What does it take for a small family-owned business to exist for over one hundred years and five generations? Determination, courage, ingenuity and a strong work ethic. Such is the case with the Tri-Sum Potato Chip Company. Back in 1908, J.P. Duchesneau, an enterprising entrepreneur, drove his horse drawn wagon on an eight mile route delivering his hand-cooked potato chips to Leominster and Fitchburg establishments. Little did he know his creative idea would continue to grow into a five-generation family-owned business that is still going strong today.
J.P.'s sons, Ernest and Everett, took over the business in the 1930's and moved the factory to Carter Street. At that time the company name was the Leominster Potato Chip Company. The company name was changed to "Tri-Sum" after a contest was held by the factory workers to come up with a more creative name. For the next forty years, with ever-growing competition, the company expanded its distribution to include the greater New England area, and the people of Leominster and Fitchburg and their surrounding communities developed a strong loyalty to their hometown chip that still exists today.
In the 1970's, the third generation took the reins after Ernest and Everett's retirement. Richard Duchesneau, Everett's son, continued to build on the foundation built by his grandfather. Tri-Sum expanded its facility and reputation as a quality snackfood manufacturer and distributor. New products were added and their superior quality and consumer appeal helped them grow in popularity.
The 1990's brought challenges for the company, as aggressive competition from national snackfood giants with deep pockets began the practice of buying up shelf space in local grocery stores, something the small local family business were not able to compete with. Slowly, but surely, New England lost over 80 local potato chip, popcorn and snackfood companies such as Boyd's, Stateline, Blackstone, were forced to shutter their doors. Things looked dire for Tri-Sum as their manufacturing equipment was becoming antiquated and funds were getting tighter.
That's when J.P.'s great-grandson, Jeff Duchesneau, realized "partnerships" were going to be the only way to survive. So he jumped in his car and started driving west until he could find another family company with the similar equipment to manufacture Tri-Sum chips, which was no easy task given the special oil and cooking process which makes Tri-Sum unique. After finding a manufacturing partner in Ohio, Jeff turned his sites on a distribution partnership with their once Twin City rival, the Wachusett Potato Chip Company. And so it was that two Leominster and Fitchburg companies formed a strategic alliance, which helped them both survive in the early 2000's.
Today, both Richard and his son, Jeff, play a key role in keeping J.P.'s dream alive and New England's most beloved brand of potato chips in the hands of happy customers. Their website www.tri-sum.com ships thousands of cases a year to Tri-Sum lovers around the country, fans share their favorite chips stories on the Tri-Sum Facebook page.
The chips are now made in the Northeast and recently Market Basket Supermarkets agreed to take them chain wide, including their stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, giving New England customers easier access to their favorite chips. J.P. Duchesneau would be proud that his fledgling enterprise has continued for 5 generations of the Duchesneau Family.
The Tri-Sum Potato Chip Company shows off their new name, selected via a customer contest. When the company was established in 1908 as the Leominster Potato Chip Company, their 8 mile route was covered by a horse-drawn cart. In this 1933 photograph, founder JP Duchesneau stands in the center with son Ernest; the picture was taken at their original Eighth Street location. Tri-Sum also operated on Mechanic Street, where they offered baked beans. In 1940, they moved to their current location on Carter Street. (Courtesy Pauline Duchesneau)