We’re always going to root for tiny local food startups — you know, those gutsy, innovative food artisans making small batches of kombucha, preserves, vinegar, pickles and other fine goods to sell at farmers markets and small shops. But, we can’t forget the power players, the big names who started out small way back when, and have grown big, all the while helping to put Pennsylvania on the international culinary map. While some of these might not have the cache of smaller indie brands, they are the companies who have invested in our local communities, strengthened our state economy and helped to put PA-made products in kitchens all over America.
Here are 23 iconic PA food brands to know:
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If you’ve ever had a meal at a university, hospital, ballpark or other huge venue, chances are, it was provided by Aramark. This insanely huge company (its revenue in 2018 tops $15.5 billion — yeah, that’s a “b”) operates in over 20 countries worldwide, but its home base is right here in PA. With an eye on innovation, Aramark opened what’s believed to be the first gluten-free concession stand in major league baseball at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. In 2017, it partnered with The Humane Society as part of an effort to increase plant-based food offerings for consumers, such as a vegetarian quinoa poke bowl at the Wells Fargo Center.
Auntie Anne’s (Lancaster)
Buttery, fresh-from-the-oven soft pretzels might seem ubiquitous to us now, but there was a time not so long ago when they were a very niche Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, relatively unknown to people outside of our region. Anne Beiler started the pretzel company in 1988 as a way to help fund the free family counseling services that her husband provided for their community. From Auntie Anne’s modest start at a farm stand at the Downingtown Farmers Market to now, there are over 1,500 locations around the world at shopping malls, travel plazas, university campuses and more. The company has brought the delight of hot, squishy soft pretzels to the masses!
Bassetts Ice Cream (Philadelphia)
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Beautiful ice cream…. . . . . . . .we love our fans! #milkshake #phillyfoodie #bassettsicecream #icecream #readingterminalmarket #philadelphia #americasoldest #americasbest #worldfamous #icecreamofinsta #bassetts #iscreamforicecream #familybusiness #familyowned #shoplocal #yummy #foodporn #eatphilly #food #foodie #love #lovephilly #phillylove #phillyfood #eater #thrillest #philly
Though you’ll find only one Bassetts Ice Cream retail location, inside the Reading Terminal Market in Philly, this high-quality ice cream is distributed all over PA, throughout New York and Florida, and in locations abroad. This six-generation family-owned and -operated company was founded in 1861 by Lewis Dubois Bassett, a Quaker school teacher and farmer, in his backyard in Salem, New Jersey (using a mule-turned churn!). In 1885, he began selling out of a shop at 5th & Market Streets, and in 1892, Bassett moved the operation to Reading Terminal Market — in the same location where it still stands today.
Dietz & Watson (Philadelphia)
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T&F is a family-owned deli located in Roxborough, specializing in a very important Philly food: hoagies. Guess why we like them. When you walk in T&F, you’re gonna get treated like family and fed like it, too. They’ve got everything you need for your gatherings: pastas, desserts, and trays of hoagies. Did we mention they’re known for very delicious hoagies? Stop in for daily specials and to talk all things Eagles. #DeliProOfTheMonth
Hoagies (or subs, or whatever you prefer to call them) are serious business in PA! Whether you go for a fully loaded Italian or a vegetarian three-cheese, premium ingredients are a must. Dietz & Watson‘s deli meats and cheeses, as well as hot dogs and sausages, can be found all over the country, but the family-run company’s HQ is in Philadelphia, where Gottlieb Dietz founded it in 1939. Though Dietz & Watson has obviously grown in the past 80 years, it still uses many recipes from Gottlieb’s original recipe book, handcrafts its own spice blends and hand trims and slow roasts its meats. Plus, all of its products are made without the use of artificial colors, flavors, fillers, extenders or MSG.
For nearly 150 years, Heinz has been practically synonymous with ketchup in America. And, in the process, the condiment king ping has made its mark on Pittsburgh’s identity. Henry J. Heinz founded the company in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania in 1869, using the now-famous “57 Varieties” slogan as a riff on a shoe advertisement that Heinz liked. Heinz started out actually making over 60 products — there weren’t actually 57 varieties of ketchup, but the tomato ketchup was one of the 60 products. Other original Heinz products included all sorts of pickles and relishes, soups, olives, mustard and vinegar. Though the company has grown exponentially, including a merger with the Kraft Foods Group in 2015, it continues to maintain its reputation as a Pittsburgh-proud company, with its name on the Steelers’ and Panthers’ home field and the annual Picklesburgh pickle festival held in the city each summer.
Pennsylvania is really, really good at making snack foods. Exhibit #1: Herr’s in Nottingham (in Southeastern PA, very close to the border with Maryland) is a leading brand in the modern snack-scape, manufacturing over 340 items on the market, including its famous potato chips, as well as pretzels, tortilla chips, cheese curls, popcorn, crackers, nuts and more! Founded in 1946 by James Stauffer Herr, this company overcame many hurdles, including a devastating fire in 1951, to earn its place at the top of the snack food pyramid. Its Snack Factory doubles as a fun foodies tourist destination, with a visitor’s center, walking tours, a gift shop filled with merchandise and snacks, and there’s an epic drive-through lights display during the holiday season.
Is there any company more Pennsylvania than Hershey’s? While Hershey’s has gone out and pretty much conquered the world of candy, its got its HQ and an awesome amusement park in the middle of PA. Founder Milton S. Hershey seems to have been a sort of candy whisperer: He started his first candy shop in 1873 in Philadelphia, and after learning to make caramel, he founded the Lancaster Caramel Company in 1886. After seeing chocolate-making machines at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Hershey sold the caramel company in 1900 for $1,000,000 (that would be like $29,416,000 today), to fully focus on chocolate at the plant he built in his hometown of Derry Church, Pennsylvania (later named Hershey). Reportedly, Hershey claimed that, “Caramels are just a fad, but chocolate is a permanent thing.” How right he was! In addition to the famous Hershey’s Kisses, syrup, cocoa powder and chocolate bars, Hershey’s now owns and manufactures numerous other confection and snack brands, including Reese’s and Kit Kat products, in over 60 countries worldwide.
Just Born (Bethlehem)
If you don’t like Peeps, the sugar-encrusted seasonal marshmallows, we can’t be friends. Seriously, has there every been a confection more perfect? Peeps, along with other candy classics like Mike & Ike’s, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and Hot Tamales are all made by Just Born, a third-generation, family-owned company in the Lehigh Valley. Founder Sam Born opened a candy shop in New York City in 1923, where a sign in the window announced when his candies were fresh, or “Just Born.” In 1932, Born moved his operation to an empty printing factory in Bethlehem, PA.
Love Peeps as much as we do? Check out the annual PEEPSFEST® held every year on December 30 and 31 at the Steel Stacks in Bethlehem. This two-day family festival celebrates all things Peeps, including a Chick Drop and fireworks!
Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms (Lansdale)
Part of the huge brands holdings of Dean Foods in Texas, Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms is still based in Lansdale, where it was founded. Milk for this brand is collected from farms across PA, and is upheld to rigorous standards, like no artificial growth hormones and no antibiotic testing. Its expansive product line includes milk, flavored milk, iced tea, juice, sour cream, cottage cheese and more.
Martin’s Potato Chips (Thomasville)
Martin’s, makers of chips, popcorn, cheese curls and other snack-y products is based in York County and employs over 190 folks from the community. After 75 years in business, Martin’s knows how to make a mean potato chip, prioritizing fresh ingredients and high quality. If you’re currently living outside of PA and craving a taste of home, you’ll be happy to know that Martin’s has an online store, where you can order cult favorites, like BBQ waffle chips and and Kettle Cook’d Jalapeno chips right to your front door.
Martin’s Potato Rolls (Chambersburg)
If you’re looking for the platonic ideal of sandwich roll, look no further than Martin’s Potato Rolls: Sweet, buttery and soft, but with enough structure to stand up to lunch meat or a burger, these really are the best. Martin’s, headquartered in Chambersburg, PA, is a family-owned and -operated company, founded in the 1950s by Lois and Lloyd Martin. In 1955, the couple converted their garage into a small bakery and sold through farmers markets. Their company grew over the decades, and now consists of two commercial baking plants, with a line of bread products that are distributed to most major markets.
Musselman’s (Peach Glen)
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Since 1907 Musselman's Apple Sauce has been made right here in the U.S. The farmers who grow the apples also own the company, so we plan on being around to support these farming families for many years to come. . #MUSSELMANS #APPLESAUCE #homemadetaste #Americangrownapples #farmerowned #farmers #Americanfarms #healthysnacking #snackhealthy #snacking #kidssnacks
For over 100 years, Musselman’s, located in the apple-growing heart of PA in Adams County, has crafted quality apple sauce, apple butter and apple juice. The apples for these products come from a growing cooperative, over 100 farming families strong, that represent 15,000 acres of orchards. Musselman’s parent company is Knouse Foods, in Peach Glen, which also manufactures Lucky Leaf pie fillings.
Philly Pretzel Factory (Bensalem)
There’s a lot riding on your brand when you’re representing one of the most iconic PA foods, but Philly Pretzel Factory nails it every time! The first location of this now-franchised chain opened in Northeast Philadelphia’s Mayfair neighborhood in 1998. Soft pretzels were available from street vendors across the city, but at Philly Pretzel Factory, they were always fresh out of the oven, a concept which soon became a hit. You’ll find locations in 12 states, but its headquarters remains close to home in Bensalem.
Sheetz, a chain of gas station/convenience stores, has a rabid fan following only rivaled by Wawa (more on that below). Is it the made-to-order comfort food classics, like tater tots and popcorn chicken (which can be ordered through its smartphone app), the coffee bar, 24-hour convenience or the clever marketing that people love the most? Likely, it’s a combination of all of those! Bob Sheetz founded Sheetz, Inc. in 1952 when he purchased one of his father’s five dairy stores located in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Cut to 1983, and Sheetz had over 100 locations, mainly in central PA. Today, Sheetz’s footprint extends to six states with hundreds of stores.
Snyder’s of Hanover (Hanover)
Snyder’s of Hanover, which began as a small bakery founded in 1909 in Hanover, PA by Harry Warehime, now has sales not just only across the U.S., but on every continent except for Antarctica (give it time). In 2010, the company merged with Lance Inc., which is now one of the largest snack food companies in the country. Then, in December 2017, Campbell Soup acquired Snyder’s-Lance for $4.9 billion. Despite the growth and changes, Snyder’s of Hanover still maintains a bustling factory in Hanover, where it offers free tours of its facility for snack-loving tourists.
Starbucks, as you almost surely know, was founded in Seattle, Washington. But, did you know that one of its largest roasting plants and its largest distribution center are in York, PA? Over three million pounds of coffee every week are roasted in this location, which has been open for over 20 years and employs more than 500 people. The distribution center, which underwent a major expansion in 2016, supplies products to Starbucks stores and grocery channels across the Northeast. That means, if you order a coffee drink at a Starbucks anywhere in Pennsylvania, the beans almost surely came from the plant in York!
Butterscotch Krimpets, Kandy Kakes, Snowballs, Snack Kakes … for so many Pennsylvanians, Tastykakes aren’t just fun sweet treats: They’re the taste of pure nostalgia. Philip Bauer founded the Tasty Baking Company in 1909 in Pittsburgh, and in 1914 partnered with Herbert Morris, an egg salesman, to create a line of individually wrapped snack cakes. During the next century, the company grew significantly, and became a household name in many PA homes. In 2009, Tastykake closed its bakery in Huntington Park amidst much hand-wringing from local residents, but it kept its new production facility local, settling in the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. In 2011, Tasting Baking merged with Flower Foods and took Tastykakes national.
Turkey Hill (Conestoga)
Founded in the 1930s in the southern end of PA Dutch Country by dairy farmer Armor Frey, Turkey Hill didn’t add ice cream to its production until 1980. Now its biggest product, Turkey Hill ice cream can be found in supermarket freezers all over the county, with lines of frozen novelties and beverages rounding out its traditional ice cream products. Still located in Lancaster County, with plenty of PA pride, Turkey Hill is committed to doing its part for the environment with a series of Green Initiatives.
What was started as a small potato chip company in 1921 by William and Salie Utz is now a snack empire. Today, it includes an ever-growing sales market and a range of brands under the Utz umbrella, including Bachman, Zapp’s, Dirty, Golden Flake, Good Health, Snikiddy, Boulder Canyon, TGI Fridays Snacks and TORTIYAHS! Today, Utz is the largest independent, privately held snack brand in United States, and it produces over 3.3 million pounds of snacks per week (!), much of it made in Utz’s 600,000-square foot facility in Hanover, PA, where public tours are offered.
Victory Brewing Company (Downingtown)
Long before craft beer was a “thing,” Victory Brewing Company opened its first brewpub in Downingtown in 1996. Between now and then, the company has grown in a big way, opening more taproom locations in PA and expanding its distribution to 35 states (plus Washington, D.C.) and to nine countries: Australia, the Cayman Islands, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Despite its steady and seemingly unstoppable growth, Victory remains committed to the homegrown brewing community and the local environment.
Hoagies and coffee: Without these two food groups, we suspect Pennsylvania would fall apart. Thankfully, there is Wawa, one of the most beloved local brands, providing made-to-order hoagies, fresh and inexpensive coffee and so much more. Walk into any Wawa in PA during lunchtime and you’ll see the beauty of this place: people from all walks of life grabbing lunch, a newspaper or some java. The first Wawa store opened in 1964 in Folsom, PA, and now this chain boasts 800 locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, and Washington, D.C, many of which feature gas stations, coffee bars, small grocery sections and more. The Wawa headquarters is in Media, PA, where the original Wawa dairy farm was located.
America’s oldest brewery, Yuengling‘s story begins way back in 1829, when David G. Yuengling, an immigrant from Germany, established the Eagle Brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The brand has become so synonymous with PA beer that locals regularly refer to it simply as “lager” when ordering at bars and restaurants. The company is now in its sixth generation, currently owned and operated by Richard (Dick) Yuengling, Jr., and his four daughters are all part of the Yuengling staff. The brewery is still located in Pottsville, and is open for tours, drinks and merch shopping (we think it makes a great day trip), and its products, including the Golden Pilsner that was launched in 2018, are distributed to 24 states in the Eastern U.S.
What food brands do you think are pure Pennsylvania? Let us know!
- Feature photo: Renee Rosensteel for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership