Cincinnati Business Journal interviewed BrandlandUSA in an August feature on Christian Moerlein beer and Rookwood Pottery brands. The Wall Street Journal online on April 18, 2012 discusses the idea of reviving dead brands and their usefulness for the small entrepreneur. See Old Brands Get a Second Shot. The November 2010 Smart Money features a story by Anne Kadet on orphan brands, and mentions BrandlandUSA. QSR, for quick service restaurants, used our advice on branding in the event of a bankruptcy in the October 2010 article Back from Bankruptcy.
Some of our posts appear on the site Seeking Alpha. Sacramento Bee mentioned us for our search for
Sea & Ski
Read our commentary in Richmond's Style Weekly on the future of (the late) Circuit City at
Advice for Circuit City. See a Toledo Blade Story on the future of a historic White Tower restaurant. Read Editor Garland Pollard's personal writing clips online at www.garlandpollard.com.
MILWAUKEE – Pabst, that icon of Milwaukee, is returning to its former home. The company will open a microbrewery and testing center at the old Pabst brewering in Milwaukee.
Pictured here is a part of the Pabst revival in the city including the famous Pabst sign and the Brewhouse Suites hotel.
The move, which is the cause of great civic celebration, should be a wake up to other brands that have disconnected from their historic community roots. The reality is that while pricing is an important part of a product, to base every business decision on pure cost is a recipe for turning your brand into a commodity. Thus, the disaster PR move of having to buy Oreos made in Mexico, or frustration with the move of Johnnie Walker Scotch from Kilmarnock.
These brands need to take a hint from fashion brands. You keep your boutique in Paris and New York, where rents are high, and sell a couture line. Then the cheaper mass versions can be made elsewhere, and people don’t get worked up.
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – An entire generation of Americans recognize the venerable Morton Frozen Foods brand, remembering fondly its many products ranging from pot pies to honey buns. Despite humble origins in an abandoned Louisville church basement, Morton grew to become one of the nation’s premier manufacturers of frozen foods in the mid-20th century.
Although Morton achieved a spectacular level of success with its wide array of products, a succession of corporate buyouts prompted its movement toward obscurity until it disappeared completely from grocery store freezers in the 1990s. However, efforts are currently underway to breathe new life into this icon of American business history.
In 1938, a recent college graduate and entrepreneur named Harold M. Morton ventured into the competitive packaged food industry by establishing a small chicken processing and canning firm in Louisville, KY. First based in an abandoned church basement, the company became known regionally for its signature chicken and noodle dish that it sold in glass jars. While the Morton Packing Company slowly grew, Harold Morton left the helm due to some unforeseen circumstances and went on to engage in other endeavors. However, business boomed for the company during World War II since consumers did not have to surrender many ration points to buy Morton’s chicken and noodle concoction. Further, the company benefited from lucrative government contracts, packaging food – mostly soups – for the U.S. armed forces, and soon moved into a larger manufacturing plant in Louisville.
Post War Innovation & Edward Stettinius
Unfortunately, the bottom fell out for Morton following the war as their signature dish was no longer desirable among consumers. The company would have likely gone under had it not been for a chance luncheon between two corporate leaders in 1946. That year, former U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius dined with respected food industry consultant George Egger at Stettinius’ estate outside of Charlottesville, VA. As they chatted and ate chicken pot pie, Stettinius remarked to Egger, “You know, pot pie is the oldest of our traditional American dishes, but housewives don’t seem to find time to make it anymore. It’s too bad that some food company doesn’t turn out a tasty chicken pie.”
A visionary business leader who was well connected within the food services industry, Egger immediately filed this idea away in the back of his head. A short time later, he was brought in as a consultant to help revive the troubled Morton firm and immediately shared the idea with the company’s leadership. Morton staff quickly developed a commercially viable chicken pot pie and the company’s fortunes immediately changed.
Morton sales began to soar as the American public became fascinated with this new frozen chicken pot pie. Egger, who was appointed Morton’s president in 1950, was also successful in financing a major media campaign that introduced “Colonel Morton” to consumers across the nation. In the meantime, Morton began to diversify into other meat pot pies as well as fruit pot pies, operating four production plants across the country and becoming an industry leader in the frozen foods field.
Morton reached the pinnacle of its success in the mid-1950s, when famed financier John Hay “Jock” Whitney was talked into investing millions of dollars into the company. These resources proved instrumental in making Morton a truly national brand. However, although the American public was increasingly fond of Morton’s “Old Kentucky Recipe,” the company struggled to find the resources to compete with larger corporations that were entering the frozen pot pie market. Consequently, Egger sold Morton in 1956 to the Continental Baking Company and launched a new era for the Louisville firm.
Dessert and Bakery Products
Renamed Morton Frozen Foods and relocated to New York in the late 1950s, the company (later a division of ITT Continental) began to add frozen dinners and other desserts to its lineup of products. Morton’s “golden age” continued into the 1960s, as American consumers were still quite fond of its products. However, increasing competition and the rise of fast food began to spell trouble for the brand in the 1970s. In response, Morton began to transition toward frozen dessert and bakery products, ranging from cream pies to donuts to honey buns. They were well received by consumers but failed to achieve the same impact that Morton once enjoyed with its pot pies. “Colonel Morton” also ceased to exist on Morton packaging as the company shifted to other less distinctive logos.
Further, Morton was sold during this period to a succession of corporations, ranging from Del Monte to its most recent owner, ConAgra, in 1986. This succession of buyouts gradually transformed Morton from a distinct company with its own unique identity into a more artificial brand. A 1990s corporate restructuring prompted ConAgra to remove Morton from its list of active products, and the brand ceased around 2000.
Editor’s Note: A group of individuals with ties to Morton has recently emerged with a plan to put the brand back on the map. Their efforts will be discussed in Part 2 of this article, which will follow.
About the Author: Dr. Sean Heuvel is a faculty member at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA, and holds degrees from the College of William and Mary and the University of Richmond. A historian by trade, Sean is proud of his close familial ties to Morton Frozen Foods. He is the great-grandson of Jean D. Patton (1898-1956), who helped establish the Morton Packing Company with his family friend Harold Morton in 1938. Patton went on to serve as the company’s vice president of production as well a member of Morton’s board of directors. Further, Sean is the grandson of Gene Liberati (1922-2011), who was also a longtime Morton executive. Sean lives with his wife and two children in Williamsburg.
This was one of Morton’s earliest ads, appearing in a 1941 Louisville, KY Rotary Club newsletter. It featured L. Owsley Haskins, who served as the company’s president from 1941 to 1950.
Famed financier John Hay Whitney (1904-1982) also played a key role in facilitating Morton’s phenomenal growth. In the mid-1950s, he invested millions of dollars in the company, providing Morton the resources to advertise extensively and become a truly national brand.
George Egger (1905-1991) served as Morton’s president from 1950 to 1958. A visionary business leader with extensive experience in the food industry, Egger was instrumental in transforming Morton from a small, Louisville packaging firm into a nationally recognized, multimillion dollar company.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, Jr. (1900-1949) first suggested the idea in 1946 that frozen chicken pot pies should be developed and sold commercially. This suggestion later made Morton Frozen Foods a legend in the industry.
A Morton Donut Shop ad from the 1970s.
A Morton chocolate cream pie ad from the late-1960s
A trio of Morton meat pot pies from the 1960s.
A Morton frozen dinner from the 1960s.
A mid-1950s chicken pot pie ad from Morton’s golden age of advertising.
Roy and woodgrain at Key Bridge, Arlington, sometime in the groovin Nixon era.
It was the Chipotle of the 1970s. A fast food brand started by Marriott, Roy Rogers almost went by the wayside, but then the wayside of the New Jersey Turnpike kept the brand visible, and it lived.
The idea was simple. Serve better ingredients than the normal fast food restaurant, allow people to put their own stuff on the hamburger at a “fixins bar” with lettuce, tomato and mayo and serve a few other things than burgers, including chicken and roast beef. Give the brand the wholesome image of Roy Rogers himself, who was trustworthy, American and safe. Pictured here, I took a Vintage Cam app photo of Roy visiting the Key Bridge Marriott, back in the 1970s. And yes, he is standing next to a Ford LTD Country Squire, with wood grain. [Read more →]
In Jim Croce’s 1970s ditty, bad boy Leroy Brown had a “Custom Continental” and an “Eldorado too.”
Well, of the two, both are still quite memorable automobile models, the former always looking a bit stodgy and sometimes Presidential and the latter, frankly a bit pimp but in some years, quite elegant.
Both Cadillac and Lincoln have dropped all their famous brands of car. Cadillac was known for the Coupe DeVille, and in the 70s, a snazzy understated midsize car called the Seville. The Seville was smart; my wrestling coach, a former Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam Jack Glover, even drove one! Now, Cadillac uses letter monikers, so annoying to me that I cannot even recall what they are.
Lincoln has done it too, dropping the Mark V and Continental models for the MK series and some other letter that is also not worth remembering. It does have the whale-ish Navigator, as Cadillac kept the Escalade. Again, the lettering model nomenclature is so unmemorable that I don’t feel the need to list them. I did read, however, that MK represents Mark V, so I guess there is some history there but it was totally lost on me, and I am sort of interested in those weird things.
Lincoln, now calling itself Lincoln Motor Company, however, is trying again to reclaim some of its past glory and is going to reintroduce the Continental. The old Continental lived from 1939, on and off, til 2002.
Ford is apparently definitely bringing it back. Looking at the car, it has simple lines. But we wonder though why the wheels need to look so cartoonish and street, as if they had been pimped out, and the caps need to look like they were designed by a kid with a Spirograph. Of course other carmakers are doing it, but that has never been the Lincoln way. Most of the “retro” cars have had an awful “ironic” and cartoon quality to them (HHR, Beetle, PT Cruiser), rendering them an oddity, not a statement of legacy.
In styling, Lincolns always looked as if they pushed the air, dominating the road, rather than air pushing around them in a streamlined way. This one seems to look too much like a new Jaguar.
Nevertheless, the lines are good and simple. And the important thing for the company is that the model is coming back, adding to the history of the company. They can change next year.
Missing are the center opening doors, a feature of the car that harks back to the days when a driver (never chauffeur) would open the doors for the owner.
Below, the Tweet from Lincoln announcing the idea:
WAYNESBORO – Perhaps the greatest American brass company of the 20th century was Virginia Metalcrafters.
The company started as a stove manufacturer, early on making, of all things, the Hotpoint brand. Begun by William J. Loth as the Waynesboro Stove Company, it was born at a time when there were many regional iron foundries and stove makers. As electric appliances took over, most of these companies shut down, unable to adapt. However, Virginia Metalcrafters figured out a way to survive. In 1936, it became Virginia Metalcrafters, selling unique household items to that new, sensational American tourist attraction, Colonial Williamsburg.
At right, a photo of its trivets, placed in a modern decorating scheme, from the 1982 Williamsburg Reproductions catalog. [Read more →]
Pillsbury has made many a product since 1872. Perhaps one of the most forgettable was Space Food Sticks, a sort of chewy-chocolate Slim Jim vitamin.
The Space Food Stick, we presume, never really actually made it into space. In fact, if you were going to serve “space men” something chocolate, perhaps a chocolate bar would deliver more of the excitement and sugar rush that one would wish if you were circling about the moon in one of the Apollo capsules. Astronauts would want something that reminded them a little bit more of what they might buy in a Houston, 7-Eleven.
The brand had a number of problems, most evident from a brief look at the packaging, which tried to sell to too many audiences at once. Each stick was “44 calories” which was an obvious ploy to sell it to dieting women (and the stray man) looking for something that tasted good, was nutritious and filled with vitamins. The “Space Food” brand was obviously a ploy to hijack some of the Tang buzz, which was then all a craze with kids.
As I recall the taste, it had a vile tang to it, but the tang was more an aftertaste, perhaps a result of the vitamins and preservatives added, with a bit of the metallic terroir of chocolate Ex-Lax. The texture was equally chewy, not quite candy, not quite a chocolate cupcake.
Curious if any others had experienced these treats.
The news that there were numerous bidders for the remnants of Radio Shack includes the fact of a joint Sprint/Radio Shack deal that came to the press in February. The bid aims to keep a half-skeleton of the stores alive, and use them as a place to promote Sprint wireless. We hope it wins, as there are still thousands of employees who would at least have a future.
However, the stores and real estate are not the only assets of value in the bankruptcy. There is at least some intellectual property, a distribution network and a product line that still has value.
Of course, the company has made so many mis-steps, including rebranding as “The Shack” when really, people call it radio shack. It also missed the whole gaming craze, which it pioneered, and has been completely useless in the field of personal computers, which it sort of half invented. It also ignored all its great brands and products in favor of an Uber brand.
For instance, in antennas, it had Archer. Today, an antenna is a very useful thing, as people attempt to cut the cord to cable. However, at the store where I would go, the antennas did not work for HD, and were not really thought through as products by buyers.
That being said, iPhone apps have just about killed every segment of an old Radio Shack store. From clock radios to receivers to telephones to cassette recorders to thermometers to weather radios, an iPhone does it well, although not with the nostalgic charm.
Of course, the decision will be with the court. And it can only be a niche play, though I still would love a friggin Flavoradio, in yellow or blue please!
Seriously, though, it would seem like the judge could perhaps piece together a solution that would please the bidders who wanted to keep some stores alive, and the others who want pieces.
Over the years, we have had some suggestions and comment; some of the related stories are show below, including a story about Rodrigo Mitma and Josh Finkelstein’s entry in BrandlandUSA and Savannah College of Art and Design’s Phoenix Competition. The contest, led by ad professor Sean Trapani, attempted to revive dying or dormant brands.
The name. While it is certainly tarnished, Radio Shack has value. It is often the first place where you go to get a connector, charger, iPhone case, USB drive and all the other little pieces that you need for our electronic era. Much as we try to Bluetooth or Wifi our way to connectivity, we still need all those doodads, which become ever more complex, not less. Questions such as what as the difference between big HDMI and little HDMI? Does HDTV work? That sort of thing.
The brands: Radio Shack has ignored its sub-brands, but there is some value there.
The website: Alexa stats show radioshack.com does not have great traffic, but it ranks 1,470 in the United States. Each visitor stays about three minutes, viewing about three pages. Not horrible, and that site could be valuable as a hub for electronics information and mail order.
The expertise: I am not sure where you find 23 year olds who like to talk to 40-plus people about electronics tips, but these employees are good at it, and often approach it with a sense of humor.
The number of stores. Back in the 1970s, when Radio Shack was king, there were about 2,000 stores. Today, there are over 4,200, and the idea that one store is needed in every neighborhood shopping center is just too much for a company to manage. As I recall, the typical Radio Shack of the mid 70s was slightly larger, and had room for the higher margin electronics that would spur all the other sales of connectors, tapes and such.
Needs: What does a person need today for electronics if you have an iPhone? You never have enough USB chargers, but separate from that, what else?
Computers: The 60 plus set loves Facebook, but has trouble with routers, laptops and such. Having such help is definitely a market that they ignored.
Franchising: The brand is well known, and I could see many entrepreneurs who could use the flag as a way to sell the sort of bucket shop items that we all need, as well as sell Dish TV services and the like.
As the U.S. retires the last C-141 StarLifter, Lockheed-Martin issued a press release, the sure sign of a company that values its history, as it is currently making the C-130J modernizing the C-5 Galaxy.
The aircraft, used from Vietnam to Iraq as a transport, debuted in 1967; the retired Hanoi Taxi aircraft has 39,470 flight hours and 10,900 landings.
The C-141 was a tremendously successful aircraft for Lockheed as a military jetliner; a commercial version never succeeded. It was notable for many reasons; Walter Boyne, in The Lockheed Story, recounts that the plane’s production area was where the company decided to desegregate its Georgia operation, as it was with Federal money. Lockheed officials Dan Houghton and Dick Pulver quietly removed all segregated signs at drinking fountains, and instead simply offered paper cups. Segregated lunchrooms were abandoned, with food carts placed in halls. [Read more →]
LONDON – How about a rerun or a revival for Digital.com? A firm in the U.K. entitled Quality Nonsense purchased the digital.com domain and hopes to redevelop it. Or not. As they say in their website:
We bought the domain to develop, rather than to speculate, and have declined several substantial offers. However, serious offers will receive suitable consideration.
The domain was part of HP, which purchased Digital Equipment Corporation and shut down the brand. Quality Nonsense has put up a shingle website, using a Mad Men era Flickr image.
The Digital shutdown was a waste of a great corporate legacy. Not only did Digital have a great history of innovation known to older technology pioneers, early Internet adopters in the 1990s appreciated the brand for its Altavista search engine, which Google clearly aped. Even today, I find myself missing some of the search features of Altavista, which pioneered a sort of generic search that showed no favorites. It also allowed for the searching of images and audio files.
Today, the altavista.com website redirects to Yahoo. However, because Altavisita was originally a subdomain of digital, if you go to altavista.digital.com you necessarily fold back to digital.com, as that’s the way the website works. [Read more →]
Classic ad from IWC in the 1950s, when the brand marketing was about performance and function, not image.
NEW YORK – In an ever saturated market, with companies jostling to differentiate, the appeal to associate brand with ‘heritage’ continues to increase. Virtues of timeless legacy, quality & tradition become lighthouses of authenticity in ever volatile, albeit, undifferentiated waters.
That said, when companies artificially manufacture such authenticity, do consumers care?
In 2012, Georges Kern, the CEO of IWC, a company with an outstanding heritage & reputation for producing some of history’s most exemplary timepieces, gave a refreshingly frank yet brutal summary of how they brought their Portofino range of watches to market:
The firm, with a number of perennially successful lines, had a challenge with the Portofino; “We never knew what to do with the product, it had no story, no repositioning, but it had a great name” Kern says in the presentation – IWC set to work on developing that story: ultimately drawing inspiration from the 1950’s Mediterranean jet-set. [Read more →]