July 25th, 2024

Owner of N.B. chip factory destroyed by fire says he hopes to rebuild soon

By The Canadian Press on March 6, 2024.

The aftermath of a devastating fire at the Covered Bridge Potato Chips factory in Hartland, N.B., is shown in this Saturday, March 2, 2024, handout photo posted on the Government of New Brunswick Facebook page. The president of the factory that was destroyed in a fire says there is much to navigate and things are challenging but he hopes to restart the facility as soon as possible. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Facebook, Government of New Brunswick *MANDATORY CREDIT*

FREDERICTON – When Ryan Albright got a text Friday evening telling him that the Covered Bridge Potato Chips factory in Waterville, N.B., was on fire, he didn’t believe it at first.

The president of the potato chip producer was on his way to Maine to meet up with his wife when his quality control manager sent him the text. “And, you know, first I thought it was a joke,” Albright said in an interview Wednesday. “I called her right away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.”

About 30 of the company’s 185 employees were at the factory when the fire began, and while the place was destroyed, there were no injuries.

Albright said he turned around and started to drive back, while giving instructions on the phone about exits and making sure everyone was out.

While talking tohis brother Matt on his way back to the factory, he imagined a fire that would require a major cleanup – but not rebuilding from the ground up, as they now have to do.

“But then at one point, my brother, he called me and he said, ‘Look … don’t drive any faster than you need to. It’s not going to make any difference at this point.'”

When he reached the site, he could only watch the building burn. “It’s been most of my adult life spent on building the business and the brand and everything,” he said.

The company, named for the covered bridge in nearby Hartland that is billed as the longest in the world, had hit 15 years of productionthis year and was expanding into making sweet potato chips, chick pea flour crisps and other products, he said.

“But one of the things that really … kept me up at night, one of the main things, was the worry of a fire. And, unfortunately, you know, that came true.”

Albright said he doesn’t know how the fire started but it’s possible that it began in one of the oil-filled fryers. The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the status of their investigation into the cause of the fire.

Albright said there is no timeline yet on when a replacement factory will be up and running,but he is committed to rebuilding.

“We’re in design mode,” he said. “We have meetings with equipment manufacturers … as soon as the ground dries, if everything works out, shapes up, we’ll be hitting it as quickly as we can.”

The company also has to make sure retailers have enough product on their shelves because people are racing to buy the snacks to help Covered Bridge Potato Chips. He said there are enough chips left in the company warehouse to last for a while.

David Marshall, assistant teaching professor at the University of New Brunswick’s business faculty in Saint John, said one reason the company is beloved by many Canadians is because of the family’s deep roots in the potato-farming region.

He said he’s confident that the owners will be able to rebuild.

“I think the owners’ gratitude … how New Brunswickers and Atlantic Canadians and Canadians are rallying around the company, they will find their way through this,” he said.

“I think they’ve done a really great job, branding. … I think it was brilliant for them originally to tie themselves to the longest covered bridge in the world.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2024.

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