Fremont Canning Company
The company was founded by Frank Daniel Gerber and his father in 1901 in Fremont, Michigan. The canning company began with a US$10,000 investment. The firm initially marketed canned peas, beans, fruits and other produce for local farmers. In its early years (from 1901 until 1908), the company struggled. In 1908, the United States’ economy in general recovered from a slump; the company then became profitable.
The firm expanded the plant in the pre-World War I years of 1914 and 1915, from seasonal to year-round production. Western Michigan and Fremont were hit by a postwar slump in 1919 to 1920 which slowed the company’s sales and growth. In the later 1920s, growth and profits resumed. Gerber’s son, Daniel, joined the company at this time.
The major change in the cannery company’s direction came about around 1927 to 1928. Daniel suggested that they start making baby food; the idea originated with his wife, Dorothy. The couple had an ill baby daughter, Sally, who required extra care. A pediatrician suggested they prepare special food for the infant. This food was prepared with special cooking and straining methods, requiring much labor on the part of Dorothy Gerber. She suggested to Dan that perhaps they could make baby food at the canning company, since the only other way of obtaining this product was by prescription, which was very expensive. She thought that a market might exist for others in a similar situation. The canning company was already producing similar products for adults.
The company researched producing and selling baby food. They planned to sell the product for less than half the prescription price. One of the keys to the canning company’s successful marketing was an advertisement for baby food placed in Good Housekeeping magazine. It got mothers of infants to participate directly in a coupon redemption program. The introductory offer was six cans of the canning company’s soup and strained vegetables for $1.00 in exchange for the name of a favorite grocer. They sought to generate enough responses that they could offer proof to grocers of the new demand for stocking their baby food on shelves. This campaign stressed the nutritional and time-saving value of its foods.
The canning company’s brokers were then able persuade grocers to stock their baby foods. The marketing idea was successful and within sixty days "Gerber Strained Foods" had gained national distribution to some extent. There was almost full national distribution within six months. It also became world known about this time. Fremont Canning Company had created the new U.S. industry of commercial baby food.
The Gerber Baby
The "Gerber Baby" symbol was initiated to reassure mothers and grocers that the concept was sound and to help identify the product. The sales in the first year was over a half million cans which produced gross revenues exceeding a third of a million dollars. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the canning company expanded its baby food lines. Some of the techniques they employed to increase its production output were:
- published child care pamphlets
- helping farmers improve their crops
- hiring of special scientists for food laboratory experiments
- issuing classroom guides for home economics and nutrition classes.
Gerber Products Company
In 1938 the canning company started dealing directly with the wholesaler. This proved beneficial and by 1941 baby foods exceeded adult foods in their production lines. The company then changed its name to the "Gerber Products Company" since it was devoting itself solely to baby foods. The consumer demand was for a million cans of baby food every week. The company dropped its adult foods altogether by 1943 and, soon thereafter, opened a second baby food plant in Oakland, California. Other plants were subsequently opened in New York and Canada. The company's timing was excellent in that it was best prepared to meet the post-World War II baby boom. The former Fremont Canning Company had become the basis for the burgeoning baby food industry. The company introduced its trademark slogan: "Babies are our business ... our only business." In later years, this slogan on packaging was shortened to only "Babies are our business". Additionally, in the 1970s and 1980s, this slogan was "Babies are our business ... and have been for over 50 years".
- Ingham, p. 443-445
- Ingham, p. 443 In 1901 he had helped found the Fremont Canning Company.
- Michigan Historical Commission
- Sheth, p. 230
- Belasco, p. 102
- Avakian, p. 73-74
- Shapiro, p. 32
- Ingham, p. 444
- Ingham, p. 443 This small town cannery was the basis for the later baby food industry.
- Young, p. 182 Gerber introduced the first commercial line of baby food in 1931.
- Yale, p. 8
- Avakian, Arlene Voski et al., From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies, Liverpool University Press (2005), ISBN 1-5584951-1-8
- Belasco, Warren James et al., Food Nations, Routledge (2002), ISBN 0-4159307-7-4
- Ingham, John N., Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders: A-G, Greenwood Publishing Group (1983), ISBN 0-3132390-7-X
- Michigan Historical Commission (1987), Michigan History Magazine, Michigan Dept. of State, Michigan Bureau of History
- Shapiro, Eileen C., Fad Surfing in the Boardroom, Basic Books (1996), ISBN 0-2014419-5-0
- Sheth, Jagdish, The Rule of Three, Simon and Schuster (2002), ISBN 0-7432343-0-8
- Yale University Press (2006), The Yale Book of Quotations, ISBN 0-3001079-8-6
- Young, William H., The Great Depression in America, Greenwood Publishing Group (2007), ISBN 0-3133352-1-4