'Today' show episode boosts company's holiday sales
By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
MT. JACKSON -- It was not entirely unexpected, but when Sarah Cohen, president of Route 11 Potato Chips in Mt. Jackson, saw her company's product featured on the "Today" show recently, it was like Christmas had come early.
"It was amazing," she said. "It was a freak of nature."
Since the Dec. 12 episode, which featured the Shenandoah County-based potato chip company among 12 food products touted as gift-worthy for the holidays, Cohen has been reeling from the effects of sudden nationwide attention. She expects the benefits will last a while.
"We've had national exposure before but never at Christmastime, and never at such, in such a controlled setting."
The company, which started in 1992, offers nine potato chip flavors, from the typical Lightly Salted to the unexpected Mama Zuma's Revenge.
"This coming year is our 20th anniversary," Cohen said. "This thing that happened with the 'Today' show is very exciting for us."
What really blew Cohen's mind was when "Today" co-anchor Ann Curry sampled Route 11's chips. It was one of only two food products the host sampled.
"She's like, 'Oh, these are fantastic, these are the best,'" Cohen said. "Within about three hours of that airing, we got about 500 orders on our website." A typical three-hour period would see about 10 orders, she said.
"Our website sales were about doubled," Cohen said.
Website orders came in clusters that Monday, so Cohen could visualize the show making its way across the country as the orders from Minnesota, Texas and Alaska started flooding Route 11's website.
"It was spectacular," Cohen said. "Phones were ringing off the hook."
Cohen knew ahead of time that "Today" was planning the episode, "but you can get bumped off," she said. She figured there was a 99 percent chance that the show would go on as scheduled.
"It was like being swept up in a tidal wave," Cohen said.
The Dill Pickle flavor, which saw a surge of orders this month following the show, also was a finalist for outstanding snack food at the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's Fancy Food Show in July in D.C.
Three years ago, Route 11's Sweet Potato chips won the gold metal at the Fancy Food Show in New York. Famed French chef Jacques Pepin presented the award.
"He's one of my heroes, so ... it made it extra special," Cohen said.
"Years ago we were on the Food Network," she said, in a program that lasted about 10 minutes.
"Route 11 has kind of its own force out there," she said. "The chips are recognized."
The flood of orders to Route 11's website this month, though, still seems amazing, Cohen said.
"I think people are watching food on the Internet," she said. "The Food Network piece generated a lot."
Cohen said she thinks "Today" included them because the chip company offers something anyone can enjoy.
"They want the selection to be attainable for your average person," Cohen said. "I think they want to have those products that will have wide appeal."
In 2005, Real Simple Magazine named Dill Pickle the "Best Chip to Eat with a Burger."
"We are considered one of the top potato chips in the country," Cohen said. This knowledge tends to surprise people. "Everyone always sees us as a local product," she said.
"Route 11 actually goes beyond, it sort of has broken through the threshold," Cohen said. Though it has a national distribution, she said the company focuses more attention on selling around its home region, along U.S. 11.
"We'd like to sell our chips to everybody here first."
For information about Route 11 Potato Chips, visit www.Rt11.com.