From Rochester to Minneapolis to Two Harbors, little plastic pretzel tubs have become an omnipresent taproom snack.
Specifically, seasoned pretzels from Von Hanson's, a 35-year-old Minnesota butcher-shop chain that only entered the wholesale snack game in 2017. In just two years, the business has become a twisty, salty, flavor-blasted Midwest empire, with presences in a dozen states and dozens upon dozens of breweries.
Jon Tennessen, co-owner of Von Hanson's Snacks, was determined to diversify from within the meat biz.
"I wanted to do something else; I wanted to start selling pretzels," he says. "It blossomed from there."
Things began humbly, with Tennessen and co-owner Craig Machholz selling the pretzels out of their Monticello butcher shop. The owners of Big Lake's Lupulin Brewing got a taste, Tennessen remembers, and they were hooked. The first of what would become many breweries was on board.
"We got turned down a little bit in the beginning," Tennessen says. "But once people realized you can sell a salty snack in your taproom—and it’s most likely gonna make someone say, ‘I need another beer'—to have a thirsty customer, and word of mouth, it’s been huge.”
Austin Lee, co-founder of Minneapolis' HeadFlyer Brewing, notices Von Hanson's Pretzels "everywhere." His taproom initially started offering free snacks, but that generosity quickly proved unsustainable. A sample-toting sales rep sold Lee and his partners on Von Hanson's Pretzels, which retail for $3-$5 and come in flavors like Zesty Herb, Dill Ranch, and Parmesan.
"They’ve been extremely good to us and we even now carry their beef sticks," Lee says. "As somewhere that doesn’t serve food, it’s huge for us to have a snack option to keep hungry patrons inside the taproom."
In Minneapolis alone, Von Hanson's Pretzels are sold at Venn, Indeed, Sisyphus, Utepils, 612Brew, and... the list of breweries really just keeps going.
And it's not just taprooms. High schools, golf courses, bowling alleys, and sports arenas throughout the state all carry Von Hanson's Pretzels. After starting at "ground zero," the production facility in Becker is expected to churn out 150,000 pounds of pretzels next year, Tennessen predicts. Von Hanson's Snacks has exceeded 2019 revenue expectations by six figures, he says, and the company will make over $1 million just on pretzels.
North Dakota-launched Dot's might get the all the glory, but Von Hanson's has established itself as a major regional pretzel force.
"When we sit back and kinda look at this," Tennessen says, "it's quite amazing."