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Is Utz Quality Foods seeking next target in ‘acquisition mode’?

Since 2009, Utz Quality Foods Inc. has been on a bold mission to hit $1 billion in sales — more than doubling its business — before the company hits its 100th birthday in 2021, and with three key acquisitions in the last two years, the snack food company could be seeking that next buy to put it over the top.

Hanover-based Utz, which makes potato chips, pretzels and other salty snacks, recently upgraded its communications infrastructure at its factories, warehouses and offices around the U.S. to improve operations.

The company partnered with Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp. and Camp Hill-based Morefield Communications Inc. to upgrade its Internet connections to Comcast’s larger- capacity Ethernet solutions using fiber optics.

The upgrades were important to standardize Utz’s facilities, especially after the company’s acquisitions in recent years, said J. Ed Smith, Utz’s chief information officer.

“We just have a lot more technical capabilities at a lower cost,” he said.

The changes weren’t just an operational upgrade, but also Utz’s preparation for the future, given the company’s “acquisition mode” in recent years, Smith said. The upgrades open excess capacity on its communications infrastructure so Utz is poised for the next acquisition without technical roadblocks, he said.

“I wouldn’t have any concerns,” Smith said.

Dylan Lissette, president and chief operating officer, would not say whether Utz has yet closed in on another acquisition, but he did say the company continues to innovate, change and grow.

The snack food industry is changing rapidly, and many companies have been using mergers and acquisitions to compete with larger regional and national competitors such as Frito-Lay, or even Utz’s cross-town rival, Snyder’s-Lance Inc.

“Consolidation in the industry is going to continue for many of the smaller independent manufacturers and brands out there,” Lissette said.

Times have been good for the snack food industry over the years. People’s snacking habits became more frequent since 2009, according to an industry study by the research group IRI for the Snack Food Association, a Virginia-based trade group. In 2012, 43 percent of Americans were snacking three to four times daily, up from 24 percent three years earlier.

Jim T. Ryan

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