Nuts About Bloomington-Normal; Amid Expanding Business, Beer Nuts Still Rooted in Hometown

Business Lean Locally Retail
(Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

(Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

A family-run business with local roots has expanded their art of tasty treats to the regional, national, and international market.

Beer Nuts is a snack food manufacturing company that creates a multitude of different nut-based products for customers all over the world, and their headquarters are located here in Bloomington. The Shirk family founded Beer Nuts in 1937 and now have three generations of Shirks working for the company.

“A big part of our culture is how can we grow with people,” Andy Shirk, President at Beer Nuts, said. “The business is growing, and the people are growing right now. We want to continue to bring in good people and roll out good people where they can help out organizations in the community.”

The Shirks and Beer Nuts have always held a place in the Bloomington-Normal Community. In 1937, Arlo Shirk and his father Edward Shirk purchased the Caramel Crisp Shop in downtown Bloomington. In the 1950s, the Caramel Crisp Shop packaged their first bag of Redskins for a local liquor stored, and they were named “Shirk’s Glazed Peanuts.”

Shortly after, Russel Shirk – Arlo’s brother – met with Eldridge Brewster, a local distributor, and they championed the name Beer Nuts. At the time, Brewster was a potato chip distributor and started adding Shirk’s Glazed Peanuts to his routes.

“He [Brewster] said they were selling pretty well in bars and Shirk’s Glazed Nuts was not a catchy name, so let’s try something different,” Shirk said. “That’s how you get Beer Nuts.”

By 1960, Beer Nuts was being sold from coast to coast and Americans were becoming familiar with the name. The Beer Nuts headquarters has shifted to five different locations in the Bloomington-Normal area before landing on their current site. The headquarters and manufacturing hub are located off Washington Street where they have been since 1974.

Besides local employment and economic development from the Beer Nuts headquarters, the Shirks created the Shirk Family Foundation in 1994. The foundation supports charitable, educational, religious, scientific and related organizations in McLean County to encourage the development of a strong, moral youth. The Shirk Center at Illinois Wesleyan University was funded in part from the foundation, and the idea for the center originated when Andy Shirk’s grandfather played tennis at the university. The Russell and Betty Shirk Foundation donated $5M to build the center, which opened in 1994.

“It’s kind of a fun story. He was a tennis player at Wesleyan and he wanted new courts,” Shirk said. “Eventually there was enough money there to build the athletic center in 1993. It shows the results of Beer Nuts investing back into the community.”

Other community work sponsored by Beer Nuts has been developed by current employees. The workforce is encouraged to bring projects to Beer Nuts which can help an organization or the local community, Shirk said. Concurrently, Shirk is the Chairman of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. His work at the chamber got him involved with BN Advantage. BN Advantage is a strategy to advance the region's vitality and foster growth by building on McLean County's reputation as an employment and lifestyle destination.

For the future, Beer Nuts has a few new options in the works to hopefully hit the shelves. The new Beer Nuts Cantina Mix can now be found not only in the Beer Nuts online store but will soon be sold in Walmart stores across the country. Additionally, a few early development options include a wine mix and a health food option. The key is to reach the right price point with the same quality product, Shirk said.

“We have very health-conscious consumers, but we are called Beer Nuts so it is a little bit limiting,” Shirk said while laughing. “At a minimum, we are trying to be as healthy as we can. Our whole line is now compliant with Whole Foods requirements.”

When Beer Nuts was incorporated, the internet was still a futuristic pipe dream. Now, Beer Nuts has partnered with local business Inspire International to bolster their internet presence and digital market. Inspire International can help local businesses find their footing on Amazon and reach their target market.

Although, Shirk added the company’s best marketing strategy is the people in the community who talk about the brand and give the Beer Nuts product as gifts. Likewise, when the residents leave the surrounding area, they continue to market their brand to new people, and the Beer Nuts’ name spreads. This word-of-mouth marketing helps bolster the brand, but highlights the relationship Beer Nuts has created with the community, Shirk said.

“From my perspective, the opportunity is big,” Shirk said referring to the future outlook for Beer Nuts. “We want to be a place where people want to work, and people want to grow. We have a brand that when people hear they smile and a product with a higher quality than most.”

Beer Nuts has a storefront at the Shoppes at College Hills open seven days a week. The main building at 103 North Robinson Street currently has a company store in the main lobby. The company store is open Monday-Friday.