February 4, 2002
More than recipes in those pamphlets
ANN ARBOR—New additions to the University of Michigan's Clements Library collections give glimpses into how effective marketing changes our national appetites. The materials were given to the Clements Library by U-M emeritus Prof. Dan Longone of Ann Arbor, and his wife, Jan Longone, curator of American culinary history at the Library. This donation of more than 1,000 ephemeral promotional pamphlets and give-away publications from food processors adds additional source material to the books, letters, diaries, directories and old newspapers available for fascinating culinary documentation.
One of the important stories of 19th- and 20th-century American culinary history that can be found in these pamphlets and publications is the rise of commercially packaged food, says Jan Longone. Technology and mechanization made possible the mass production of such commodities as flour, baking powder, gelatin, and cereal products. A national railroad system and the ability to produce boxes, bottles, and cans cheaply allowed national distribution. But developing such a market required brand recognition and loyalty. "Advertising was the key to success," says Jan Longone.
Firms trying to establish a profitable market for their stoves, utensils, and food products published such advertising materials, usually designed to attract the attention of the housewife and family shopper. The publications sport such brand names as Nabisco, Heinz, Campbell's, Jell-O, and Welch's Grape Juice, as well as many more brands and businesses that did not survive the competition. "Attractiveness of packaging and advertising could make the difference," says Jan Longone.
One of the publications given to Clements Library by the Longones. "It was not only the Chinatowns of San Francisco and New York but also the food producers of the Midwest that promoted popular interest in Chinese food," says Jan Longone. "This came about because Midwest farmers were cultivating extensive plantings of soybeans. If they could develop a popular demand for soy sauce and bean sprouts through the distribution of a flood of attractive recipe booklets and advertisements, they could sell their beans at higher prices."
Taking full advantage of these Midwest opportunities, two fellows who met while students at the U-M began the LaChoy company in Detroit in 1920. Wallace Smith, a grocer in that city, enlisted the help of his U-M pal, Korean-born Ilhan New, to figure out a way to provide the store's customers with freshly grown bean sprouts. So the duo started a garden, where else but in a bathtub, packaging the sprouts in glass jars and then tin cans. In 1922, they incorporated as La Choy Food Products. With the start of World War II, the La Choy operation hit a roadblock when their product was designated "non-essential" to the war effort. The Detroit plant was sold to the government who used the facility to manufacture rifles.
Smith and New moved their canning operation to another Midwest location, choosing Archbold, Ohio, located in a major beef and poultry area with the famed Michigan celery and Pennsylvania mushroom farms not that far away. La Choy became the largest single customer for that Michigan product. And with the development of pamphlets and give-away publications, the company changed the appetite of the American masses.
Shoved out of business by one war, the business started by two former U-M students won the marketing war. "If you are what you eat," says John Dann, director of the Clements Library, "then the corollary is that you eat those products that pass not only the taste test but win the marketing war as well."
Contact: Joanne Nesbit