La Choy is a brand name of canned and prepackaged American Chinese food ingredients. The brand was purchased in 1990 from Beatrice Foods by ConAgra Foods during the LBO firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts' dismantling of the company and is still currently a property of ConAgra.
The company was founded in 1922 by Dr. Ilhan New (유일한), later founder of Yuhan Corporation in South Korea; and Wally Smith from the University of Michigan. The first product, canned mung bean sprouts, was originally sold in Smith's Detroit, Michigan, grocery store.
New left the company for personal reasons in 1930. Smith was killed by lightning in 1937. Regardless, the company flourished. By the late 1930s, management at the firm had developed a comprehensive line of food products, including bean sprouts, soy sauce, subgum, kumquats, water chestnuts, brown sauce, bamboo shoots, and chow mein noodles.
The company had capitalized on the growing fascination Americans had with the Orient, including an entirely different type of cuisine. In 1937, the company built its first manufacturing facility in Detroit, featuring 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) of production space.
To reduce overhead costs and maintain profitability during World War II, management decided to relocate the company from its facility in Detroit about 90 mi (140 km) to Archbold, Ohio. Selling its Detroit plant to the federal government for the production of munitions, the proceeds from the sale enabled the company to start a new era in its history.
Marketing and advertising
An advertising jingle included the slogan "LaChoy makes Chinese food swing American."
Early in his career, Jim Henson created a series of television commercials from 1965-1967 featuring a Full-Bodied Muppet character called Delbert the La Choy Dragon (performed by Frank Oz and voiced by Jim Henson) which used the catchphrase "quick cooked in dragon fire" to describe the product. Delbert was accompanied in later commercials by a timid character named Mert (performed by Jim Henson). Delbert was one of Frank Oz's few Full-Bodied Muppet performances since Frank Oz didn't like performing in the costumes for the Full-Bodied Muppets.
- La Choy at ConAgra Foods
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