23ºF

Uniquely Detroit: History behind iconic Better Made Potato Chips

DETROIT – Since 1930, Better Made Potato Chips have been a staple of Detroit.

In 1930, two entrepreneurial Detroiters and Sicilian immigrants, Cross Moceri and Peter Cipriano, became partners in a potato chip business first known as Cross & Peter Company.

The name was changed to Better Made when the Ciprianos bought out the Moceri family. 

The business moved from its home operation to East McDougall Street where their success took hold. The company had retail branches throughout the city, some next door to movie theaters, at a time when concession stands were unknown.

Chips were first sold in hand-stapled bags of waxed paper, sometimes hawked door-to-door or from stands on Belle Isle. In the mid-1940s the company moved to a spot on Woodward Avenue near the Fox Theatre. After World War II, needing room for expansion, they settled into their current location on Gratiot Avenue between Harper Avenue and French Road.

At one time there were over 20 potato chip manufacturers in Detroit. The New Era company merged with Frito in 1958, who merged with Lay in 1961. To compete with national brands, Better Made produced its first flavored chip, barbecue, in 1973, with a sour cream chip & onion chip following.

Over time Better Made has diversified its products, offering different cuts in numerous flavors. The plant also makes several types of corn chips, pork rinds, popcorn, pretzels, cheese puffs, dips and salsas.

Related: Check out a book by Karen Dybis on the history of Better Made.

How it's made

Better Made became not only a brand name but a way of doing business. Even in the early days of the company, only the best ingredients and methods were used.

At first, production was simple. Burlap bagged, select potatoes were cooked in the best oil available, weighed, and hand packed into crude, greaseless bags. Distribution was chiefly through the company's own store outlets, which later grew into small delivery routes.

Today, Better Made uses 60 million pounds of chip potatoes every year and the entire process is a little more complex. The potatoes are purchased in bulk (45,000 to 85,000 pounds per truck load) and unloaded from delivery trucks which are lifted by a hydraulic lift. The potatoes are then transported by conveyors to storage bins.

As needed the potatoes are automatically conveyed to the fryers where they are washed, peeled, sliced, and inspected. Next, the potato slices are conveyed to temperature-controlled cookers where only 100% cottonseed oil is used.

The cooked chips are then lightly salted and automatically advanced by an overhead vibrating conveyor system to automatic packaging machines that weigh, form, fill, and seal the finished bags.

Better Made's over 85 years of progress have all been made in Detroit, using Michigan potatoes for ten months of the year and drawing from Mother Nature's harvest schedule in Florida, Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, Minnesota, or wherever the best potatoes are available for the remainder of the year.

Watch Alex Atwell's Uniquely Detroit feature story on Better Made in the video player above.

Want to check out the factory? Tours are available here.

Take a scroll through Better Made history below:

Sources: Better Made, Detroit Historical Museum


About the Author: