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The Food Disruptors

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Henry Crowell turned a bland commodity that most Americans considered horse food into a ubiquitous, go-to breakfast food. He brought Quaker Oats to prominence through unrelenting marketing, including the famous Quaker Oats Special train, which borrowed marketing concepts pioneered by patent medicine sellers. Henry Parsons Crowell (1855-1944) got in early on a new technology for processing oats: cutting them with special steel implements, then steaming them, then rolling them so they turned into flat, quick-cooking flakes. He also figured out that rather than scoop oats out of a barrel, where they might be mixed with rat and mouse droppings, bugs, stones, and maybe even a dead rodent, a grocery shopper might prefer to buy a neat, colorful, sanitary-looking household-sized carton of rolled oats.  He was the first grain marketer to take advantage of new paper processing methods that allowed for the cheap production of cardboard boxes. He decided to package his oats pre-measured into clearly branded cardboard cartons. The cartons were filled by a machine invented by one of his partners, which kept down labor costs. This played on the growing zeitgeist for "hygienic," inexpensive food for the masses. Crowell observed the red-hot growth of the canned goods sector and saw that the winners in that crowded space were those who developed brand loyalty. The only way for a canner to signal to grocers and consumers the contents and provenance of a generic-looking can was with a colorful, memorable label. If the product passed muster, buyers were likely to come back to that same label for their next purchase. For label design, he went with his own gut reaction to the Quaker name and logo as a positive association for his commodity product. Moreover, since the actual product was a commodity, Crowell recognized the potential for counterfeit products to ride the coattails of his pioneering marketing investments. So he added expensive, four-color printing to his cartons. The fat man in retro Revolutionary-times garb (a popular image after the 1876 Centennial), who proffered his box of "PURE" oats, served as a formidable guard against trademark infringement.