What started in 1913 as 500 pounds of unwanted Virginia peanuts has evolved into Lance Inc., with revenues steadily approaching one billion dollars. Phillip L. Lance, a Charlotte-based food distributor, ordered 500 pounds of peanuts directly from a planter with the intent to resale them to one of his customers. When Lance’s customer reneged on the peanut deal, Lance roasted the peanuts at his home and sold them on the streets of Charlotte for a nickel a bag instead of returning them to the planter. The home roasted peanuts quickly became popular among Charlotte residents, and Lance soon started producing peanut butter.
Lance’s son-in-law and partner in food distribution, Salem Van Every, joined Lance’s peanut business in 1915, and the two men formally organized the Lance Packing Company. As demand for the roasted peanuts increased, Lance Packing Company moved production to College Street and installed a mechanical peanut roaster. In addition to increasing production rates of roasted peanuts, the mechanical peanut roaster also increased the efficiency of producing Lance’s peanut butter. After spreading Lance peanut butter between two saltine crackers, Lance’s wife, Mary, and their two daughters created the first commercially sold peanut butter cracker. The peanut butter sandwich crackers became especially popular with World War I soldiers stationed at Camp Green in Charlotte.
Also during the First World War, a soldier shared his mother’s recipe for peanut brittle with Lance Packing Company. The soldier’s recipe for peanut brittle was used to create the Peanut Bar, a staple product that Lance still produces.
Lance Packing Company’s sales of peanut butter products continued to increase. By 1922, the sales team had grown from a one-man operation to a team of eleven salesmen operation in North and South Carolina. The company also benefited from a prosperous mail-order business. The continued growth of Lance Packing Co. prompted the company to move to a larger production facility on South Boulevard in 1926.
That year, Phillip Lance passed away after being injured in a car accident on his way home from a sales trip. After Lance’s death, Van Every assumed leadership of the company and formally incorporated the Lance Packing Company.
During the peak of the Great Depression, Lance Packing Company recorded its first million-dollar revenue in 1935. Lance began baking its own crackers in 1938 and soon after introduced the “toastchee.” In 1939, the company changed its name to Lance Incorporated and recorded a two million dollar sales-year.
Salem Van Every passed away in 1943, and his son, Phillip, took became president and Chief executive officer of Lance Incorporated at age twenty-nine. Philip, with management assistance from McCormick & Co. spice company, developed a multiple management theory that allowed executives as well as workers to be included in managerial decisions.
In 1954, Lance Incorporated began to replace its “honor system” coin boxes with the first Lance vending machine. The Lance product line continued to grow, and by the end of the 1960s, customers could find Lance crackers in twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia.
Like most companies that have endured a century, Lance Incorporated has also faced difficult times. For example, high inflation rates in 1974 necessitated a price increase to fifteen cents for Lance’s products. In 1980, a drought in southern states created a shortage in the peanut crops and Lance had to temporarily suspend production of five products, including their popular peanut bar. Eight months later, Lance resumed production of its product line.
With health and fitness becoming popular national trends from the late 1980s to the present, Lance adapted its product to fit its market. In 1987, Lance created a low-fat, low-cholesterol line of snacks. Trans fats were eliminated from all Lance snacks in 2004, and in 2009 they launched 100-calorie packs.
As most companies that have spanned nearly a century, Lance Incorporated has continued to shift with the demands of the market and evolve their products to meet the needs of its customers. Lance Incorporated is currently headquartered at the Ballantyne Industrial Park in Charlotte and is a billion dollar publicly traded company.
Janet Kutzli, “Peanut Shortage Hits Wholesalers, Candymakers as Holidays Near: Worst Crop in Years Caused By Drought In Southern States,” The Toledo Blade (Toledo, November 17, 1980); “History” http://www.lance.com/about/history (accessed March 24, 2009); “2008 Annual Report” http://ir.lanceinc.com/annuals.cfm (accessed March 24, 2009); “Phillip Lance Van Every” NC Business Hall of Fame, http://www.historync.org/laureate%20-%20Philip%20Lance%20Van%20Every.htm (accessed March 24, 2009); “The Renaissance of Lance” Ballatyne Magazine (Charlotte, Fall 2009)
By Jessica Lee Thompson, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Business and Industry, Entrepreneurship, New Deal/ Great Depression, Places, Cities