C.W. Post Part 2 Health, Hope, and Great Ad Copy
And welcome to the food. Disruptors, the podcast, where capitalism meets America's food culture. I'm teary Sabrina on and together with my co-host Rettig Lawrence. We delve into the stories of the big personalities who have shaped our food system. And what why and how we eat today for better and for worse. And we looked to the future through interviews with today's food disruptors who even as we speak for determining everybody's nourishment in help as well as the health of the planet in years to come. You know, that expression he could eat you for lunch while seat Avia post could have said that to just about anybody in America at the height of his capitalist powers in the early nineteen hundreds except he would have said I'm gonna eat you for breakfast CW post strove all his life. He wasn't valiant in his struggles. But he rose from the ashes again, and again until he couldn't take the pain of his life in a longer but in between the beginning and the sad end. He built a capitalist empire on the shifting grains of possibly stolen recipes that empire continues to resonate in our economy today, ever hear of great nuts cereal. That contains no, grapes or nuts. And maybe you've also heard of a resort in Florida built by CW post daughter Marjorie, Mary weather pose. Most she called it mar a Lago. Let's hear how we got from there to here. So last time we started talking about CW post and he finally had a hit on his hands with his caffeine or coffee replacement that did not have any caffeine. So what did he do from there? And how did this turn into the the huge cereal empire that he created? I can't well as we calls C W post had covered his health in the health conscious city of battle creek, Michigan where the battle creek sanitarium was located actually see w had not benefited from the time he spent undergoing Animas, and I forgot to mention last week electroshock therapy and the sound so pleasant oh my God. Consider the state of electricity in that era as well. It had to be highly dangerous anyhow didn't help him and he had gone. On and come under the tutelage of a Christian. Scientist woman who taught him to think positively and he would become better and that worked for him, and as and he wanted to spread this cured to other sick people who came to battle creek. And he started a little sanitarium of his own to do that. And in his spare time he invented post him this caffeine, free dark beverage and post him was competitor to the similar goop. They served at the sanitarium. But. He face the problem of getting the rest of America to I hear about it. And then to buy it. And I find it interesting that he did mimic. So many of the things that they did at this other sanitarium, even though it wasn't the sanitarium that made him better, right? Yeah. No, it was the positive thinking that made him writer, but but as we discussed last week CW post was a prototypical mid nineteenth century. Capitalist who started small and had just had dollar signs in his eyes. He tried any number of schemes to make money, and he was not particularly interested in food until he came to battle creek. But I think he was very enthusiastic at having recovered his own health, and he did believe that a proper diet was important as an adjunct to positive thinking in in one's on the road to will Ville. So he he had this product, and he started going around to grocers in battle creek who were reluctant to carry this stuff. They never heard of anything like it. They had no idea that their customers would buy it. So see. W post. It's it's going to sound possess that things he did to market the product. But he invented a lot of these ideas, and they actually were major levers in directing our food system into the consumer based system that we knew for all of the twentieth century. So what he told the grocers was take the product sell it to your customers and don't pay me for it until you sell it. So he fronted the money to the grocer's really innovative. Nobody did that. But he went several steps further. He offered free samples while free samples nowadays, you know. That's we go to Costco on Saturdays just to get the free samples or. Foods, but I guess. Right. Exactly. And back. Then though, this was not something that that anyone did. Now, definitely not. It was not really consumer based marketing at all. And I think he must have learned some of these techniques from his mini hard years. He spent based in Springfield, Illinois as a traveling salesman. He learned you know, what it takes to convince people that they ought to buy a product, and that makes sense because the traveling salesman. They'll always have a demonstration right, though, the demonstration version or something like that to show off Saqlain what you're doing. So he just took this and applied it in a way where you don't need a person there. That's genius that that nobody had done before. And not only did it introduce his his post them to consumers, but it delighted the grocers because when people started hearing about this novelty of free samples, they all went to the grocer's because they all wanted a free sample everyone. He was talking about it. And then of course, they did their grocery shopping. And so it was it was definitely a winning combination with the, you know, don't pay 'til you sell it. And then bringing customers into the store the grocers loved it. And that wasn't all he promised the grocers that he would advertise heavily, and he made what in those days were considered huge investments in local advertising, and I do want to emphasize to listeners to the food disrupters to keep in mind. I know it's obvious. But in a way, it's not there was no internet, and there wasn't even radio or television. So everything was print advertising and in the nineteenth century either. There were a whole bunch of demographic and economic factors that were drawing to. -gether to push all of us and our food system into the great age of print advertising. So this started with snake oil salesman back in the early half of the nineteenth century and the quacks and product salesman who would come into town. They were the entertainment people had very little variety in their lives. And so is up to these sales people they were all men to put on a good show, and they put out some advanced materials, they would have just little very cheap. Flyers printed up announcing that they were coming. And what people, you know, something scintillating that people could look forward to and they often painted these sides in the roofs of Barnes with huge huge signs early. Billboards exactly in fact. There is still one north of us here in San Francisco when you're coming south on one zero one it's doctor Pierce's tonic believe, yeah. When you're anyhow said, those were the precursors to Bill billboards and print advertising, there was another magnate to be in the food sector named Henry crawl. We're gonna talk about him later. But he was the man who put Quaker outs on the map. He really was a head of CW post and the Kelloggs brothers in terms of advertising. So the advertising was not entirely new, but C W post marketing methods were so how what was the environment lake at this time in terms of packaged foods because this is basically, you know, this is one of a very fairly early ready to eat food. You know, you add something to it. You can eat it was it entering an array of other sort of more local, not as large ones or was it really kind of a standalone that that this long with Quaker Oats and some of these others were the first. Packaged foods what Quaker out gets dibs on being for. They did manufacturer individual size samples the environment for packaged foods. I think was focused mostly on the canning and somewhat on the bottling sector. We've talked to that a bit about the canning industry. But we didn't talk about the canning industry right at the turn of the twentieth century, and we're going to because we're going to talk about Campbell's soup. But the issue with canning in the nineteenth century was the technology advanced and better and better seals and safer. Canning methods were developed quandary for both sellers of canned goods, and particularly for buyers of can goods was there was nothing on the cans that said what was inside. So pretty soon manufacturers figured out that they needed to put on. Pictures of what was inside. So usually the packaging advertising would involve a picture of the food like a can peach would have a nice peach, and then simply the manufacturer's name. And that was the extent of it. Because of course, there were no FDA requirements for nutrition facts labeling and so forth. So it was very rudimentary. Quick roads did have individuals sized packages and bright red and their signature round canister, which was a huge deal and brilliant on his part. But it was pretty rudimentary by the time post came along. And we're not even at his cereals yet still with the post them one thing about the post them was that it was pretty easy to prepare. It was a convenience food women were entering the workforce. It was the progressive era and another thing posted market post him was he will he I branched out to Grand Rapids, Michigan which was a bigger industrial town and he bought a huge raft of print advertising in that grand metro area. And so created demand, and this this whole concept of creating demand and getting people to buy something that they didn't know they wanted or needed. This was new at the turn of the last century. And what else he did in the ground rapid Syria. Was he hired this woman? Florence title. And he sent MRs Tuttle out to grocers she became essentially, a traveling demo gal. And she would it would be an event, I'm sure and and various grocers would host her, and she would be there to show people how to prepare post them and how to use it like all of CW pose advertising the ads for post two made crazy claims. I'm sure what were some of the things he said, I'm bet they're all around health, given its origin. But well, some of them derided coffee. There was sort of that angle that coffee was was the cause of innumerable Hartill men's and nervous ailments. None of which was proven. It was all speculation gives me heartburn. So he's got back. Oh, okay. There you go. And that wasn't a hard sell to tell people that. Off the wasn't good for them and post him. I guess people thought it tasted pretty good. So that was reasonable. But one of the claims he made was that it made your blood, redder. It makes blood red that for some recent convince people that it was a good drink to have an and he made other claims of other products, which will get to. But I wanted to focus on post him for a moment. Just to emphasize that he he did really create this whole gestalt of marketing around that product and an interesting aside, which we'll talk more about later in another episode was this left will Keith Kellogg just with steam coming out of his ears because he knew that CW posed to pretty much stolen and then tweaked the recipe for the hot grain beverage. They served. The metal creek sanitarium and the money brother of the Kellogg's brothers at that time John Harvey Kellogg wouldn't allow will Keith to go head to head with post in the advertising and post made a fortune. He made millions which was the equivalent of tens of millions today. Oh, I gotta tell you one other. So what do you think happens when a product is super successful, especially in an environment? Like battle creek, Michigan where there were tons of people trying to cash in on the health fad that the sanitarium had created imagine me start good knockoffs, especially since it wasn't particularly regulated back then. Yes. And so there were all these knock off Posta GMs with all their funny, you know, vitality. Inspiring names. And they competed on price. So the second year that post him was on the market sales to precipitous die. And so what would you do if you were post in that happened? I probably try to figure out why was it from these competitors? Yes. People were buying the cheaper brands, the make yours cheaper. And how would you do that? Besides cutting the price. Well, yeah, I mean, well, you would cut the price. But how would you keep your business afloat to do that? I'm not sure they've you'd have to make your product cheaper probably and he tried to do that and failed. He could not do it. So what he did was. He took the Jeff Bezos approach, and he just undercut the competition on price. But he did it. And this is just so wonderfully sneaky, actually is probably very standard practice in in America's industrial food. Mill you today. What he did was he created an entirely different brand. It was called monks brew, and he sold it cheaper than the other posed knockoffs. But his claim about -mongst brew was that it tasted exactly the same as post them. And the reason was was that it was posted. And so he he drove everybody else had a business then he took -mongst. Grew off the market and post them dominated. It was a believe that's called predatory pricing. Okay. But but yeah, I'm surprised that surprised that it worked for him. And they didn't pop up right afterwards. So he had a real sense of how to get a product to market. I mean, he really did pioneer that in the food sector. And so how did he go from this this coffee replacement to cereals will? Well, he was at the sanitarium. He, of course, came across their proprietary serial that they sold to their patients, and they did manufacture small quantities of it in this got into the advertising, no advertising conflict between the two Kellogg's brothers. See w did witness the recipe that the Kellogg brothers used to create what they called granola and a re. Really wasn't what we think of as granola today. It was hard little berries of weet, toasted toasted wheat. And in fact, one patient broke a tooth on what they served her and that led to the invention of flakes. But we'll get to that. In a second. What the Celtics were having trouble doing was really getting the wheat dough to work out the way, they needed to work out to crack up into these hard little pellets, and they actually in the course of trying to make wheat flakes. They will Keith Kellogg who was working after hours trying to please everybody and invent this product got very frustrated and kind of threw in the towel at least for few days. And he forgot about this batch of weet goop that he left sitting in the. Mental kitchen and win. He came back. It was on this presser machine that he'd been working on and it was all moldy. And he was just disgusted, and he just in frustration gave the machine a crank and the the moldy does zipped into the machine and came out in this perfect flat sheet that they could break off that they could toast, an exactly the way they wanted to the fermenting that occurred when they left it sitting. There was exactly what was needed. And so that was the secret ingredient if you will boldness. So C W post new this, and he created a very similar product to the sanitariums granola, but he added a sweetener mall toes, which happens to be one of the main sugars in grapes, and as he created his product of food, he aroma as it baked along with. It's very hard crunch led to the name. Grape nuts, which famously does not contain grapes or nuts. But what is sold as grape nuts today is very very close to what was originally created by c w post and he having had such success with post to started a market the hell out of great nuts. And he knew more about what he was doing. We're going to post on the food disruptors dot com. Some of these wonderful advertisement. It's both for grape nuts and post toasties, which were Kella not Kelloggs cornflakes. They were post cornflakes amazing advertisements that go into a lot of narrative and CW post wrote these himself, and he believed that for better for worse. He believed that housewives needed to be spoken to in a simple manner as if you were their friend, and that's how the copy reads heap, it he also made claims about his cereals, and he claimed not just that they were good for you. But that they cured illnesses. And he claimed that grape nuts cured rickets malaria, rheumatism brain problems, heart disease consumption, and ironically, appendicitis because that may be what actually came close to killing CW. Post a few years later. Of course, grape nuts cures. None of these things, of course. And finally, interestingly a publication refused to carry the grape nuts advertising saying this is this is just bunkum. This is completely over the top. And that enraged CW post who by then was one of the wealthiest men in American already of food bag Nate. And this was Collier's weekly magazine. Collier's weekly took on CW post and wrote an article claiming that grape nuts did not cure appendicitis, and this was patently false advertising and see view post in turn had published somewhere an article that essentially said that the writer of the Collier's article was mentally incompetent. And that Collier's had the colliers had written this article because post refused to advertise in the publication. So call your sued him for libel. And the suit went on for a couple of years. And finally was the judgment went against post. And he was fined fifty thousand dollars which was huge. But then be the verdict. Not the verdict was overturned. But I think the fine was overturned eventually, but he he had lost. So in all these these, you know, he's becoming very wealthy. He selling line. He's he'll these dubious claims I feel like what maybe separates snake oil from what he's selling. Is that people still like, you know, nowadays people still eat grape nuts and has nothing to do with any health claims. How much do you think people were he was becoming successful because of these health claims and how much for the health claims simply creating a reason for people to buy. This food that they enjoy eating otherwise that's such an interesting turn of phrase because the catch phrase for grape nuts and other post cereals turned out to be there is a reason. And that that was it. And I think Tansu your question that the health claims were attention grabbing and consumer advertising was in such an infant stage that consumers weren't really suspicious of it. They really didn't have good reason to disbelieve what they were told in. There was a power of thority in the printed word, and there was so much of it. We haven't talked a whole lot about the price of paper was coming down the end the price of inks and just the availability of eye-catching four color advertising was. Becoming more and more prominent and prevalent so did people by the the goods because of the health claims I'm gonna say probably did a lot of them did. And then they kept on buying it. Because even if it didn't improve their brain functions. They did like it and other. Why did they like it it tasted? Probably okay. It was. I think a huge factor was convenience because again women were entering the workforce. There was the middle class was growing women wanted to do other things besides slave in the kitchen all day, and you know, an easy way to feed your family in the morning that you were told was healthy. Right. So I think it was probably a bit of believing the help claims and then. Just the whole, you know, big demographic shift in economic supports for heavily advertised, convenience foods that was when it was was coming to the fore. We are going to soon have an episode on the rise of home economics in America. And I think that health claims were really important at the turn of the century people were suddenly conscious that food was somehow related to their health, again seems obvious. But it it really wasn't obvious. I mean, there were the the milk crises in it. It took so long for people to figure out that they were killing their infants all summer long with bad milk with tainted milk. And so this was all coming to a head whom economists were preaching. Hygiene, and you know, these nicely neatly packaged cereals looked very hygienic. So I think I think that had a lot to do with it. Unfortunately for CW post. And I mean, this is just this huge irony which listeners, you will appreciate more. If you do go look at some of these advertisements are going to have on the website because his focus on the health aspects of his products is really so sad because he never got healthy himself. He did recover in battle creek. But his stomach always continued to bother him. Meanwhile, he's not a food disruptors character for nothing because he was among those magnets who dumped his wife, eventually the poor long-suffering Ella became successful. That was it will he no, I guess they been drifting apart. Yes, he. He traveled worldwide. And by the way, he marketed his cereals internationally, and when will kill Kellogg did get into the fray head to head with post post already had a substantial presence in South America in Europe. So he traveled a lot and on many of these travels. He took his his much beloved daughter Marjorie and for Marjorie hit hired a companion who no doubt was traveling companion named Letitia and Letitia was close to half CW age, and he ended up marrying her after he divorced. Poor Ella divorce was very uncommon in those days. And and so that was very much a public scandal. And I do want to mention because it's important in terms of our foods. System, and our food culture in particular, all of a sudden at the turn of the last century, these huge fortunes started being made food already McCormick had made a huge fortune with the reaper, but that was in a more Victorian era and things were now in the progressive era. And Moore's social Moore's were changing and Marjorie was very close to her father traveled with him and saw, you know, this grand lifestyle up close and personal as it turned out seat of you posed never did regain his help. He was supposed to give a very important political speech. He he did become a political figure of sorts. He was a rabid anti unionist and reviled by workers for that reason. Although he he repeatedly treated his workers. Well. L good salaries living conditions and and relatively safe working conditions for the day. But he was supposed to give this big speech. And he just felt terrible. He cancelled the speech, and then he collapsed, and he was in his home in Santa Barbara, California at this point. And he was rushed by express train from Santa Barbara to the mayo clinic in Minnesota Rochester. Yes. And it's it's kind of an exciting story. They they sent an advanced train ahead of CW's chain and cleared all the traffic off the tracks onto Spurs. So that his chain could could zoom through at what? Then in those days was probably considered bullet speed. They got him to the male clinic and here accounts differ. One account is that. At the mayo brothers two more brothers in the health field decided that his condition was inoperable other accounts say that he had appendicitis which is ironic considering his marketing claims for grape nuts. And and that he was operated on in March of whatever year that was nineteen fourteen but he went back to Santa Barbara and his stomach still hurt. And again, I I mentioned in last week's episode that is suspect there was a very, you know, some kind of big depression going on and he sounds manic because he had these bursts of genius and these very vivacious marketing enterprises and yet then he would come crashing down. So he was in Santa Barbara, and he was rummaging through his gun collection. And he got sadly in his head the idea that he would kill himself. Any did with a Winchester rifle using his toe to pull the trigger and blow off the top of his head. What would to go very sad. He left the bulk of his fortune his entire post them food company to the twenty seven year old Marjorie and Marjorie Merriweather post became one of in her day. So for the whole first half of the twentieth century, the most famous socialite in America and possibly in the world, certainly the richest woman in America a philanthropist and bit of a husband eater. One has been though was e f Hutton, Gena Hutton. Okay. You're too young. E f Hutton used to be the name of one of the major brokerage firms on Wall Street and she married. The F Hutton in the nineteen twenties. And with him the post him food company made several. Acquisitions, including a gosh. What what were they were important once they were Maxwell house coffee, again, I Ron ick coffee. Yeah. And some other very large companies eventually, I know birds, I was one of them he diversified into added to the serial portfolio, a whole bunch of other important foods foods that were already craft craft later acquired them in the great emanate shuffle in the late twentieth century, but if Hutton changed the postal food company into General Foods, and so just looking at our food system, and how we have ended up eating the things we eat. It also created these four chins that really were both the basis of American high society in many of the. Characteristics of our capitalist system that the money stayed where the money was grew there, and that someone like Marjorie Merriweather post just got the money and woman at that probably imagine if he had had a son she would not have gotten that. Which would have been too bad. Oh, why do you imagine that? If didn't didn't in that time didn't they usually leave money to male children over female children. Oh, I see if he if he had had a son in March. We wouldn't have gotten it. Yeah. That's that's a possibility. But she seemed like she did quite well for the company in crew it into even larger behemoth, and she was she was daddy's girl. I sense there was there was a lot of love between those two. And there were those lots of juicy gossip around his demise. Because Letitia sued the estate and eventually settled with Marjorie lati-. She came away with a mere six million was huge in those days. And so they both they both did. Well, but that's the story of c w post sounds good. He certainly changed. Both the how we eat and how we advertise food, and then even creating huge conglomeration in after his death, and sort of a sad food disruptive at a disruptor so many of them sad though at this point. That's almost the standard. Yes. I guess. So I guess I'll bet they're fence him happy ones too. I think and we will be talking about both happy and sad food disruptors in further episodes, including as we mentioned home, economists, certainly Kellogg's brothers, Henry crawl of Quaker Oats. And so there was so much. Oh in the Campbell's soup company at the there's so much going on at the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. And we are still eating the way we are eating because. Because of what happened then? So we're we're throwing open the doors to the thin dec- echo. Poor c w post, but despite his sad, demise. He lives on in breakfast foods throughout the world and his story lives onto because we're going to hear more about the juggernaut advertising and marketing bit launched the great twentieth century food empires. Henry prowl of Quaker Oats one as the strangely. Twisted. Brothers known as the Kellogg's. And of course, we'll hear about their heirs in spirit the food. Marketers of today, you say post them isn't for you. How about a red bull? Anybody be should've. Visit our website the food disruptors dot com for our show notes. Great visuals and deeper dives. We love hearing from you. So feel free to comment and keep the conversation going see next week. The food. Disruptors is created written and hosted by Theresa Brown, co hosted by Ruddick Lawrence website and tech support by Dan current and is produced an edited by Charlene Goto of Goto productions if you like what you hear be sure. And subscribe rate and comment to the show on apple podcasts or wherever you find your podcast media. Thanks for listening.