The Pillsbury logo
Pillsbury Cake Mix (a Smucker Co. product)
|Fate||Acquired by General Mills; assets divided|
|Founded||Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., 1872|
The Pillsbury Company was a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company that was one of the world's largest producers of grain and other foodstuffs until it was bought out by General Mills in 2001. Antitrust law required General Mills to sell off some of the products, so the company kept the rights to refrigerated and frozen Pillsbury branded products, while dry baking products and frosting are now sold by its Orrville, Ohio-based Smucker company under license.
Founding and early development
C.A. Pillsbury and Company was founded in 1872 by Charles Alfred Pillsbury and his uncle John S. Pillsbury. The company was second only to Washburn-Crosby to use steel rollers for processing grain in the United States. The finished product required transportation, so the Pillsburys assisted in funding railroad development in Minnesota.
In 1889, Pillsbury and its five mills on the banks of the Mississippi River were purchased by a British company. The company also tried to purchase and merge with the Washburn Crosby Company (a precursor of General Mills), but the principals at Washburn prevented the takeover.
In 1923, the Pillsbury family reacquired Pillsbury-Washburn Flour Mills Company, Limited which subsequently was incorporated in 1935 as Pillsbury Flour Mills Company.
Only seven products used the Pillsbury name in 1950, but the company began adding to its product line. The early 1950s brought the acquisition of Ballard & Ballard Company and the beginning of packaged biscuit dough, which would become one of the company's most important and profitable product lines in later decades. The company began advertising heavily on television. In 1957, Pillsbury commissioned a television commercial jingle (from its advertising agency Leo Burnett) with the main lyrics "Nothin' says lovin/Like somethin' from the oven/And Pillsbury says it best"; the jingle became a well-known signature of the company and was used, with modifications, in some form for at least the next 20 years.
Later corporate acquisitions included restaurants such as Burger King, Steak and Ale, Bennigan's, Godfather's Pizza, Häagen-Dazs, and Quik Wok, plus popular grocery store food brands such as Green Giant.
In the 1960s, Pillsbury added Sweet* 10 made with cyclamate, which became the most popular artificial sweetener. In 1964, Pillsbury introduced Funny Face Drink Mix with the names Goofy Grape, Rootin' Tootin' Raspberry, Freckle Face Strawberry, Loud Mouth Lime, Chinese Cherry (later Choo-Choo Cherry), and Injun Orange (later Jolly Olly Orange). Lefty Lemon followed in 1965, along with other flavors. The Funny Face characters, as well as the Funny Face brand were created in 1963 by Hal Silverman, a Creative Director at Campbell Mithun Advertising. When cyclamate was banned, Sweet* 10 and Funny Face had to be dropped, resulting in a $4.5 million loss. Both products were re-introduced after changes, and the drinks became available sweetened and unsweetened.
Another drink mix introduced in the 1960s was Moo Juice, a flavored powder combined with milk in a shaker to produce a milkshake. Moo Juice was also created by Hal Silverman. Its TV commercial featured a talking animation of the product's cartoon cow head mascot. This was voiced by Frank Fontaine, who was familiar at that time as Crazy Guggenheim in The Jackie Gleason Show's "Joe the Bartender" skits. Moo Juice was short-lived, as its milkshakes tended to be thin compared to similar products such as Borden's Frosted and Birds Eye's Thick and Frosty.
Among the other crazy kid foods that Silverman created for Pillsbury was Nugget Town, chocolate flavored nuggets that came in eight different, collectable packages that when popped open and folded made into a whole western town. The TV commercial featured Buddy Hackett as the voice of the town's little bear sheriff. Also, there was Gorilla Milk—"...you'll go ape for Gorilla Milk, a glass in the morning and you'll swing all day"—a protein additive that turned milk into an instant breakfast. This product, aimed at teenagers, was not successful going against Carnation Instant Breakfast.
That decade, Pillsbury also created Space Food Sticks to capitalize on the popularity of the space program. Space Food Sticks were developed by Robert Muller, the inventor of the HACCP standards used by the food industry to ensure food safety.
When NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter launched into space on Mercury capsule Aurora 7 in 1962, he was carrying with him the first solid space food – small food cubes developed by Pillsbury's research and development department. Taking Pillsbury scientists more than a year to develop, space food cubes were followed by other space-friendly foods, such as cake that was not crumbly, relish that could be served in slices and meat that needed no refrigeration.
1980s and after
The Pillsbury Company bought Häagen-Dazs in 1983. In 1999, Pillsbury and Nestlé merged their U.S. and Canadian ice cream operations into a joint venture called Ice Cream Partners. General Mills, in turn, bought Pillsbury in 2001 and succeeded to its interest in the joint venture. That same year, Nestlé exercised its contractual right to buy out General Mills' interest in Ice Cream Partners, which included the right to a 99-year license for the Häagen-Dazs brand. Since then, pursuant to that license, the Dreyer's subsidiary of Nestlé has produced and marketed Häagen-Dazs products in the United States and Canada.
In 1989, the British company Grand Metropolitan (later Diageo) purchased the food maker, and during this ownership period the company divested itself of all production and distribution facilities (contracting these functions to other companies), making itself simply a marketing entity for its own brands (Pillsbury, Green Giant, Old El Paso, Totino's, etc.)
In 2001, Diageo sold Pillsbury to its old rival, General Mills. However, the baking products division was sold to International Multifoods Corporation, which was later acquired by Smucker's. Pillsbury sold all of their restaurant brands and exited the business completely by the late 1990s.
Pillsbury once claimed to have the largest grain mill in the world at the Pillsbury A-Mill overlooking Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The building had two of the most powerful direct-drive waterwheels ever built, each putting out 1200 horsepower (900 kW). The Pillsbury A-Mill was converted to artist lofts by the Dominium company in 2016.
In 1960, Robert Keith, then Vice President of Pillsbury, published an article entitled the "Marketing Revolution" in the leading marketing journal, Journal of Marketing. The article, which was entirely based on Keith's personal recollections, set out the way that the Pillsbury Company had evolved over time. He pointed out that the company had shifted from a focus on production in the 1860s to sales focus in the 1930s through to a consumer focus in the 1950s. The characteristics of these three distinct eras in Pillsbury's evolution include: the production oriented era from 1869 -1930s - characterized by a 'focus on production processes'; the sales oriented era from the 1930s to the 1950s - characterized by investment in research to develop new products and advertising to persuade markets of product benefits and the marketing oriented era from the beginning of the 1950s - characterized by a focus on the customer's latent and existing needs.
In addition, Keith hypothesized that a marketing control era was about to emerge. Although Keith's article explicitly documented Pillsbury's evolution, the article appears to suggest that the stages observed at Pillsbury constitute a standard or normal evolutionary path (production→sales→marketing) for most large organizations. Marketing scholars quickly picked up on Keith's evolutionary stages for marketing organizations and it was integrated into marketing texts and became "'accepted wisdom. One content analysis of 25 introductory and advanced texts found that Keith's eras were reproduced in all but four.
Keith's notion of distinct eras in the evolution of marketing practice has been widely criticized described as "hopelessly flawed". Specific criticisms of Keith's tripartite periodization include that:
- It ignores historical facts about business conditions
- It mis-states the nature of supply and demand
- It cites the growth of marketing institutions
Systematic studies carried out since Keith's work have failed to replicate his periodization. Instead, other studies suggest that many companies exhibited a marketing orientation in the nineteenth century and that the business schools were teaching marketing decades before Pillsbury adopted a marketing oriented approach. Jones and Richardson also investigated historical accounts of marketing practice and found evidence for both the sales and marketing era during the so-called production era and concluded that there was no 'marketing revolution.'  Keith's eras have become known, somewhat cynically, as the standard chronology. In spite of such criticisms, Keith's descriptions of the different eras continue to influence marketing thought.
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- Brown, S., "Trinitarianism: The Eternal Angel and the Three Eras Schema," in Brown, S., Bell, J. and Carson, D., Marketing Apocalypse: Eschatology, Escapology and the Illusion of the End, London, Routledge, 1996, pp 25-26
- Gilbert, D. and Bailey, N., "The Development of Marketing: A Compendium of Historical Approaches," Quarterly Review of Marketing, vol. 15, no. 2, 1990, pp 6-13 and reproduced in Marketing: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, Vol. 2, Michael John Baker (ed), London, Routledge, 2001, pp 75-91
- Gilbert, D. and Bailey, N., "The Development of Marketing: A Compendium of Historical Approaches," (originally published in Quarterly Review of Marketing, vol. 15, no. 2, 1990, pp 6-13) and reproduced in Marketing: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, Vol. 2, Michael John Baker (ed), London, Routledge, 2001, p. 81
- Gilbert, D. and Bailey, N., "The Development of Marketing: A Compendium of Historical Approaches," Quarterly Review of Marketing, vol. 15, no. 2, 1990, pp 6-13 and reproduced in Marketing: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, Vol. 2, Michael John Baker (ed), London, Routledge, 2001, p. 82
- Gilbert, D. and Bailey, N., "The Development of Marketing: A Compendium of Historical Approaches," Quarterly Review of Marketing, vol. 15, no. 2, 1990, pp 6-13 and reproduced in Marketing: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, Vol. 2, Michael John Baker (ed), London, Routledge, 2001, pp 6-13
- Brown, S., "Trinitarianism: The Eternal Angel and the Three Eras Schema," in Brown, S., Bell, J. and Carson, D., Marketing Apocalypse: Eschatology, Escapology and the Illusion of the End, London, Routledge, 1996, p. 26
- Jones, D.G.B. and Richardson, A.J., "The Myth of the Marketing Revolution" Journal of Macromarketing, March 1, 2007
- Fullerton, E.A., "How Modern Is Modern Marketing? Marketing's Evolution and the Myth of the 'Production Era' ", Journal of Marketing, Vol. 52, No. 1, 1988, pp. 108-125
- Jones, D.G.B. and Shaw, E.H., “A history of marketing thought”, in Weitz, B.A. and Wensley, R. (Eds), Handbook of Marketing, Sage, London, 2002, pp. 39-66; Shaw, E.H., “Reflections on the history of marketing thought”, Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 2, 2009, pp. 330-345.
- N.S. Gill. Charles Alfred Pillsbury. Minneapolis.about.com
- Andrew Haeg (July 17, 2000). General Mills Acquires Pillsbury. Minnesota Public Radio.