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Laid Off and Unstoppable, Here's How Herman Lay Built the Billion-Dollar Lay’s Empire

Recognizing the value of convenience and freshness, Lay made use of new packaging innovations to keep his chips crispy and his consumers satisfied.
Image Source: Lays Instagram
Image Source: Lays Instagram

We have loved and savored Lay's chips. The perfect combination with soda. However, have you ever wondered about the brand's backstory? It's a tale of resilience anf entrepreneurial spirit. The history of Lay's starts with Herman Lay and a very unfortunate pink slip. Born in 1909, Lay wasn't a bookworm. While textbooks may not have excited him, selling sure did. He was an expert in business even as a teenager, operating a profitable soda shop. He was not planning to attend college; instead, he was drawn to the fast-paced field of business.

To pursue his ideal job in the food industry, he dropped out and got a position at Sunshine Biscuits. But in 1929, the Great Depression struck the American economy. Like many others, Lay found himself unemployed at the young age of 20. This setback sparked something in him. A layoff wouldn't define him; he would create something unique.

Image Source: Lays Instagram
Lay's chips packets | Lay's Instagram

In Nashville, Tennessee, Lay stumbled upon a new opportunity – potato chips. These crispy treats were still a novelty back then, often stale and lacking in portability. But wax paper bags made them a game-changer. Lay saw the potential in these chips and began offering them to his customers on the road. A young Lay traveled around town in his Ford Model A, with a trunk full of chips. This was the start of an empire, not just a job. Recognizing the value of convenience and freshness, Herman Lay made use of new packaging innovations to keep his chips crispy and his consumers satisfied.

Encouraged by his early success, Lay decided to take a chance. After obtaining a loan, he bought a dealership from a previous employer and gave it the new name H.W. Lay. He persuaded financiers to support his acquisition of the whole potato chip company he was employed for. His idea was to provide potato chips as a tasty and reasonably priced delight for every American. Lay realized that he would have to maintain his competitive edge even as Lay's chips rapidly won over a devoted customer base. By becoming the first snack food firm to use television advertising, he made yet another audacious move. Do you recall the famous Lay's catchphrase, "Betcha can't eat just one?" They also invited the Wizard of Oz's Cowardly Lion to serve as their celeb spokesperson.

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A post shared by Lay's (@lays)

It wasn't only marketing wizardry that Lay's had in store. Another essential component was innovation. They brought crinkle-cut chips to the world, a miracle of design that reduced chip breaking in the bag. They also became innovators in the field of flavored chips, introducing beloved flavors like cheese and onion and salt and vinegar, which still excite palates. Although there was a lot of competition, Lay's was a dominant power by the 1960s.

Another enormous chip company, Frito, was closing in on them. Never one to back down from a challenge, Lay the cunning merchant chose to team up. To create Frito-Lay, the first nationwide snack food brand in America, he masterminded a historic merger. And who did you think stayed in charge? Lay showed his commercial savvy once more.

Frito-Lay didn't sit back and take it all in. They then established their snacking empire by introducing brands like Pringles, Doritos, and Funyuns. They combined with PepsiCo as well, acquiring the means to broaden their influence internationally.

Lay's has become a worldwide sensation, providing an astounding array of more than 200 flavours, ranging from BBQ to seaweed. They also offer a program where you may become the next big chip phenomenon and earn a million dollars. Lay's transformation from an unemployed salesman to the reigning snack king is incredibly motivating. It is proof of the strength of perseverance, a healthy dose of risk-taking, and a ton of flavor. So, keep in mind the man behind the crunch the next time you grab a bag of Lay's!