WEST NOTTINGHAM -- Despite a recent potato shortfall, Herr Foods is still producing its popular chips.

The southern Chester County salty snack maker purchases about 15 tractor-trailer loads of potatoes each weekday. That's 3.4 million pounds a week -- roughly 176.8 million pounds of potatoes a year, said Ed Herr, company president and member of the family that owns the company.

When the crop is threatened, Herr keeps an alert eye on the situation. The potato crop is in trouble now because of a lack of rain throughout the South, causing low potato yields. Then there are floods in the Midwest.

While some potato chip makers like Ira Middleswarth & Son of Synder County are feeling the shortfall, Herr said his company is successfully hashing through the situation.

"We follow the potato harvests up the East Coast starting in South Florida in April then South Florida to North Florida, North Florida to North Carolina, North Carolina to Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and then Michigan," Herr said. "It hasn't been a huge impact for us. So far we're only shorted 10 to 20 trailer loads in the last month."

Most of the damage to potato crops has happened in Missouri, Herr said, and that is not a state where the company buys its potatoes.

Although a supply shortage usually means the commodity will cost more, not so with Herrs, Herr said.

"But most of the potatoes we use, we buy on contract," Herr said, explaining the price has been negotiated and locked in.

Unfortunately, there is no avoiding the increased cost of transportation, including fuel surcharges on inventory deliveries and the higher cost to deliver the product, he said.

So far, Herr Foods is holding the line on cost "unless something else happens," Herr said.

Potato chip fans should know there are plenty of bags of Herrs chips on the grocers' shelves, said Herr, whose company makes 5 tons of finished potato chips every hour.

Ironically, while the news of the day is the sluggish economy, in the potato chip business, bad times usually mean increased sales.

People might not be able to afford a vacation or a new car, but they can afford the indulgence of a bag of chips and a movie, Herr said.

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