PHOENIX - The humble pickle is one of America’s favorite snacks. We consume nearly 20 billion of them each year in the form of dill spears, pickle chips on burgers and relish on hot dogs.
While the Midwest is prime cucumber growing territory, Phoenix is home to a family-run pickle business that ships millions of pounds each year.
Jeff Knapp overseas the production line at Mrs. Klein’s Pickles, where his handful of employees are outnumbered by the pickles rolling down the conveyor belt.
“You’d think it’s easy, pickles coming down the line and into buckets,” he said, “but it’s not.”
The sounds of success echo off the walls of the big plant, where concrete floors hold sorting, slicing and packaging machines. Forklifts carry large pails of pickles and pickle chips to a warehouse and waiting trucks. The products will be shipped to restaurants and burger chains across the country.
“We were excited when we got a five-pound order from Tucson,” he said. “We’d drive a bucket down there in the back of a pickup truck.”
That was in the 1970s and 1980s.
Before that, members of the Arnold family ran their small business in a tiny brick building which now sits in the shadow of their newer production facility. Family patriarch Byron Arnold runs the business now, but remembers when he was putting pickles into wooden barrels when he was just seven years old.
“It’s been nice to see the business grow since then,” said the man now in his late 70s.
The elder Arnold is said to run a tight ship, observing the operation from the window of his small office.
His Susan says he can identify the type of delivery truck pulling onto the property by its sound alone.
“I still can’t believe we pay for UPS, said Byron. We’ve grown so much.”
The business, formerly known as Arnold Pickle Company, has been around since 1900 and now supplies chains like Whatabuger, In-N-Out Burger as well as suppliers who provide countess restaurants with pickles.
If you live in the Midwest the South or the Southwest, chances are good you’ve had pickles produced by the Arnolds.
The demand for pickles is strong and the Arnolds find themselves in need of more room.
“We’ll be adding new production lines in the coming months,” said Knapp.
Byron says his business is growing 8 percent each year, and that’s in spite of the recession and slow recovery.
“People love pickles,” he said.
As long as that love of cured cucumbers persists, the Arnolds plan to keep up with the country’s collective appetite.
“I guess I’ve been fortunate to see this place grow,” said Byron. “I never stop to think about it. Maybe I should. Maybe that’s why we’re celebrating Thanksgiving next week.”