Business

Heinz turns 150: From regional phenomenon to global concern

ADVANCE FOR PUBLICATION ON SATURDAY, OCT. 12, AND THEREAFTER - This undated photo shows a statue of company founder H. J. Heinz at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. The empire Henry John Heinz built marks its 150th anniversary in 2019, with events and special commemorations in Pittsburgh and around the world.
ADVANCE FOR PUBLICATION ON SATURDAY, OCT. 12, AND THEREAFTER - This undated photo shows a statue of company founder H. J. Heinz at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. The empire Henry John Heinz built marks its 150th anniversary in 2019, with events and special commemorations in Pittsburgh and around the world. Joe Napsha

A young Henry Heinz got his business start in Sharpsburg, hawking horseradish to local grocers before the Civil War. By the time the United States entered World War I, he was leading a Pittsburgh-based, multimillion-dollar international company.

The empire Henry John Heinz built marks its 150th anniversary this year, with events and special commemorations in Pittsburgh and around the world.

The son of German Lutheran immigrants "was wheeling things around in a wheelbarrow" and found that people loved what he was selling, said Andrew Masich, executive director of the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh's Strip District.

Heinz attended Duff's Mercantile College in Pittsburgh and was a bookkeeper at his father's Sharpsburg brickyard. But he continued growing produce and making his own products, namely horseradish.

In 1869, he parlayed that early success selling food into founding Heinz, Noble & Co., or simply Heinz & Noble, first using the brand name Anchor Pickle and Vinegar Works. He was 25.

Four years later, the company had lines of sauerkraut, pickles, vinegar and horseradish. But it also fell victim to the Panic of 1873.

Heinz filed for bankruptcy and spent time in jail "because that's the way they handled debtors in those days," Masich said.

The experience cured Heinz of forming future partnerships, such as the one that soured with brothers Clarence and E.J. Noble.

By 1876, Heinz was back in the business - working with his cousin and brother, who had formed the F & J Heinz Co.

That same year, the company introduced Heinz Tomato Ketchup - similar to a fish sauce product the Chinese had made for 1,000 years. Heinz found a way to make it better, Masich said.

"That was his philosophy — to do a common thing, uncommonly well," he said.

Heinz introduced concepts like refrigerated railcars, steam pressure cooking and vacuum-packed canning to preserve food longer. He also set his sights on expanding sales internationally.

In 1886, he traveled to England and cold-called at London's famed Fortnum & Mason, which supplied groceries to the royal family and other well-heeled customers.

"I think, Mr. Heinz, we'll take the lot!" the store's grocery buyer told Heinz, purchasing all five cases he had of ketchup, baked beans, cream of tomato soup and other products, according to company history.

For its 150th anniversary, Heinz has partnered with Fortnum & Mason for a specially packaged, limited edition line of those same products.

In 1888, Heinz took sole ownership of the company, which he renamed H.J. Heinz.

"He never had a partner again," Masich said. "He restored his reputation. He built this food empire that was on every continent, except Antarctica."

By the time Heinz died in 1919, his company had more than 6,500 employees and 25 factories along with over 150 places around the country to collect cucumbers and tomatoes from farmers along with 85 salting stations to make pickles, according to company history.

In 2015, H.J. Heinz Co. and Kraft Foods Group Inc. merged to combine some of the most iconic food brands in America — and the world — under Kraft Heinz, a new publicly traded company. Heinz entered the deal with reported sales of $10.9 billion the previous year, the Tribune-Review reported at the time.

Celebrating history

The 150th anniversary of the founding of the classic Pittsburgh company is being celebrated at the Heinz History Center, which is home to the largest collection of Heinz artifacts and archival material in the world. This month at the museum is dubbed "Heinztoberfest," which started last week with a 21+ Night and will continue Oct. 19 with a specially themed Hometown-Homegrown food festival, now in its eighth year.

As for Kraft Heinz, with headquarters in Pittsburgh and Chicago, the company gave away 75,000 gold pickle pins at the local Picklesburgh festival in July. Through Oct. 19, Heinz is involved in a special social media promotion for the 150th anniversary with another Pittsburgh food icon: Primanti Bros. restaurants.

"We've been serving Heinz ketchup since the beginning - in 1933," Toni Haggerty, a Primanti's sandwich shop employee for more than 40 years, said in a statement announcing the promotion. "From the original location all the way to our newest openings. It's only Heinz. And that's the way it'll be for the next 150 years, too."

The biggest project the company endeavored for its anniversary was partnering with British pop singer Ed Sheeran - a Heinz ketchup super-fan - for a television commercial and the launch of limited-edition bottles of "Edchup," featuring a replica of a Heinz tattoo Sheeran has on his arm, said Michael Mullen, a Kraft Heinz spokesman.

Lasting legacy

Honoring the century and a half of Henry John Heinz and the legacy he built at the history center that bears his family is appropriate, Masich said.

"He built the first worldwide food empire. It started here (Pittsburgh)," he said. "We've got ketchup in our veins."

Heinz was a contemporary of other local giants of business and commerce, both in Pittsburgh and worldwide — Andrew Carnegie in steel; George Westinghouse in electricity and railroad equipment; Henry Clay Frick in coal, coke and steel; and Thomas Mellon in finance.

But Heinz was a business genius in his own right, Masich said as he stood amid the 2,700-square-foot Heinz exhibit at the history center. He not only sold the products people wanted, but he knew how to package and market them to customers. None other than automobile magnate Henry Ford recognized Heinz as one of America's innovators.

"The thing that H.J. Heinz really pioneered was branding and marketing. He was an intuitive marketer," Masich said.

To publicize his pickle business, Heinz created a green pickle pin emblazoned with his name. The first pins were distributed as a marketing ploy to get people to visit the Heinz booth at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

"He gave over a million of those pickle pins in one year," Masich said of the 1893 World's Fair.

"Heinz just invented so much of what we know as food marketing," said Gabriella Petrick, a historian of food and food systems and a visiting scholar in the history department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She has written extensively on the industrialization of food and is regarded as an expert on the H.J. Heinz Co.

He invented free samples and hired young saleswomen - the "pickle girls" — to give food demonstrations to other women.

"It would be a huge event when they came into town," said Petrick, a Greater Latrobe High School graduate.

Heinz was particular in the way his food was produced to convince customers who could make their own food that they could rely upon an industrial product that was safe to eat, Petrick said.

When it came to selling ketchup, Heinz put it in a distinctive package and patented the shape — an octagonal bottle with a cigar label around the neck to hide any unsightly watery or oxidized ketchup. He put it on a keystone design because Pennsylvania is the Keystone State.

"He used clear glass bottles instead of the brown glass or green glass," Masich said. "He wanted people to see his product. He wanted them to see the purity of it."

Heinz was spurred on to produce food of high quality, in part, by his strong religious beliefs.

"He felt he had a moral obligation" to produce quality food, Petrick said.

To ensure that produced food was safe, Heinz in the early 1900s spurred on the passage of the federal Food and Drug Act, which Petrick said was patterned after stricter regulations already in place in Pennsylvania.

Heinz developed the slogan — 57 varieties — at a time when his company had more than 57 products, Masich said.

"He liked the look of that number. He said, 'I can put that on hillsides and billboards, bottles and signs.' He branded his company with that 57 variety slogan and the number stuck," he said.

To spread his products around the world, Heinz had an army of salesman who traveled with samples because he knew if people would buy his food if they tried it, Masich said.

In the 1890s, he built a factory complex of 17 building along the north shore of the Allegheny River in Troy Hill, across from Downtown Pittsburgh. Unlike Carnegie and Frick, whose businesses were beset violent labor disputes, Heinz took a far different approach to employee relations.

"He kind of revolutionized the way factory owners and company owners did business, relative to their employees," Masich said. "He was benevolent industrialist."

Much of his large female workforce that bottled pickles lived in houses without indoor water or plumbing. Heinz provided them with daily manicures to make certain their hands were clean when they handled the food, Masich said.

"He built a family business, but on a huge scale," Masich said. "These kids would get together and go on baseball outings, boating trips and carriage rides. They would have picnics in the park. They were very proud of their association with the H.J. Heinz Company.

"They were part of the family, and it was a lifetime commitment. It was career. You stuck with the H.J. Heinz Company."

Sources of historical information contained in this article include: Heinz, Senator John Heinz History Center, VisitPA.com, JohnHeinzLegacy.org and HistoricPittsburgh.org.

Sidebar:

Red letter dates in H.J. Heinz Co. history

. Henry John Heinz born in 1844 in Pittsburgh's Birmingham section (South Side)

. Heinz & Noble Co. formed in 1869, initially sells horseradish made in family home in Sharpsburg

. Heinz & Noble files for bankruptcy in December 1875

. Forms F&J Heinz Co. in 1876 with brother John and cousin, Frederick. Adds ketchup to its products.

. Buys out partner's share of business to form H. J. Heinz Co. in 1888

. Moves operations from Downtown Pittsburgh to North Side in 1890, growing to 17 factory and office buildings

Source: "In Good Company," by Eleanor Foa Dienstag, 1994

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