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Beer Nuts Says It Will Strive for Healthier Image

July 01, 1993|From Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Tucked away in a convenience store niche, tiny Beer Nuts Inc. is trying to adapt to healthier eating habits, the demise of neighborhood taverns and a snack superpower brawl for shelf-space hegemony.

Beer Nuts hopes to avoid the ruinous warfare among its larger competitors, while expanding demand for its own cashews, almonds and lightly salted, slightly sweet peanuts which have been staple bar munchies for two generations.

"Things are kind of scary out there in the marketplace," said 49-year-old James Shirk, president of the family-owned company. About 80 people sort, clean and cook redskin Virginia and Southeastern Jumbo Runner peanuts, turning them into Beer Nuts at the company's factory here.

"Consumer preferences are changing. Peanuts are not a cheap snack anymore. The 'big guys' are battling it out with advertising and marketing clout we just don't have," Shirk said. "We have to take what's left when the 'big guys' get through."

The company is trying to staunch steady shrinkage of its sliver of the $1.35-billion U.S. nut market with new marketing techniques, redesigned packaging, price controls and thoughts of expanding its product line.

The company does not reveal exact revenue figures, but marketing manager Jim Tipton said domestic and export sales exceed $10 million annually.

Although Beer Nuts can't afford national ad campaigns or expensive shelf space in national grocery chains, it's not giving up.

"No one has touched our taste, and that will sustain us," Shirk said. "It's carried us for 40 years, and it will carry us into the future. We just have to be clever, a niche marketer and find ways to get people to try our product."

Shirk's father, Russell, was clever enough to recognize in 1937 that the glaze used by the Caramel Crisp Shop to coat its peanuts was special--more so than the orange drink the shop sold to quench the thirst customers worked up eating the giveaway nuts.

In 1940, Shirk bought the shop and started selling "Shirk's Glazed Peanuts."

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