Fresh mini pretzels await packaging.

Fresh mini pretzels await packaging

King Nut and Summer Harvest: If you’ve ever enjoyed an airline snack at 35,000 feet and inspected the wrapper, chances are you are familiar with one, or both, of these name brands. They, alongside Peterson Nut Co., make up the King Nut Companies family. As a fan of the airline industry, and the companies that support it, I’ve long been familiar with King Nut, and have spotted their products on numerous airlines. Plus, here at AirlineReporter, we love telling the behind-the-scenes stories of the airline world.

A few years back, I was excited to learn that they sometimes sell direct to the public the same airline-branded snacks I’ve come to know, love, and expect up in the air. I’ve made it a habit to occasionally place orders with them online in order to bring AvGeek-themed snacks to various gatherings; we even had their product at my son’s airline-themed birthday party.

A sack of honey roasted peanuts passes through an X-ray

A sack of honey roasted peanuts passes through an X-ray machine

I guess you could say I’m nuts for King Nut (you knew at some point I had to make that joke – figured I should get it out of the way). And while I’m a fan of their products, I never took the time to really learn about what it takes to get these snacks into the hands (and bellies) of passengers.

That opportunity presented itself recently, when I was in the Cleveland area on business. It just so happens that the King Nut facilities are less than a mile from one of my company’s offices in Solon, Ohio. I reached out to Mr. Martin Kanan, President and Chief Executive Officer, to see about a tour and for a chance to learn about their company – he was happy to do so. Sit back, relax, grab some snacks, and prepare to drool over some seriously tasty snackage photos and facts…

Southwest Airlines' Signature Honey Roasted Peanuts

Southwest Airlines’ signature Honey Roasted Peanuts

The building is hard to miss – large lettering scrolls across the front: King Nut / Summer Harvest / Peterson Nut Companies. Signage aside, I knew I had arrived at the birth place of Southwest’s honey roasted peanuts when I stepped out of the car and found myself basking in the aroma of freshly roasted peanuts. The toasty sweet smell took the edge off of the bitterly cold Ohio winter air.

During my short wait in the lobby, which of course was stocked with plenty of sample snacks, I took the opportunity to watch a well produced corporate identity video which was playing on loop. Minutes later I was greeted by the snack Chief himself, Martin, or as his employees call him, “Marty” Kanan.

The King Nut facility in Solon, Ohio- Photo: Clum Media

The King Nut facility in Solon, Ohio – Photo: Clum Media

About the King Nut

King Nut traces its roots back to 1927, then a supplier to local bars and later sports venues. Humble roots for a company that now serves all but one of the “big six” domestic airlines, plus a number of foreign carriers. The entire company’s footprint is in Northeast Ohio: two factories across the street from one another, plus a distribution center just down the road. This hyper-local business, with international exposure, is a real source of pride for the locals – which became evident during my stay in the Cleveland area.

The company produces 500 unique products and mixes and ships hundreds of thousands of individual units each weekday, but manages to keep costs low through an efficient, well-trained workforce. Just 300 employees spread across 3 shifts, on a 24×5 workweek, support the entire operation. This family-owned business strikes the perfect balance of small company charm, where everyone knows everyone, and the CEO is on a first-name basis with all employees, while still managing to keep costs low to appeal to the always-cost-cutting airline industry.

Alaska's Morning Blend: Cinnamon pretzels, dried pineapple & caramel macchiato sesame bites. Heck yes!

Alaska’s Morning Blend: Cinnamon pretzels, dried pineapple & caramel macchiato sesame bites. Heck yes!

The company holds an SQF (Safe Quality Food) level 2 certification which is a voluntary, globally recognized third-party certification awarded only after rigorous process verification and on-site audits. I mention this only because their dedication to food/product safety was evident from the very beginning, and something the company is quite proud of.

After a quick sign-in process followed by some disclosures paperwork, I was awarded my day credentials. I adorned a hair net, beard net and stepped onto the production floor. As soon as I entered the sanitized area there were other sanitation and safety protocols to be met even though I’d never touch any of the product or production machinery. Who’d of thought the snack business was so serious? A good thing for sure, but a surprise none-the-less.

Southwest Airlines Mini Pretzels gather on a conveyor heading for packaging.

Southwest Airlines Mini Pretzels gather on a conveyor heading for packaging

Touring the Facility

On the afternoon I visited the factory, lines happened to be running Southwest Airlines’ product – a treat for this loyal and hardcore Southwest fan. It turns out Southwest is one of King Nut’s largest clients. And for good reason, free airline snacks such as those offered by the LUV airline are a big hit with travelers. According to Dan Landson, a spokesperson for Southwest, “Our peanuts and pretzels are famous with our customers and employees. Offering free onboard snacks is one of our foundations that is truly unique – one that we have no plans to change!”

BONUS: Lufthansa Schools Us on How to Make A Better Inflight Meal

A pallet of honey roasted peanuts awaits shipping

A pallet of honey roasted peanuts waits to join many more in the background

Airline Order Snacks 

So how many snacks are airlines ordering? While Mr. Kanan was reluctant to provide specific numbers, his answer of “they order by the truckload,” quickly put things into perspective. Some “back of the napkin” math suggests staggering numbers.

Southwest flies 3,400 flights a day at a load factor of 84%. Assuming the average plane (737-300 and -700, the most common in their fleet) carries 143 passengers and each passenger receives at least one snack… That’s well over 400,000 packages per day! Now consider Southwest is just one of over a dozen other airline customers. We’re talking some serious snack volumes. Mr. Kanan did mention they believe their products (including non-airline labels) reach 500 million consumers annually.

DSC_3333-002

Mr. Kanan poses with two 1-ton sacks of peanuts awaiting processing. Note the awesome peanut disclaimer.

With all this discussion of volumes one might wonder, how does King Nut purchase their raw product? It turns out they purchase peanuts by the 1-ton sack, dozens at a time.

Two 1-ton sacks of peanuts hang above proprietary machinery awaiting processing

Two 1-ton sacks of peanuts hang above proprietary machinery awaiting processing

Much of the King Nut machinery was proprietary and not allowed to be photographed. Those pieces that were allowed were impressive in their own right. They were towering, shiny steel behemoths, but not terribly photogenic. The end product itself, the items that actually reach the consumer’s hands, were the things that were visually striking in their color, shine, and vast quantities.

DSC_3266-002

American Airlines’ mini pretzels ready to get airborne

Only after having toured the facility, learning  about the company, and meeting the family behind the brand, could I truly appreciate all that goes into something we all take for granted while flying miles above the earth near the speed of sound.

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - LEE'S SUMMIT, MO. JL joined AirlineReporter in 2012 and has since become one of our most tenured and prolific writers. His passions include catalyzing AvGeek passion in others, spending too much time on Twitter, and frequent travel. While he's always looking for the next big adventure, home is with his growing AvGeek family in Lee’s Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City. Email: jl@airlinereporter.com

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8 Comments
Plane-crazy Joe

I recall when a HOT meal with REAL FOOD was served on many>most domestic flights, several years ago – at NO additional charge! That was only around 20 years or fewer years ago! For example, I recall having hot meal service, in Y Cabin, on flights from ATL>PHL>PHL and ATL>MIA>ATL! So, I must say NUTS to pretzels and similar munchies!

cdouble

I think with all the food safety standards, on commercial flights, ready to eat food is going to be the norm.. I’d rather eat at a tested restaurant, than risk a hot meal in flight.

Do you realize that the standards for airline catering is much much higher than regular restaurants? You are less likely to get sick from airline food than at your local restaurant. I wish that the restaurants that I go to would employ some of the safety standards used at these airline catering companies.

Plane-crazy Joe

cdouble, the many prepared hot meals I’ve eaten on flights haven’t killed me yet! Airline caterers prepare their meals under STRICT food safety and sanitary standards; likely under more sanitary conditions than at restaurants!!

Continuing my earlier comments, giving it further thought, I enjoyed hot meals as recent as 7>10 years ago; on Domestic flights, in Y Cabin.

Michael Restivo

I noticed the photo with American Airlines pretzel bags. Is AA giving snacks again????

Mary Berube

Do you supply peanuts to American Airlines ?

adele alvarado

where can the pretzels be purchased??

Jeff Cooper

Southwest is no longer carrying nuts due to allergens. The pretzels are absolutely horrible. I guess I’ll have to bring my own honey roasted peanuts from now on. They will definitely be the King Nut brand! Much better than Planters.

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