Keystone Food Products Inc.

Family farming history in Pennsylvania makes for snack food success
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

A family farming tradition that dates back to the early 1900s in Easton, Pennsylvania, is the catalyst behind Keystone Food Products Inc. After nearly 70 years in operation, Keystone Food is running on the third-generation ownership of Bill Corriere Jr., CEO of the company, and other family members. Keystone Food stands out in a crowded snack-food sector as one of the few independently-owned companies up against multi-national conglomerates.

One of Keystone Food’s main claims to fame is Party Mix; the company was the first to blend the ingredients incorporated in the signature snack food. Over the years, the company has evolved, offering state-of-the-art manufacturing and packaging for private-label partners.

Keystone Food also has long-running history in the organics business. “Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, before it was so popular, we were one of only a few manufacturers getting involved with organic corn,” shares Bill. “Today, 80 percent of our business is comprised of organic items and completely non-GMO products.”

The Corriere family farm

Today, Keystone Food operates as a private-label manufacturer, helping many well-known, national brands become successful by co-developing and co-packing natural and organic product lines. But this industry niche is far from where the company originated back in 1946.

“My grandfather, Paul Corriere, was born in Italy and he ran a farm in Rome,” says Bill. “He moved the farm from Rome to Sicily to escape political issues, but that still wasn’t far enough so he eventually came to the U.S. where he ran one of the largest farms in the Easton area.”

Bill says his grandfather was always trying to push the envelope in farming, so naturally, he was one of the first to buy a John Deere single-plow tractor. “Then followed a two-plow and three-plow,” tells Bill. “Eventually, this equipment and the help of his three sons, my father, Bill Corriere Sr. included, expanded the farm throughout the entire valley. The Corriere farm was one of the largest family farms in the area.”

“We also ran a massive garden,” recounts Bill. “In the summer we would bring in 12 to 14 men to harvest in the garden and old pictures of the Easton farmers market show our large booth where we sold tons of fruits and vegetables.”

Bill’s father stepped in with a knack for fixing farm equipment and welding skill. “Through the Depression and World War II things slowed a bit, but because we were the largest key farmers in the area, my father and his brothers didn’t have to go to war,” explains Bill. “Through the winter, they would fix the equipment and take care of 150 milk cows.”

One day during the slow winter season, a man from Easton called Bill’s father and asked if he would help him build conveyors and production equipment for a pork-rind facility. “My father decided to help him out, but the manufacturer went bankrupt,” recounts Bill. “My father didn’t want the money, but in a court settlement all of the pork-rind equipment was awarded to him.”

Number 711 in the nation

The timing was right as the Corriere family had recently built a brand-new milk house and the old space was empty. “My father asked my grandfather if he could put the pork-rind equipment in the old milk house and he called the USDA to come and inspect it,” shares Bill. “The USDA OK’d the plant and we were awarded the No. 711 permit, which we still hold as one of the first couple of hundred snack manufacturers in the nation.”

The crispy pork-rinds took off with the local Pennsylvania Dutch and German population. “In the beginning, before plastic bags, we used vacuum-packed glass jars and then tin cans and sealed wax bags,” recounts Bill.

As the years past, Bill says Keystone Food watched other players disappear due to mass consolidation in the snack-food industry. “In the late ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, in every city there was a different potato chip manufacturer,” he recalls. “If you went up to New England and small cities around Boston, some even had two, but one by one they went bankrupt and sold out to larger companies.”

Not Keystone Food – continuing to push the bounds of manufacturing and packaging, the company has persevered. “We’re most famous for our Party Mix, which has become so popular that nearly every major snack-food company makes it and it’s been given its own food category,” points Bill.

Now more than ever, Keystone Food is making a mark in manufacturing organic and natural, baked or fried tortilla chips, corn snacks and popcorn snacks. The company offers state-of-the-art packaging to process these snack foods from vertical form and fill bags to nitrogen-flush and automatic case packaging to multiple small-pack packaging.

“Extending from my father, who was always an inventive equipment maker and repairer, we also have an in-house fabrication shop where we cut steel and can add motors and conveyors to our own equipment lines,” reveals Bill.

The company also runs an in-house quality-control lab performing finished product testing. “The laboratory works closely with Silliker Food Safety & Quality Solutions for any additional laboratory support,” details Bill. “Silliker is also used for Safe Quality Food certification of the Keystone facility and for second party auditing.”

Holding fast to family ownership

Today Keystone Food serves customers across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico and Bill says his phone rings nearly every day with someone offering to buy the company. “I’m just not interested, we want to keep things in the family,” he asserts.

Bill says Keystone Food isn’t going anywhere as the Corriere family has worked hard for 70 years to reach this point. “Maybe it’s the farmer mentality that gives us our hard-working drive; I haven’t taken a vacation in probably seven years, but I love every day,” he adds. “My father passed away two years ago at age 94, but worked right up until his late 70s.”

With the fourth generation in line to assume ownership, Keystone Food Products Inc. remains one of the few independently-owned snack-food manufacturers in the country.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Bunzl
CP Flexible Packaging