Meet the Two Founders of Wisconsin’s Red Dot Foods, Inc.
We’d like to introduce you to two interesting characters — two people who’ve played an influential role in Wisconsin agribusiness and who became known for their knack for snacks. Meet Fred and Kathryne Meyer, founders of Red Dot Foods, Inc — a multi-million dollar snack company that was eventually merged with H.W. Lay & Company (yes, of potato chip fame) in 1961.
A recent issue of Agri-View provides a robust biography of Fred and Kathryne Meyer in celebration of their induction into the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower Association Hall of Fame (yes, we have a Hall of Fame). We’ve provided some of the highlights below:
- Frederick J. Meyer was born in 1910 and grew up in West Salem. the son of a grocer. In December of 1930, he married his college sweetheart, Kathryne (Kaye) Rossman of Marshfield.
- To support their studies at the University of Wisconsin, they invested $22 and purchased three cases of a salted confection called “Korn Parchies.” Fred branched out and began selling a variety of packaged foods to grocery stores in Madison from the back seat of his Chevrolet roadster.
- In 1932 Fred and Kathryne graduated with degrees in chemistry and commerce respectively and began to expand their food distribution business.
- The Fred J. Meyer Company grew over the next six years, adding staff, trucks, and new products. Kathryne (1908 – 1983) was an equal partner in the business.
- In response to the public’s love of potato chips, Fred purchased a continuous potato chip making machine in 1938 and renamed his company Red Dot Foods, Inc. Red Dot made and sold pretzels, popcorn, cookies, pork skins, and nuts, but potato chips remained the heart of the company’s identity.
- In 1942, the Meyers purchased over 4,000 acres of farm land in Oneida County, raising livestock as well as a number of different crops, including potatoes.
- In 1947 Fed began the search for a potato specifically bred for chipping. He worked closely with University of Wisconsin agricultural researchers and the potato breeding program to create the perfect potato for chips.
- In September 1948, Meyer made the momentous decision to discontinue food distribution for other suppliers and focus on the manufacturing and selling of Red Dot products.
- Over the next 11 years the company operated nine factories in the Midwest, purchased potato farms in northern Wisconsin and Alabama, and opened 83 branch warehouses. By 1961 Red Dot was the leading manufacturer of snack foods in the Midwest and one of the top five such companies in the United States. Its sales rose from $3.6 million in 1950 to over $20 million in 1960.
- In 1961, Red Dot Foods, Inc. merged with H.W. Lay & Company of Atlanta, Ga.