Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods

Original snacks and private label production based in Perham, Minnesota
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
James Logan

For a variety of great tasting snack foods, distributors, retailers and private-label customers turn to Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods. With its headquarters in Perham, Minnesota, Barrel O’ Fun has been in business since 1973, when Kenny Nelson and his father, Darrell “Tuffy” Nelson established the business. Barrel O’ Fun is a part of KLN Family Brands, which also includes Tuffy’s Pet Foods, Kenny’s Candy and NutHeads Chocolate Factory.

Today, Tuffy’s grandson and Kenny’s son, Charlie Nelson, serves as vice president of KLN Family Brands, overseeing operations throughout the group’s four major divisions. KLN Family Brands has seen significant growth in recent years and Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods has been a major driver of that growth.

Charlie works alongside a strong management team, including Randy Johnson, Barrel O’ Fun’s vice president of sales, and Kevin Keil, general manager of Barrel O’ Fun. Together, the leadership team has been able to expand the market presence and customer base of the snack manufacturer. The company embraces an integrated business structure, including distribution as well as research and development for private-label clientele.

Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods

Recent growth initiatives

In 2009, the company added a southwest production location in Phoenix, Arizona. “The facility brings us closer to our customers in the region,” says Charlie. “We manufacture a variety of chips and snacks in our over 350,000-square-foot facility and our tortilla chip expansion will begin production early this summer.”

In late 2014, Barrel O’ Fun opened its newest location in Waterford, Pennsylvania. “This was a family owned facility we purchased,” Charlie notes. “We have 175,000 square feet of production where we produce kettle chips, popcorn and extruded snacks”.

“Perham is our largest plant at over 500,000 square feet and our most diversified facility,” he adds. “We produce a range of products both under our own brand name and for private label customers”

“One of the issues most people run into in this industry is freight expense,” Kevin Keil explains. “The benefit to having several locations throughout the country has to do with a lot of things, such as the cost of fuel and the number of trucks available. The Phoenix and Waterford facilities get us closer to our customer base out East and in the Southwest. We have a lot of national accounts and this allows us to cover the whole U.S. easier. We have taken on a little bit of additional regional business, but the majority is still existing national customers.”

An integrated approach

Barrel O’ Fun’s product mix is comprised of private label and house brands items, including Barrel O’ Fun potato chips, tortilla chips, cheese snacks and pretzels. The company also owns several other lines, including Vic’s Popcorn, Rachel’s Gourmet Kettle Chips and others. “We are also the licensing agent for Larry the Cable Guy potato chips, pretzels and popcorn as well as a number of Skinny Girl items and Dale Jr. potato chips and crispy fries,” Kevin adds. “We have a great working relationship and work closely with their teams.”

For these and a number of other private-label customers, Barrel O’ Fun presents different options for production. “With many of the customers we have worked with for a long time, they bring ideas to us and we figure out how to make it work in a production facility,” says Kevin. “We also perform research and development in-house for both ourselves and our customers.”

Charlie explains that the business stands out from other manufacturers by serving as a one-stop-shop for customers that need a higher level of service while also catering to the production needs of companies with their own established products and flavor profiles.

“We work with the customers to make what works for them work for us,” he elaborates. “We are unique because of the number of sku’s we can run for our customers.”

Keeping up with the market

While many businesses struggled throughout the recession, Kevin says Barrel O’ Fun actually benefited from the downturn. “Private label tends to be less expensive than national brands,” he explains. “Since the ‘90s and 2000s, our business has increased, especially with private-label customers.”

While consumers have been focused on value, particularly throughout the recession, trends continue to change. Barrel O’ Fun is keeping up with market demand by staying ahead of the game with new products constantly in development.

“We have an active product development group,” notes Charlie. “We work closely with the research and development teams of our private label customers. Their end users are always looking for the next best item. Health-conscious products, including organics, have been big, whether it is a product made with ancient grains or reduced fat, etc. We are having constant discussions with them about new items.”

Looking ahead

Charlie and his team are chasing down aggressive growth goals for the company. Over the last few years, Barrel O’ Fun has seen double-digit increases in sales. “That’s the path we will continue to take,” Charlie indicates. “We’ll continue developing new products and flavor profiles, while producing many of the same products. We see ourselves continuing to grow, especially now that we have the ability to do more regional business on the East Coast and in the Southwest. These growing markets contribute to our growth overall as a company.”

Charlie predicts all three locations will continue to see success, providing improved service and access to markets throughout the country. All facilities are ramping up production to meet growing demand through a number of repeat and new private-label customers.

“We would like to be the leading private-label manufacturer in our industry,” he says. “That is the direction we are going in – it’s our five-year goal. We have a great team of employees here who are always striving to do better and I think they will help us get there.”

With a growing national footprint and continuous reinvestment in facilities and resources, Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods is well on its way to being a leader in the snack food market across the United States.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.
Clark Specialty Grains
Hood Packaging
JC Ford
The Andersons Inc.