In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle's thick-cut Tim's Cascade Style offers big bite and bigger flavors, such as jalapeno made from real peppers and a salt and vinegar chip that "makes you pucker" says Dave West, sales director for the company.
Over in the Rockies, kettle-cooked Boulder Canyon chips pair their crunchy bite with artisanal seasonings such as red wine vinegar, spinach and artichoke, and balsamic and rosemary.
Down the map in the Southwest, Arizona-based Poore Brothers offers two varieties of kettle-cooked chips with mouth-numbing heat from jalapenos and habaneros.
"People in this region really tend to like this pepper, these stronger, spicier flavors," says Steven Sklar, senior vice president of marketing at Phoenix, Ariz.-based Inventure Foods Inc., which owns the Boulder Canyon and Poore Brothers brands. "You've got a hard bite with a strong flavor. The combination makes a big difference."
While Southerners like spice, industry executives say, the region's traditional chip is thin and flaky. "The southern consumer prefers a lighter, thinner potato chip," says Julie McLaughlin, director of marketing at Birmingham, Ala.-based Golden Flake Snack Foods, which makes Golden Flake Thin & Crispy Potato Chips. The company sells across 10 states in the Southeast, McLaughlin says, and its best-selling chip is "Sweet Heat Barbecue," one of five barbecue varieties it makes. Golden Flake also offers a thick-cut, wavy chip, McLaughlin says, "for the transplants."
And then there are the niche chips, the hyper-local flavors that connect people to their culinary heritage.
In New Orleans, Zapp's makes "Spicy Cajun Crawtaters," designed to mimic the flavor of a seafood boil. Nottingham, Penn.-based Herr Foods makes a Philly cheesesteak chip, as well as one meant to taste like boardwalk fries. For other Mid-Atlantic producers such as Hanover, Penn.-based Utz Quality Foods and the Mount Jackson, Va.-chippery Route 11 Potato Chips, crab seasoning is must, but may be for locals only.