Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The C.J. Vitner Company, Chicago style snacks.

Marie and Charles Vitner founded the C.J. Vitner Company in 1926. The Company was originally formed as a collection of retail outlets consisting of five storefront shops selling candy, magazines, tobacco products, and ice cream on the southside of Chicago.

Once the Great Depression began and, with sales dwindling, Charles started looking for other opportunities to keep his business going. He saw that the tavern businesses were flourishing and thought that selling snack foods to the tavern trade would be the ideal way to help his business during those trying times.

Charles invested in a popcorn machine and put it into his store on South Ashland Avenue. The stores sold the fresh popcorn in paper bags to their walk-in customers and Charles then put the excess popcorn in five-gallon pails and peddled them to the local taverns out of the back of his car.

The concept went over well and Charles started distributing other items such as potato chips and pretzels to his growing list of local tavern customers.

By the end of the 1930s, Charles had developed a growing route distribution business with 6 route trucks on the street selling a variety of products exclusively to the tavern trade. He provided everything the taverns needed from soup to glassware and, of course, popcorn, potato chips, and pretzels.

In the late 1940s, Charles' son James, just out of the Army Air Corps, joined his father in the business and started looking for ways to further expand their customer base. By the early 1960s, with Jim's foresight, the C.J. Vitner Company had 13 route trucks and a budding wholesale department selling a complete line of snack foods to schools, jobbers, vendors, etc. They built a distribution facility at 6010 S. Kedzie Avenue in Chicago and continued to grow.

The 1970s saw another great expansion for the C.J. Vitner Company. First, an additional building was purchased at 59th & Kedzie to ease the congestion at the facility at 6010 S. Kedzie. Then, with Charles looking to retire, Jim brought in his son Bill, the third generation of the Vitner family to join the Vitner organization and together they relocated the Company to a larger facility at 4343 S. Tripp Ave on Chicago's southwest side.

Until 1977, the C.J. Vitner Company distributed only products bearing other company's brands such as Fairmont Foods, Chesty, Blue Star, and Rold Gold. The Vitners knew that if they wanted to continue to grow, they would need to establish their own brand, get into manufacturing and start selling products using the Vitner label.

In 1977 that opportunity presented itself when Blue Star Foods, a potato chip manufacturing company in Loves Park, Illinois went up for sale. Jim and Bill knew that this was a golden opportunity and purchased the 10-acre manufacturing facility lock, stock, and barrel and began producing products bearing the Vitner brand.

With the Vitner brand now appearing on the packaging, the Company really began to flourish. A 68,000 square foot facility at 4202 W. 45th St was purchased to handle the demand for the Vitner line of snack foods in the Chicagoland area.
As the Company moved into the 1980s, it also slowly transformed itself from its strong tavern business base to also delivering its products to convenience stores and supermarkets. By the mid-1980s The C.J. Vitner Company had 70 Direct Store Delivery routes and 6 Wholesale Distribution routes serving the Chicago land market.
In 1987 the Loves Park manufacturing facility was modernized and expanded. The 4.5 million dollar project included a state-of-the-art kitchen and the most advanced machinery available at that time. Vitners was not only servicing Illinois and the Chicago market but it also had distributors in eight neighboring states selling Vitner's Snacks in their local areas.

As the Company moved into the 1990s, management saw that they were rapidly outgrowing the Loves Park facility which was landlocked and had already been expanded to its fullest capacity. Sites all across the Midwest were investigated and considered but eventually, management chose a 55-acre site in Freeport, Illinois, not far from its existing manufacturing facility.

Construction started on the Freeport manufacturing facility in the early 1990s. The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in February of 1992 and was received with much fanfare from the local press and government officials. The plant was the most modern snack food-producing facility in the country with all state-of-the-art equipment. And, whereas the Loves Park plant only produced potato chips and popcorn, the added capacity of the Freeport facility added extruded products, corn chips, corn pops, and tortilla chips to the Vitner's Snacks product line.
In December of 2011, Vitner's Snacks was acquired by Snak King Corp., another family-owned and operated snack food manufacturer located in City of Industry, CA. Since the acquisition, Snak King Corp. has almost doubled the size of the Freeport manufacturing facility with future expansion a definite possibility looming on the near horizon. Snak King has once again elevated this manufacturing facility to an industry-standard state-of-the-art facility and added Vitner's Snacks to its ever-growing line of high-quality and delicious snacks.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up next to Jim & if I remember correctly Vivian Vitner in EP with Sue as my best friend & older brother Bill. They were incredibably nice people. Sorry I lost touch over the years Bonnie Martin- Kemper


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