A hundred years ago, over 70% of U.S. citizens did not have indoor plumbing, less than 15% of students graduated from high school much less college and the average U.S. household netted less than $800 annually. It’s staggering to consider how much has changed in our lives from then until now isn’t it? Yet it was during these same times that aspiring entrepreneurs launched iconic family-owned CPG brands that have endured and continue to thrive today, many run by the fourth or fifth generations of family members.
Here are five inspiring examples of these centenarian brands.
GRAETER’S ICE CREAM
Tracing it’s roots back to 1868 in Cincinnati where Louis Graeter sold ice cream in neighborhood street markets, this brand is actually nearing the century and a half mark. Run today by the fourth generation of the Graeter family, the business still makes its ice cream in two gallon batches using an authentic French pot process. This handcrafted ice cream brand continues to grow and is now sold in over 6,000 retailers nationwide and a rising number of company stores.
UTZ POTATO CHIPS
Started in 1921, this iconic potato chip brand is technically about four years shy of the century mark, but there is little doubt that they’ll easily surpass the milestone. The brand was founded by William and Sallie Utz who began producing chips in their summer kitchen in Hanover, PA and selling them to local grocers in the Baltimore area. They still operate out of Hanover today and use the same logo a smiling “Salie” designed in the 1920’s. Now run by the fourth generation of family, the company has grown to become the largest independent, privately held snack brand in United States, producing over 3.3 million pounds of snacks per week.
In 1895, August Goetze, an engraver, and his son William became aware that the gum business was going poorly and offered to buy the Baltimore Chewing Gum Company. During the first World War, the company was inspired to introduce new confectionaries to their business in part to overcome supply shortages. In 1917 William’s son Melvin introduced the now classic caramel creams to the confectionary company. In the 1980’s they introduced another classic candy, a variation of the Caramel Cream, called Cow Tales. Now run by the fifth generation of Goetze’s, the company still operates out of the same facility they purchased in 1928. Today, the company is one of the largest producers of caramel in the U.S.
JOLLY TIME POPCORN
Cloid Smith and his son Howard Smith founded the American Popcorn Company, the parent company of Jolly Time in 1914. From their basement they shelled, cleaned and packaged the first branded popcorn in the U.S. During this first year they sold 75,000 pounds of popcorn. As of their 100th anniversary in 2014, the worldwide brand has sold nearly three billion pounds! Now run by the fourth generation of Smiths, the brand is still located in city where it was founded, Sioux City, IA and employs more than 180 people, many who are second and third generation employees. They also support over 100 local farmers who grow their popcorn primarily in Nebraska and Iowa.
AMERICAN LICORICE CO.
American Licorice, the parent company of the iconic Red Vines brand, was also started in 1914 by a Chicago father and son, Martin Kretchmer and son Frank. At the time licorice twists were made by small manufacturers across the country and sold unwrapped in the surrounding local markets. The company started with black licorice products. Surviving the depression and war times meant adapting their products based on ingredient availability and consumer demands. In the 1950’s, the company introduced Red Vines their best-selling candy brand today and in the 1990’s they introduced the Sour Punch line catering to a new generation of candy consumers. Today the company is run by the fifth generation of the founding family and is headquartered in La Porte, Indiana.
Great American dream stories, right? But doesn’t it also make you wonder what it is that makes these brands so successful and enduring in areas where many others have come and gone? Thomas Zellweger, professor of business administration at the University of St. Gallen and managing director of its Center for Family Business suggests, and I wholeheartedly concur, that one of the central reasons these companies and their brands have endured has to do with focus: they are focused on the long run and not the short game. They are looking towards the next generation not just the next quarter because they’re in it for the long haul.
These types of companies, according to Zellweger, tend to be great at fostering long term employee commitment and engagement. Look at the examples above, where these companies have not only been active in the same communities for over a century but also employ generations of families. How’s that for feeling a deep tie and commitment to your workplace? How would other companies be different if they could retain their best talent for the span of a career?
Thirdly, I’ll argue that these companies are masters of the generational transition. The next generation is generally involved in the business from an early age and are contributors to charting the path to the future. Kids working the warehouse when they’re in high school, running the company in their forties. In this way, they mesh continuity with a dose of fresh perspective. Lessons and perspectives from older and younger generations combine in a way that lends fluidity to the transition. Maybe this is an aspect of that long-haul thinking.
Lastly, each of these brands have innovated over time while maintaining a disciplined focus on the core of what they do. Goetze’s didn’t migrate into granola when consumers discovered their love for healthy snacks. But Goetze’s, as well as many of the other brands listed, have reviewed their processes and ingredients to improve their products based on evolving research and standards. They’ve innovated while staying true to their core products and capabilities.
Illustrative of several of these points, Richard Graeter, CEO of Graeter’s once stated in an interview,
“Authenticity is critically important when growing a brand, and by that I mean that you must resist the temptation to compromise on what established your brand when trying to grow it. My motivation is to build on my father’s legacy and pass it on to my children. My partners, who are my cousins, share in this vision.”
In this temporary age of mergers, shutdowns, desperate chases for next quarter’s earnings, a sense of the skepticism in the employer-employee relationship and too often scattered focus based on who’s in charge today—it’s nice to see companies thrive through deeply rooted values, loyalty, passion, focus and disciplined innovation.
Here’s to the centenarians. May you stay nimble and thrive for years to come.
Feature photo credit: jollytime.com