McGough saying that pickle-flavored snacks have been popular and the company is confident actual pickle snack food—especially those that are convenient and not so messy—will develop a following thanks to being both low calorie and low carb.

Last year, Vlasic and its parent company, Pinnacle Foods, was acquired by Conagra Foods as part of a $10 billion transaction. In December, Conagra closed Pinnacle Foods headquarters in New Jersey and moved those operations to their home base of Chicago.

In October, a Conagra spokesperson told the Tri-City Times in an email message that the acquisition of Pinnacle Foods wouldn’t impact any facilities at the time.

As part of a corporate restructuring in 2012, Pinnacle Foods opted to close a Vlasic plant in Delaware and make the Blacks Corners Road

facility in Imlay City its flagship for pickle production. Tax abatements, a state grant, a personal property tax exemption and a ten-year contract agreement by the employees’ union helped entice Pinnacle to stay in Michigan.

The Imlay City plant produces more than 150 million jars of pickle products annually.