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Catch up with…Peter Potter

IT’S ONLY BEEN A YEAR SINCE PETER POTTER BS’07 earned his CALS degree in Food Science, but talk about busy. Before he even finished his studies, Potter launched an organic cracker company with his mother, Nancy, who ran a bakery in New Glarus, Wis. Together, they run Potter’s Fine Foods, which sells flavored crackers in markets throughout Wisconsin. In his free moments, Potter is pursuing a graduate degree in systems engineering–and dreaming up new cracker flavors.

You got an earlier start than most on owning a business.

Yes, I started it up in between my junior and senior year of college. After my freshman year, I had an internship in a food company, and after my sophomore year, I worked in a lab. Then, when the next year came around, I knew I didn’t want to work in a lab again because I had spent the previous summer doing that, and I had already had a pretty good internship, so I decided to start up my own company.

How were you prepared to do that at such a young age?

Well, my degree was in food science, and that is what we study—we learn how to develop products and how to develop processes to go along with those products. I took the business option in the program, so I was able to take four or five business classes before I started my company. And so through the program I kind of learned how to do the whole thing—how to make it, process it and sell it.

There was nobody in Wisconsin producing crackers, and we are the cheese state and so I thought we needed a good cracker to go with that.

Why crackers?

Basically, I saw a marketing opportunity. There was nobody in Wisconsin producing crackers, and we are the cheese state and so I thought we needed a good cracker to go with that.

How did that opportunity come knocking at your door?

I was actually out to eat at Lombardino’s, and I was having their cheese plate. It was absolutely gorgeous. They had these great cheeses from Italy and some from Wisconsin, and they were serving them with horrible crackers. They were these overly processed ones from California. And it posed a question to me: Why are they doing this? And I realized that they have to do it because they don’t have any other crackers, like local ones or high-quality ones. So I kind of translated that into a business idea.

How many cracker varieties do you have?

We have about 100 varieties. We kind of specialize in the product development stages, and we rotate them seasonally since we use so much local produce.

And you do all this while in graduate school?

Yes—I’m doing a master’s degree in systems engineering. I’m still studying food and food manufacturing
and food processing, just from a slightly different perspective.

You seem like someone who enjoys a challenge.

Yeah, I do, definitely. And hopefully, I can continue to challenge myself through Potter’s Crackers and other things. I do really like the entrepreneurial thing, and so hopefully I can get some other companies started up.

What do most people not know about crackers?

Well, for one thing, it’s pretty difficult because crackers are pretty thin and they do rise quite substantially, so you really have to put a lot of work into getting them nice and flat. And for people who don’t eat Potter’s Crackers, I guess they don’t know how delicious crackers can be.