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This article by Barbara Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 15, 1999.
From Bagels to Jelly Bean Banks
In 1985, Warren and Sara Wilson thought the time was
ripe to combine a long-time American snack food with an ethnic favorite.
They married the potato chip and the bagel into a baked, low-fat and
low-cholesterol product called New York Style Bagel Chips. Sales figures
proven them right as did the success, two years later, of another
ethnic foods-influenced product, New York Style Pita Chips. Then someone
else developed an appetite for their products — the Nabisco Foods
Group of Parsippany, which bought their company seven years ago.
Keeping their office in Montgomery Knoll, the Wilsons worked in the
area of fat-free snacks, but that category has faltered over the last
two years, says Warren Wilson. "Consumers are demanding a better
tasting product with more fat." They discontinued their fat-free
food research last year.
Now the Wilsons have moved into a new arena: combining snacks with
licensed sports products. "We make the bottle banks, the 10-inch
tall bank filled with jelly beans that match the color of the sports
logo," says Wilson. The souvenir products are sold at places like
Waterfront Park, home of the Trenton Thunder, and include a popcorn
bank, filled with all natural popcorn made with canola oil. "When
you eat the popcorn it is a bank for your kid’s room," says Wilson.
Sam’s Clubs offers a two-foot bank that sells at around $10; soon
the Sports Authority will sell 20-inch banks, priced at $12 or $13.
"We have over 200 sports teams to sell throughout the United States,"
says Wilson. Fans of hockey, football, basketball, baseball, and more
than 50 college and university teams will be able to buy bottle banks
with their team’s logo. Banks are also going to be available to represent
five NASCAR drivers. Jelly beans will be packaged with WCW wrestling
logos. A stocking stuffer for sports fans: A tree ornament in the
shape of a logo with a popcorn ball inside.
This business has its roots in funnel cakes. When he was a Villanova
student, Warren Wilson operated a funnel cake stand at the Allentown
fair. Encouraged by his parents (he was a dentist, she an opera singer)
he took funnel cakes from being a mere regional food specialty, suitable
for street fairs, and patented an apparatus so it could be commercialized
as a national attraction for malls and amusement parks.
Along the way, he encountered his future wife. Sara’s parents were
entrepreneurs who worked together in a plastics extrusion business.
She studied nutrition and food at Centenary College, Class of 1973,
but had a job in advertising after graduation. She met Warren when
he was operating a funnel cake stand at Paramus Park and they began
working together, energized by each other’s ideas. "We fuel each
other, talking about our schemes and things we want to do," says
Sara Wilson. The pair married in 1982 and have two children, ages
eight and nine.
At the Montgomery Knoll office, Warren is responsible for sales and
production and Sara works in product development, advertising, and
licensing. In addition to maintaining this 14-person office, the company
leases space in three factories, two in Pennsylvania and one in south
"After owning factories for the bagel chips, we found it very
stressful to keep the production lines going," says Sara, "and
we decided our specialty is being creative and finding niches and
marketing. We were determined to get a mainstream item that could
theoretically be in every household."
As for product development, it takes place in the Wilsons’ kitchens,
either at their home in Princeton or at the shore. "We go out
of our way to make a family evening with our meal," she says.
"I love to cook."
— Barbara Fox
Princeton 08543-3562. Warren Wilson, president. 609-683-5400; fax,
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