Lay's Potato Chips Had A Humble Start

Today, Lay's potato chips are thriving. According to Statista, they were the highest-selling chip in 2021 and the first few months of 2022, selling over $3 billion worth of chips and taking up about 41% of the potato chip market during that timeframe. And the second and third-place finishers weren't even close — Ruffles sold about $1.5 billion during those years, while Pringles had around $1.2 billion in sales. It seems like Lay's motto of "betcha can't eat just one" really rang true for consumers.

Yet Lay's wasn't always the booming business it is now. The brand has been successful for a long time — by 1957, Lay's made $16 million in gross revenue and was the biggest snack food company in the country. But there was a time when the brand was as simple as the potato chip itself. About 25 years before its massive revenue surge, the chips had a modest start, and you may be surprised to learn how they got to where they are today.

Herman Lay first sold chips out of the back of his car

The start of Lay's potato chips goes all the way back to Greenville, South Carolina, in the early 1900s. Back when Herman W. Lay was 10 years old, he developed his entrepreneurial skills by selling soda in his front yard. Then during the Great Depression, an older Lay sold chips from the back of his car on the side of the street. These first versions of Lay's were actually made by a company in Georgia, and after selling its chips for six years, Lay bought the business and named it H.W. Lay & Company.

So what was it about Lay that made him such a successful salesman? He grew up watching his father, who sold machinery in North Carolina. As Lay told The New York Times, "He did it softly and with care. It was a pleasure to watch him because he did it so well." Lay knew he had a tasty chip that everyone loved, and he built such a strong rapport with people that they became lifelong customers.

Lay's potato chips were officially introduced in 1944. Lay changed his company's name to Lay's Potato Chips, began advertising his product on TV, and watched sales soar from there. But although his brand became incredibly successful, Lay never lost his genuine love for connecting with others and helping them succeed.