It's snack time in America.
Because of a boom in East Coasters' appetite for corn chips, popcorn and pretzels, the world's biggest snack-food maker announced yesterday that it would build a plant in Aberdeen.
Frito-Lay Inc. said it plans to start construction during the summer on a plant that will employ 300 workers by 1992 and may eventually have a work force of 500.
To persuade Frito-Lay to build its first plant in Maryland, the state agreed to give Harford County a $500,000 grant to improve its sewer system and to provide up to $100,000 for training for the plant's workers, said Marilyn Corbett, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.
Frito-Lay spokeswoman Barbara Holtz said yesterday that the company decided to add to its existing 40-plant network because "we basically noticed an increase in snacking in the Northeast" and that Aberdeen's closeness to Interstate 95 and railroad lines made it a perfect location to serve the market.
She said the plant will likely make several of the company's snack foods.
Plano, N.Y.-based Frito-Lay, which controls about half the nation's $9.8 billion-a-year salty snack food market, makes 100 products including Frito corn chips, Doritos tortilla chips, Smartfood popcorn and Lay's potato chips.
If anything, Ms. Holtz said, the economic crunch has stimulated Americans' desire to munch. Snacking on chips offers people "a little fun in their life. Our products cost from 25 cents to $3. People can still afford that," she said, explaining that a trend toward brown-bagging lunches has been a boon for the company.
In fact, said John Maxwell, a stock analyst who follows the Pepsico subsidiary for Wheat First Securities in Virginia, Frito-Lay's sales have been booming.
Frito-Lay has predicted that new products such as its multigrain chips designed to attract health-conscious noshers will help the company maintain 8 to 10 percent annual increases in sales, Mr. Maxwell said. Frito-Lay reported sales of $4.9 billion for 1990.
So far this year, Frito-Lay is keeping to its ambitious track, he said, noting that the total pounds of Frito-Lay snack food sold in the first three months of 1991 was 9 percent ahead of 1990's first quarter.
"They are doing an excellent job," he said.
Though the company hasn't decided exactly what products it will make in Aberdeen, Ms. Holtz said there were some items that are uniquely popular in the Northeast region the plant will serve.
Northeasterners are inordinately fond of salt and vinegar-flavored potato chips, pretzels and popcorn, she said.
Ironically, Marylanders and residents of other states on the southern end of the Eastern Seaboard eat less salty snacks than folks in the rest of the nation, she noted.
New Englanders eat the most salty snacks, according to statistics compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Snack Food Association.
New Englanders eat 26.71 pounds of snack foods a year apiece, far more than the national average per-capita consumption of 18.52 pounds, the trade association reported. Mid- and South-Atlantic residents eat the least amount of snack foods, consuming only about 16.5 pounds per person a year.
Eileen Rehrmann, executive of Harford County, said yesterday that she was excited by the announcement because it would add jobs and broaden the region's economy.