The History of the Big Names in Soup: Part One

  • If you've ever eaten canned soup, then this history is the reason you were able to.

Of the big names in soup, which comes to mind first? With over 440 million cans sold a year and seven million bowls a day consumed, it’s safe to say this industry is a big one. So big, it generates $ .5 million dollars every hour.

No Canned Soup

Canned soup was unknown in the United States 100 years ago. It’s now a $17,000,000,000 industry.

By the end of 19th century, Americans were leaving farms to work in factories. It became less about food they could grow and more about the food they could buy. Americans wanted safe, cheap, and accessible food. Demand for simple, nutritious, and easy to reproduce food was on the rise and the big names in soup were on their way to feed the masses.

Henry Heinz

Henry Heinz out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania sold safe and reliable products like ketchup. The ketchup came in clear glass bottles so people could see the food inside. This was revolutionary in at the time.

Heinz was easily one of the first national name brand food companies in America. They were known for their new factory and new products. It was also the first factory in the country powered with electricity, canning lines, bottling lines, and even railroad cars with train lines right through the building for daily produce drop offs.

From baked beans to minced meat, there was no other company that came close to these products or size at the time.

Arthur Dorrance

In Camden New Jersey, a minority partner bought out the original founder of small regional company. Arthur Dorrance has his sights on being the next Henry Heinz, and he had just bought Campbell’s from none other than Joseph Campbell.

He went out on a limb and ought a failing canning/preserving vegetables and fruits company. Arthur thought they needed more products and wanted to do things more like Heinz.

The company that Joseph Campbell sold would soon turn into a global soup empire worth nearly $14,000,000,000.  For now they don’t even make their signature product, canned soup. The company only made preserves of fruits and vegetables at the time, before it was one of the big names in soup. In fact, it’s by far the biggest name in canned soup to this day!

There was a new way of preserving food with canning  and Arthur flooded the market with as many Campbells canned products as he can dream up. There were lots of condiments like mustard and ketchup and of course preserves, that he tried to build upon.

John Dorrance

John Dorrance came to his uncle to say that he wanted to work for Campbells, to head up the chemistry department. In the 1890s. food science is still in its infancy. Even the calorie had just been discovered 50 year prior. And it’s a full century before ingredient lists were mandated on foods.

There were food safety violations like formaldehyde being used as a milk preservative and curried calf brains passed off as butter. Some would even sell sawdust as pepper. This is honestly stomach churning. Eww

John’s uncle told him there’s no place for chemistry at the company but John said he will prove him wrong. He said it’s food science. Arthur hired him on as long as he brought his own chemist equipment with him, stayed in the corner and didn’t really bother anyone.

It was only time until John eventually made Campbells a household name as one of the big names in soup, in 120 countries across the globe. Though, John’s first check is only $750 a week and he told his uncle that pay won’t even cover equipment at the time.

The company was losing money and they weren’t selling much. Trying to sell products in the way Heinz was had cost them $60,000 in losses, comparable to $2 million today.

They Need a New Approach

Heinz is raking in $2 million a year or about $70 million today. Operations were over seen by executive vice president Mueller. They decided to open the doors to see the Heinz factory, so the public so they could see safe food preparation.

It’s thought that John Dorrance probably went there to see the company, which soon ignites a bitter way between Heinz and Campbells.

Time to Sell Soup

John had an ambitious plan to cash in on the need for safe and available food. He knew they had to give people something no one else was offering. He recalled when studying in Europe that he practically survived on soup. He said they don’t know what they’re missing, and started the history of big names in soup.

Canned soup exists but back then it was a wealthy people food and the “average Joe” people hadn’t eaten it. John wants to find a way to make soup accessible for all Americans so he plays around with some of the offerings from Heinz.

He wanted ready-to-go soup but that made it heavy and expensive. He wanted to fit the same amount of soup in a smaller can. He played around with the idea of using less water, the idea being that the customer takes it home and can simply add water.

This would make the product lighter and easier to ship. They wanted to concentrate on the concentrate, evaporation and condensing. John was a scientist but not a chef. He figured out how to make condensed soup scientifically but it didn’t taste good yet.

What a great history thus far! To read the rest of the story, visit The History of the Big Names in Soup: Part Two.