One of the many businesses that emerged in the early years of crisp commercialisation was Blue Star. Blue Star’s story is in many ways typical of the many crisp producers of the time. The family business was founded in 1939, in Madison, Wisconsin. As demand for its crisps grew, the company moved to Rockford, Illinois, expanding during the mid-century crisp boom, before declining and closing down in 1977.
Many of the smaller crisp companies in America and the UK were gradually eaten up by bigger ones, or found they couldn’t compete. By the 1970s, the crisp world was dominated by the big few.
In its time, however, Blue Star was extremely successful. It was good at marketing, too, with a snappy tagline, “Better than you thought the best”, promotional materials such as match books, and even a recipe book, Tips for Chips: 60 Ways to Serve Blue Star Chips and Blue Star Ruffles.
As well as distributing their own label crisps, Blue Star Foods supplied crisps to Leonard Japp Sr, who ran a Chicago-based snack food distribution business, supplying small Chicago grocery stores with a wide variety of goods. In 1934, Japp began packaging under his own brand name, Mrs Japp’s. Japp had previously sourced his potato crisps from two other suppliers, but was unhappy with the quality of the first (Mrs Fletcher’s Chips); and the second (Special Foods, Madison) went bust.
Eugenia Japp, Leonard’s wife, came up with the concept of placing recipes on the packaging to give consumers ideas of how to use and adapt their products. America was in the midst of the Depression, and Eugenia Japp was especially interested in helping housewives stretch their food budgets. One of the recipes she developed, printed on Blue Star Foods packaging, became an American classic: Tuna Noodle Casserole with Crumbled Potato Chips on Top.
In 1940, Japp’s became so successful that demand for their crisps outstripped supply. They established their own crisp-making business in 1940 and their association with Blue Star ended. (Japp’s was renamed Jay’s during the War. You can find out more about Jay’s crisps here.)
Blue Star continued to expand, moving to larger premises in April 1945; and moving again, in 1960, to a 10,000 square foot factory, where Blue Star potato crisps continued to be produced until the company closed in 1977.