The Utz Girl has arrived on Wall Street.
The nearly century-old Hanover, Pennsylvania-based chip and pretzel brand, long a Baltimore favorite, has gone public as Utz Brands Inc. Trading kicked off Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.
The former family-owned Utz Quality Foods merged with consumer goods acquisition firm Collier Creek Holdings to form a public company, still based in Hanover. The Rice and Lissette family, Utz’s founding family, now owns just over half the company and remains its largest shareholder, the company said as it announced the closing of the deal Friday.
The common stock trades under the UTZ ticker symbol. Shares closed Monday at $18.40, up more than 12.5%.
Utz salty snacks were first made in 1921 in Pennsylvania, but sold mostly across the state line in the Baltimore area. Founders Bill and Salie Utz cooked chips in their kitchen, then traveled to the city to sell them by the pound out of metal cans at city markets, including Lexington and Cross Street markets, and small grocers.
Baltimore has been part of Utz’s core market ever since, for years a leading potato chip brand in Baltimore-area supermarkets that took market share from bigger and more nationally entrenched companies such as Frito-Lay.
Utz currently accounts for 46% of the region’s potato chip sales, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago market research company. In the past year, Utz potato chips have generated $29.7 million in sales in the area, a year-over-year jump of more than 14%.
The iconic brand is linked to its famous logo, the apple-cheeked, yet nameless “Little Utz Girl.” For years she greeted drivers on Interstate-83 north just west of Penn Station from a billboard put up by Timonium-based Smyth Jewelers.
The ad showed National Bohemian’s “Mr. Boh” proposing to the Utz Girl with a diamond ring. It ran from 2007 until 2014 when the billboard owner switched to a video format.
Utz, which is on track for $932 million in sales this year, now owns a snack portfolio that includes Utz, Zapp’s, Golden Flake, Boulder Canyon, TORTIYAHS! and other brands. It makes potato chips, pretzels, cheese snacks, veggie snacks, pork skins and tortilla chips at 14 U.S. manufacturing plants in Pennsylvania and seven other states.
The family owners have spent the past decade building Utz into a national brand through acquisitions and geographic growth.
The deal with Collier will allow the company to pursue its goal of becoming the fastest-growing branded snack company in a growing salty snack category, said Dylan Lissette, Utz’s CEO since 2013 and a member of the founding family, in an announcement. He said the company plans to expand through increased marketing, new products, geographic growth and acquisitions.
Going public “marks a significant milestone and will fuel our next century of growth after nearly 100 years as a family-owned business,” Lissette said in the announcement.
Lissette will continue to lead the business with the existing management team, the company said. Collier Creek co-founder Roger Deromedi, a former CEO of Kraft Foods, will become chairman of Utz Brands, and its board will be made up of a majority of independent directors.
“Utz is an iconic company with a strong portfolio of beloved snack brands, growing positions in the salty snack category, and a competitively advantaged manufacturing and distribution network,” Deromedi said in an announcement.
Utz’s founding family sold only about 10% of its pre-transaction stake, but most of the merger proceeds went to pay down debt, leaving the family with just over 50% ownership. The family is the largest shareholder, followed by public investors, then Collier Creek.
Collier Creek invested $453 million, plus a $35 million private placement from its sponsor and directors, that was used to pay the current Utz owners, as well as transaction expenses, and reduce Utz Brands’ outstanding debt.
Last October, Utz acquired Snyder of Berlin, a rival snack food company that is separate from another rival, Snyder’s of Hanover.
In 2016, Utz acquired Alabama-based Golden Enterprises, which owns the Golden Flake brand of chips and pork rinds. That deal was financed with an investment that year from Metropoulos & Co., a family-owned investment firm and former owner of National Bohemian.