Northfield, Ill. – Kraft Heinz is still promoting its International Coffee line, even as the product is now part of Maxwell House, and no longer called General Foods International Coffee. The grocery line is on a top shelf at some Target Grocery stores, nearly 50 years after the product debuted.
Through most of the 20th Century, General Foods was the giant conglomerate of the grocery center aisles. General Foods, as successor to the C.W. Post company, owned halo grocery product brands such as Tang, Jell-O, Maxwell House, Birds Eye, Cool Whip and Kool Aid. Through the decades, General Foods was sold as a trustworthy corporate brand, never a product brand, and would appear as the “sponsor” of a special show, with various products ads throughout the evening.
The one exception was instant General Foods International Coffee, introduced in 1973. The product was sold as an occasional luxury, almost a dessert, with the tagline, “Its our flavor that makes us special” and later the 1980s slogan “celebrate the moments of your life.” The brand’s “international” feeling came from its array of coffees including Cafe Vienna, Suisse Mocha and Cafe Francais. Each package had a flag color on the front, which spoke to the American wish in the 1970s for a more exotic European taste.
And there was one more special ingredient. The mysterious and romantic Parisian man, “Jean Luc.”
Higher Margins, Tang Parts
It was a genius higher margin product for General Foods, as it utilized the coffee-making capacity of its sister brand Maxwell House, and the easy sugar crystal format of Kool-Aid and Tang. In fact, it was sort of an adult hot Kool-Aid, a worthy precursor to the everyday luxury, me-time, and personal care idea of Starbucks, where flavored coffee is sold as a premium product. The original General Foods had a look that conveyed a sort of “continental” spirit that was popular in the 1970s. The original packaging and typography used the Peignot font, which was made famous by the Mary Tyler Moore Show. The use of that font tied the product to aspirational middle-aged women, either single, or working outside the home.
Only a few other products wore General Foods as a product name, including an ill fated stuffing in 1974; that came a few years after the sister, and wildly successful, Stove Top Stuffing.
General Foods was atop the food pyramid of the late 1970s. It built a Rye Brook, N.Y. crown jewel headquarters building, designed by John Roche and Kevin Dinkeloo, and owned most of the categories where it sold products. Philip Morris bought General Foods, in 1985. The company merged with Kraft, becoming Kraft General Foods, and the building was sold. The coffee product is now part of Kraft Heinz, makers of Sanka as well.
After the purchase of General Foods, and the destruction of the General Foods corporate brand, the company changed the name of the coffee, in order to utilize the brand awareness of sister coffee brand Maxwell House. That brand’s origin is decidedly un-cosmopolitan; it derives from the Cheek family’s Maxwell House brand in Tennessee.
Readers still email and ask BrandlandUSA about the coffee brand, though some are unsure whether the taste is the same. We heard July 30 from reader who said:
After General Foods sold out, I tried Maxwell House orange cappuccino and it was awful! I will never buy it again and a lot of people agree with me. It is too bitter.BrandlandUSA reader Carol, July 2021
The General Foods name is not entirely gone. Currently, the General Foods International brand still survives on a the Kraft Heinz food service product, a bulk instant flavored coffee mix sold for food service. This allows the company to keep the trademark alive, while promoting Maxwell House in the grocery aisles. The company applied for, and abandoned, a trademark for a General Foods Marketing and Sales Alliance, though that trademark was abandoned by the company in 2015.
Commercials Parodied on Mad TV
Below, a reel of General Foods International Coffee commercials. The early 1970s commercials begin with Carol Lawrence as spokesman; she enjoys the coffee after being in Europe. She later appears in a cameo, with three other coffee klatch women. As the years went on, the advertising included helpful men. The last incarnation featured the mention of mysterious Jean Luc, who was referred to by a Karen-type woman, wistfully recalling a trip to France.
The commercial reel ends with the Mad TV parody. Note that the Mad TV parody might be an actual ad for a product today, as things are so saucy with brands.
Below, images of the brand through the decades.