Kraft General Foods, Inc.
Kraft General Foods, Inc.
Three Lakes Drive
Northfield, Illinois 60093
Fax: (708) 646-2922
Wholly owned subsidiary of Philip Morris
Sales: $28.2 billion
SICs: 2022 Cheese—Natural & Processed; 2035 Pickles, Sauces & Salad Dressing; 2099 Food Preparations Nec
Kraft General Foods was formed in March of 1989, following Philip Morris’s acquisition of Kraft, Inc. in December of the previous year. The diversified tobacco giant’s first major push into the food industry came in 1985 when it acquired General Foods Corporation. After completing the Kraft acquisition, Philip Morris combined the two food companies to create one subsidiary called Kraft General Foods, Inc. This subsidiary was divided into seven major groups: General Foods USA; Kraft USA; Kraft General Foods International; Kraft General Foods Canada; Oscar Mayer; Kraft General Foods Frozen Products; and Kraft General Foods Commercial Products. Although the two companies operate under a united name, each has a long and rich history.
General Foods has been in many ways the prototypical American food processor. The company was a pioneer in the acquisition and assimilation of smaller food companies and built a huge multi-national, multi-product corporation. It has also historically applied leading-edge technology to its product development. For example, General Foods snatched up Clarence Birdseye’s company well before the food industry recognized the potential of frozen foods. Later innovations, including Tang instant breakfast drink, Pop Rocks carbonated candy, and Cool Whip nondairy dessert topping, all originated in the laboratories of General Foods. General Foods also stands as the largest coffee producer in the world. The company’s Maxwell House, Sanka, Brim, Yuban, and General Foods International Coffees brands make up roughly 25 percent of total sales. General Foods is the nation’s number-three producer of breakfast cereals (Post), the leader in powdered drink mixes (Kool Aid, Country Time, Crystal Light, and Tang), and the nation’s top producer of gelatin dessert products (Jell-O).
The groundwork for General Foods was laid by Charles W. Post, a health enthusiast who tried to seduce America’s coffee drinkers away from the caffeinic drink with a cereal beverage he called Postum. Post built the company that would become General Foods with a number of promising products and the marvel of modern marketing.
In 1891 Post checked into the Kellogg brothers’ renowned sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, in hopes of revitalizing his frail health. Post, ill for several years, was weak and confined to a wheelchair. The stay proved propitious; while at the Kelloggs’ sanitarium, Post came up with several ideas which would eventually be profitable.
Post later opened the La Vita Inn in Battle Creek, where he experimented with healing through mental suggestion and special diets. A few years later Post began marketing a cereal beverage similar to the one he had received as a coffee substitute at the Kelloggs’s. He began marketing this blend of wheat, bran, and molasses called Postum cereal beverage in 1895. Post incorporated the Postum Cereal Co., Ltd. in 1896 with a paid-in capital of $100,000.
In 1897 Post introduced a new cereal, made from whole wheat and malted barley flour, called Grape-Nuts. Grape-Nuts were baked for 20 hours, turning the starch into dextrose and creating an easily digested cereal. In 1904 Post marketed a corn flake cereal under the name “Elijah’s Manna.” Not immediately successful, the new cereal was renamed “Post Toasties” and subsequently became a big hit with American consumers. Post continued to bring new products to the market, including Post’s bran flakes, Post’s bran chocolate bar, and Post’s wheat meal.
Within five years of its incorporation, Postum Cereal Company’s capital had risen to $5 million. The company’s Battle Creek facility was the largest of its kind in the world. Postum employed 2,500 people and its factories covered more than 20 acres. Charles W. Post had amassed a personal fortune and spent his money freely to propagate his own views. Post was an outspoken critic of closed shops and labor unions, spending thousands on advertisements attacking organized labor. This crusade against unions resulted in occasional boycotts of Post products and incurred the personal enmity of union organizers throughout the nation. Carroll Post once told an interesting tale about his brother Charles in a letter. One day the two Post brothers sat at a lunchroom counter where two brands of corn flakes—Post Toasties and Krinkle—were for sale. While the two men were eating, a railroad worker came in and asked for corn flakes. When the waitress asked which brand he wanted, the man said, “give me Krinkle. That man Post is always fighting our union.” But the Posts had the last laugh: Krinkle was merely another name for Post Toasties, marketed as a reduced-price corn flake.
Despite Post’s stance against organized labor, the Postum Cereal Company did not have trouble with labor in its own factories. It paid the highest wages in the industry, emphasized safe working conditions, and implemented accident and sickness benefit programs. The company also built about 100 homes for its workers which were sold on very favorable terms.
In May of 1914, Charles W. Post committed suicide at his winter home in Santa Barbara, California. The day-to-day operations of the Postum Cereal Company had been run by a group of managers—C. W.’s “cabinet”—for several years. Upon his death, Post’s daughter, Marjorie Merriwether Post, took over the company and helped launch the expansion that would create the company known as General Foods.
Marjorie Post was well acquainted with the Postum business. She had often accompanied her father on business trips and frequently sat in on meetings. In 1920 she married Edward F. Hutton, an investment broker. Two years later the Postum Cereal Company went public, and Marjorie Post stepped down from active management of the company. Her husband, who became chairman of the company in 1923, and Colby M. Chester, who became president in 1924, ran the company’s day-today operations. Majorie remained a key policymaker, however, and was critical to the company’s acquisition strategy and transition into General Foods.
That transition began in 1925 with the acquisition of the Jell-O Company. Before frozen pies, cakes, and novelties entered the market, Jell-O was the premier dessert brand. In 1926 the company absorbed Swans Down cake flour and Minute tapioca. Baker’s coconut, Baker’s chocolate, and Log Cabin syrup were acquired in 1927. The company also shortened its name to Postum Company that year.
In 1928 the Postum Company acquired Maxwell House Coffee, whose roots dated back to 1892 when Joel Cheek perfected the coffee blend served at the famous Maxwell House hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. President Theodore Roosevelt visited Nashville in 1907 and was served Maxwell House coffee. When asked if he wanted a second cup of coffee, Roosevelt answered, “Yes, indeed, it’s good to the last drop.” This reply became the company’s famous slogan.
In 1929 the Postum Company made another significant acquisition when it paid $22 million for a controlling interest of the General Foods Company, owned by Clarence Birdseye. Birdseye perfected new techniques for freezing vegetables and meat. An adventurer by nature, Birdseye had gotten the idea for his freezing technique while on an expedition to Labrador. Birds-eye noted that the Eskimos routinely froze caribou and fish, and that these products retained their flavor even when stored for months before thawing. He hypothesized that the bitterly cold air contributed to fresh taste and this method might be superior to the commonly practiced slower freezing. Birdseye returned in 1917 to begin research and eventually perfected a process that could be used commercially. In 1924 Birdseye founded the General Seafoods Company in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Marjorie Merriwether Post had noticed Birdseye’s operations in 1926, but it took her three more years to convince Postum executives to acquire the company. The price had increased tenfold in that time, but Postum nevertheless happily acquired the company. The enlarged Postum Company also adopted the name General Foods in 1929, and Clarence Birdseye became head of the new General Foods laboratory, where he continued his work on frozen foods.
While the Great Depression affected all parts of the economy, food was a relatively stable industry. After record profits in 1929, General Foods’ spent its energy in 1930 on consolidating its recent acquisitions. As a result, earnings dropped slightly that year. In 1932 the company acquired the remaining 49 percent of General Foods. It expanded quickly, adding six new plants that year to freeze nearly 100 different products. In 1932 General Foods also purchased the Sanka Coffee Corporation, makers of decaffeinated coffee. General Foods had been distributing Sanka since 1927 through an agreement with the company’s European owners.
General Foods’s earnings, which had reached $19.4 million in 1929, dropped to $10.3 million in 1932. In 1933, however, they began to rise again as consumer purchasing power strengthened. In 1935 E. F. Hutton resigned as chairman of the company and C. M. Chester assumed the post, where he remained until 1946. Marjorie Post returned to the company as a director the next year, a position she retained until 1958.
During World War II, General Foods, like other food companies, achieved record sales, despite food shortages and other wartime exigencies. Sales in 1943 were more than double those of 1929. During the war, the company’s Denver plant produced ten-in-one rations for the U.S. Army. General Foods also began developing an instant coffee for the army in 1941. In 1943 General Foods acquired the Gaines Dog Food Company, and the next year it added Yuban premium coffee to its already strong coffee line. Instant Maxwell House coffee—one of the first postwar consumer products—was introduced in 1945.
In May of 1953, General Foods acquired the Perkins Products Company of Chicago. Perkins manufactured a variety of powdered beverage mixes to which the consumer added sugar and water for a fruit-flavored drink. Kool-Aid has been a favorite of kids across the nation ever since. Years later General Foods added a number of other products to its beverage division, including Tang, Country Time, and sugar free Crystal Light. In 1954 the company entered the salad dressing market with its purchase of the Hollywood manufacturer 4 Seasons, Inc., and in 1960 Open Pit barbecue sauce was acquired.
Acquisitions of established companies continued as General Foods diversified outside of the food industry. In 1957 the company bought the SOS Company, a leading scouring-pad manufacturer. Ten years later, however, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that the acquisition violated antitrust laws and forced General Foods to sell the company. In 1968 General Foods entered the fast-food business by purchasing the Burger Chef chain for more than $15 million. In December of 1969, General Foods added the Viviane Woodard Cosmetic Corporation, a door-to-door operation, for $39 million. And in 1970, toy company Kohner Brothers and the nation’s largest seed company, W. Atlee Burpee Company, were both acquired.
Because General Foods did not have as much luck with its nonfood subsidiaries as it did with food businesses, it disposed of most of them. Kohner Brothers was sold to Gabriel Industries after just five years; the Viviane Woodard cosmetics business was closed in 1975; Burpee was sold in 1979; and, after consistently losing money, the Burger Chef chain was sold in 1982. In the late 1950s and early 1960s General Foods aggressively branched out into international markets. In 1956 the company acquired a controlling interest in the La India Company, Venezuela’s number-one chocolate company. In 1959 the company’s Canadian subsidiary purchased the Hostess snack-food company of Canada; in 1960 it purchased the Kibon ice cream company of Brazil and the French coffee-roaster Etablessements Pierre Lemonnier S.A.; in 1961 it bought Krema Hollywood Chewing Gum Company S.A. of Paris; and General Foods of Mexico S.A. was formed in 1962. Numerous other food processors throughout the world were purchased as well. At the end of the decade General Foods had major subsidiaries operating in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and Italy.
By the mid-1960s General Foods was an established giant in the industry. Chairman C. W. Cook, who took over in 1965, ran a company whose outstanding successes were based on new-product development, sweeping market research, and enormous advertising budgets.
During the 1970s international acquisitions continued at a furious pace, but domestic operations settled down a bit. Frozen foods became increasingly popular as more double-income families found less time to cook and had extra cash for quick meals. The company’s BirdsEye frozen-food division also enjoyed a boost in earnings. But not all of General Foods units benefited from such favorable demographic changes. Jell-O, for example, suffered as new products such as frozen novelty desserts came to the market. In 1979 the Jell-O unit pushed to recapture the dessert market, employing an advertising campaign to reverse Jell-O’s steady decline. In the early-1980s the company introduced Jell-O Pudding Pops—frozen pudding on a stick—to capitalize on its well-known name and expand its share of the market.
Nonetheless, at the end of the 1970s General Foods was not performing up to expectations. The company was overly dependent on coffee for its revenues—its various coffee brands accounted for 39 percent of General Foods’ entire revenues in 1980.
In 1981 General Foods made its largest acquisition to date when it bought the Oscar Mayer company, the leading American hot dog maker, for $470 million. Oscar Mayer, founded in 1883 by a Bavarian immigrant, was a family-held company until the purchase and had a reputation for high-quality products. General Foods was trying to reduce its dependence on the coffee trade, but Wall Street critics charged that with the purchase of Oscar Mayer, the company was opening itself up to the wildly cyclical, low-margin packaged-meat business.
Regardless, the merger did give General Foods access to an extensive refrigerated supply network. In addition, the acquisition afforded General Foods a high profile in the refrigerated meat section at the supermarket—Oscar Mayer was the largest national brand of lunch meats, and its Louis Rich turkey products unit was top in that growing segment of the market.
In 1984 the company agreed to sell its Gaines Pet Food division for $157 million. General Foods’ overall performance went down as coffee sales dipped, and the Post Cereals unit, too, began to slide.
In November of 1985 Philip Morris purchased General Foods for $5.6 billion. Philip Morris had long been known as an aggressive marketer. Its chairman, Hamish Maxwell, planned to turn around General Foods and, at the same time, decrease Philip Morris’s reliance on the shrinking tobacco market. In January of 1987, Philip Smith became CEO of General Foods. Smith began a massive reorganization of the company in 1987, splitting its three core product lines—coffees, meats, and assorted groceries—into separate units.
Kraft is one of the oldest and best-known food brands in the world. Many of Kraft USA’s products, such as Velveeta pasteurized process cheese spread, Parkay margarine, Miracle Whip salad dressing, and Philadelphia Brand cream cheese, have become integral parts of the American diet. In addition, Kraft products are sold in 130 countries around the world. Such stability seems enviable, yet it has been a mixed blessing. Kraft has long sought a proper balance between the traditional products on which its reputation is based and the development of new endeavors aimed at sustained growth.
One of Kraft, Inc.’s primary predecessor companies was established by James L. Kraft, the son of a Canadian farmer. In 1903 Kraft started a wholesale cheese distribution business in Chicago. Kraft hoped to relieve grocers of the need to travel daily to the cheese market by delivering cheese to their doors. Business was dismal at first, and it was later reported that Kraft lost $3,000 and his horse the first year.
But the business eventually took hold and James was joined by his four brothers, Fred, Charles, Norman, and John. In 1909 the business was incorporated as J. L. Kraft & Bros. Company. New-product development and innovative advertising fueled the company’s growth. As early as 1911, Kraft mailed circulars to retail grocers and advertised on elevated trains and billboards. Later, he was among the first to use color advertisements in national magazines. In 1912 Kraft opened a New York office to develop an international business. By 1914 the company sold 31 varieties of cheese throughout the country, and that year it opened its own cheese factory in Stockton, Illinois.
Before the advent of refrigeration, cheese was sold in large wheels which spoiled quickly after being cut open. Kraft developed a blended, pasteurized cheese that did not spoil and could be packaged in small tins. Kraft began producing what it called process cheese in 1915 and received a patent in 1916. Six million pounds of this cheese were sold to the U.S. Army during World War I.
In 1919 Kraft placed its first advertisements in national magazines. The next year, Kraft acquired a Canadian cheese company. In 1924 Kraft’s name was changed to Kraft Cheese Company and the company offered its shares to the public. That year Kraft also opened its first overseas sales office, in London, which led to the establishment of Kraft Cheese Company Ltd. there in 1927. The same year Kraft moved into Germany by opening a sales office in Hamburg. In 1928 Kraft merged with Phenix Cheese Corporation, the maker of Philadelphia Brand cream cheese. The newly formed Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation had captured 40 percent of the nation’s cheese market by 1930 and boasted operations in Canada, Australia, Britain, and Germany.
The 1920s spawned another growing dairy concern, the National Dairy Products Corporation, whose fortunes were soon to be linked with Kraft-Phenix. National Dairy was the product of a 1923 merger between the Hydrox Corporation of Chicago, an ice cream company established in 1881 and purchased in 1914 by pharmacist Thomas Mclnnerney, and the Rieck-McJunkin Dairy Company of Pittsburgh. Throughout the remainder of the 1920s, National Dairy acquired other small dairy concerns in the East and Midwest, including the Breyer Ice Cream Company and Breakstone Bros., Inc., the sour cream and cottage cheese company. In 1929 National Dairy set out to acquire Kraft-Phenix. The merger was completed on May 12, 1930. The group of companies assembled by Mclnnerney prior to the Kraft-Phenix merger eventually formed the core of Kraft’s Dairy Group.
The merger did not radically affect the way in which the two companies operated. Mclnnerney’s strategy had always been to provide essentially autonomous subsidiaries with the resources needed for growth. Consequently, Kraft functioned independently from New York-based National Dairy, which acted primarily as a holding company.
After the merger, Kraft settled down to introduce many of the brands that now form the heart of its consumer product line; Velveeta pasteurized process cheese spread had been introduced in 1928; Miracle Whip salad dressing and Kraft caramels came in 1933; the famous macaroni and cheese dinner in 1937; and Parkay margarine in 1940. Again, innovative advertising—this time on radio—encouraged quick public acceptance of the new products. In 1933 the company sponsored the “Kraft Musical Revue,” a two-hour musical variety show. Later the program was shortened to one hour and was broadcast weekly as the “Kraft Music Hall,” hosted by Bing Crosby. Overseas operations expanded, guided by a policy that mandated local control and products tailored to meet the needs and tastes of foreign consumers. Meanwhile, in 1935, National Dairy introduced Sealtest ice cream, named after a quality-control system for its dairy products.
Kraft was a major food supplier during World War II. By the end of 1941, four million pounds of cheese were shipped to Britain weekly. Many Kraft products, including field rations of cheese, were produced for the U.S. government. Kraft’s labs researched better methods of food production while home economists at Kraft Kitchens, a division established in the home economics department in 1924, developed recipes to ease wartime shortages.
In 1945 the Kraft Cheese Company became Kraft Foods Company. In the postwar years, Kraft resumed the formula of new-product development and advertising that had helped build the company. In 1947 Kraft created and sponsored the first commercial network program on television, the “Kraft Television Theatre.” Along with the new advertising vehicle new products, such as sliced process cheese in 1950 and Cheez Whiz pasteurized process cheese spread in 1952, were introduced.
In 1951 the postwar economic boom drove National Dairy’s sales over the $1 billion mark for the first time. Thomas Mclnnerney died in 1952 and J. L. Kraft died the following year. Kraft’s death marked the end of the Kraft family’s leadership of the business. National Dairy began to reorganize along more centralized lines soon after its founders died. The autonomous subsidiaries became divisions of a single operating company in 1956 and 1957. Meanwhile, the company took its first cautious steps toward diversification with the acquisition of Metro Glass, a maker of glass packaging, in 1956.
During the late 1950s and the 1960s, Kraft continued to expand its product line, adding new products such as jellies and preserves in 1956, “jet-puffed” marshmallows in 1959, barbecue sauce in 1960, and individually wrapped cheese slices in 1965. During the 1960s, Kraft also introduced many of its products in foreign markets.
In 1969 National Dairy renamed itself Kraftco Corporation and in 1972 it transferred its headquarters from New York to the Chicago suburb of Glen view. The company name changed in 1976 to Kraft Inc. to emphasize the company’s focus on food processing and to more clearly identify it with the internationally known Kraft trademark. Reorganization accompanied the name change; the movement toward a more centralized structure—begun in the 1950s—was accomplished by partitioning the company into divisions according to specific markets or products.
Kraft manifested a decidedly conservative business strategy during the 1970s. Unlike other major food companies, Kraft did not seek acquisitions to shore up sagging profits. New-product introductions also slowed somewhat; after the introduction of Light n’ Lively yogurt and ice milk in 1969, squeezeable Parkay margarine came in 1973 and Breyers yogurt in 1977. The difficult business climate of the 1970s may have encouraged a defensive posture as inflation increased costs and cut into profits.
John M. Richman, who began at Kraft as a lawyer at the National Dairy Products Corporation, became Kraft’s chairman and CEO in 1979. Richman planned to strengthen the company’s position in its traditional markets while diversifying into higher-growth industries. His first move—a truly bold stoke—was a merger with Dart Industries, a Los Angeles-based conglomerate headed by the flamboyant Justin Dart.
Dart Industries was established in 1902 as the United Drug Company. Dart began his career in the retail drug business and built Rexall Drugs into one of the largest chains of drugstores in the country. With Rexall as his base, Dart began an aggressive acquisition campaign, diversifying into chemicals, plastics, glass, cosmetics, electric appliances, and land development. In 1969 the company name was changed to Dart Industries to reflect this diversity. At the time of the merger, the flagship of Dart Industries was its successful Tupperware subsidiary that sold plastic food containers through direct sales by independent dealers using a “home party” plan.
The aggressive, innovative, and rapidly growing Dart Industries fit perfectly into Richman’s plan; it offered Kraft instant diversification. The merger also offered advantages for Dart and his company. Richman’s boldness appealed to Dart, who thought that Kraft would give Dart Industries some stability. Thus, Dart & Kraft was launched on September 25, 1980 with John Richman as its chairman and CEO and Justin Dart as chairman of the executive committee. Kraft and the subsidiaries of Dart—Tupperware, West Bend appliances, Duracell batteries, Wilson-art plastics, and Thatcher glass—continued to operate independently. However, some analysts doubted that such a diverse company would succeed.
As in many restructurings, there were some early rough spots, but major changes in operating procedure were confined to top managers. Middle managers were left in their familiar roles to ease the transition. Altogether, management apparently succeeded in unifying two very different firms with a minimum of friction.
Industry analysts, nonetheless, felt compelled to ask which partner would dominate the merger. Although Kraft was the larger of the two companies, the consensus was that the more aggressive and growth-oriented Dart would be the dominant party. The reasoning was that Dart had been given preference in the new company’s name and it was Kraft’s desire to become more like Dart that initially led to the merger. On the first anniversary of the merger, Richman himself commented that “in terms of organization and outlook, we’re more a Dart than a Kraft.”
Indeed, Dart & Kraft’s initial activities bore out this assessment. Soon after the merger, the company bid $460 million for the Hobart Corporation, a manufacturer of food-service equipment. The deal was completed in April of 1981. And even while the Hobart deal was being negotiated, Dart & Kraft announced that it was considering further acquisitions.
Although several smaller acquisitions followed in the next two years, diversification slowed because several subsidiaries experienced managerial problems or proved vulnerable to the recession of the early 1980s. Poor performers included Kraft’s European operations and its food-service business, and Dart’s plastics unit and its West Bend appliances. Even Hobart was troubled by sagging profits and declining market share in its Kitchen Aid division, which produced top-of-the-line kitchen appliances. Company efforts to get these businesses back on track were beginning to show results when trouble struck Tupperware.
Tupperware had been a phenomenal success; it doubled sales and earnings every five years prior to 1980. But in 1983 sales slipped seven percent and profits were down 15 percent. Tupperware’s slide was attributed to attrition among its dealers—as more women took jobs outside the home, there were fewer people to sell and buy Tupperware.
In 1984 the company planned to increase returns from 13.3 percent to 18 percent, and thus place Dart & Kraft in the top fifth of the consumer-products industry. This ambitious goal was to be attained by adding new products, extending existing lines, and using aggressive marketing and advertising.
Michael A. Miles, the man who had revived Kentucky Fried Chicken, was brought in to direct the new effort. Miles first cut costs by overhauling the European division. Many of Kraft’s brands competed in mature markets. Additions to these lines—for example, bacon and cream cheese-flavored salad dressings—boosted sales. The company also acquired promising new brands that appealed to the upscale consumer. Among these were the import-style cheeses of Churny Company, Inc., Celestial Seasonings herb teas, Lender’s bagels, and Frusen Gládjé premium ice cream.
The company pursued similar tactics in Dart & Kraft’s nonfood businesses, but when sales continued to lag into 1986, the company decided, in effect, to dissolve the six-year-old merger. Hobart, Tupperware, Wilsonart, and West Bend were spun off into a new company called Premark International, Inc. Kraft retained all of the product lines it had brought to the 1980 merger and also gained Duracell batteries.
Kraft followed through on its plan to expand its product lines and market them aggressively, a strategy that won visible gains. The company’s management seemed to have rediscovered J. L. Kraft’s approach that combined the stability of well-known brand names with creative marketing and the continuous development of new products aimed at changing American tastes.
Philip Morris’s designs on the packaged-foods industry became clear when the company purchased Kraft in 1988. In March of 1989 Philip Morris merged the Kraft and General Foods units into one giant entity called Kraft General Foods, Inc. At the helm was Kraft’s Michael Miles.
As a result of the merger, the company became the largest food marketer in the United States. Profits at Kraft General Foods grew at an average rate of more than 20 percent in its first two years. Early on, the company’s size proved to be a competitive advantage; it saved $400 million through initial consolidations and its purchasing power multiplied. Size had its drawbacks, however. The company was slow to respond to demand in some markets. For example, Kraft waited until 1990 to introduce Touch of Butter, well after other food producers responded to the public’s growing concern about excess cholesterol. Tensions existed between the Kraft and General Foods forces within the company as well. One notable failure during this period was Kraft microwave entrees, originally developed by General Foods, but marketed under the Kraft name as a result of internal politics. The product was discontinued after only six months.
In 1991 Miles became CEO of Philip Morris. He was replaced at Kraft General Foods by Richard Mayer. The company’s sales in the North American market grew only one percent in 1991. Several of the company’s most important product categories lost market share that year, including cheese, processed meats, and frozen dinners. In the $5.2 billion retail cheese market, Kraft General Foods’s drop to 42 percent control cost the company approximately $125 million in profits. The company’s Oscar Mayer line of processed meat products was hurt by the rising tide of health-consciousness among consumers. To combat this trend, healthier-sounding items such as “light” bologna and turkey bacon were introduced. In addition, close to 300 products with lagging sales were eliminated. Demand for Louis Rich processed turkey products was slipping as well. Kraft General Foods responded by closing its Tulare, California plant, thus cutting the payroll by more than 1,000 employees. Another market share loser was BirdsEye frozen vegetables, which fell behind Pillsbury’s Green Giant brand in share of sales.
An area in which Kraft General Foods achieved positive results in 1991 was in its Post cereal unit. Honey Bunches of Oats, introduced in 1989 (when Post registered an all-time low market share of 10.9 percent), snared one percent of the $7.5 billion breakfast cereal market by 1991. This was the company’s first gain in that area in more than ten years. Coffee also performed well for Kraft General Foods in 1991. During the year the Maxwell House brand regained market leadership over Procter & Gamble’s Folgers.
In 1992 KGF Marketing Services was formed. The purpose of this unit was to assist in coordinating marketing strategies and bridge the gaps between the different operating units. Late in 1992 the operating units of Kraft General Foods were realigned. The company eliminated two of its seven original operating groups, KGF Frozen Products and Oscar Mayer Foods. In January of 1993 Kraft General Foods completed the $450 million purchase of RJR Nabisco’s cold cereal business.
Despite the difficult business climate of recent years, a company the size of Kraft General Foods will undoubtedly continue to have a major impact on the packaged-foods industry. As further adjustments are made, the company will likely become increasingly able to take advantage of its stronger products while, at the same time, recapturing market share in the areas in which it has been losing ground.
General Foods USA; Kraft USA; Kraft General Foods Canada.
Dudley, Charles Eaves, Post City, Texas, Austin, Texas, State Historical Association, 1952; Kraft, Inc..—Through the Years, Glenview, Illinois, Kraft, Inc., 1988; Liesse, Julie, and Judann Dagnoli, “Goliath KGF Loses Steam after Merger,” Advertising Age, January 27, 1992; Warner, Fara, “Kraft General Foods Move to Mend Its Floundering Marriage,” Adweek’s Marketing Week, February 24, 1992; Sinisi, John, “KGF’s New Dressing,” Brandweek, September 28, 1992.
—updated by Robert R. Jacobson