February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Frank Gerber

In 1928 seven out of every 100 babies born in America died. Seven-month old Sally Gerber, like many babies, was suffering from a troubling illness and a physician advised her worried parents that strained fruits and vegetables might serve as a nourishing treatment. Home preparation of strained fruits and vegetables was tedious and time-consuming but little Sally was luckier than most American toddlers - her family owned a cannery.

The Gerbers had emigrated to central Michigan for the fertile soil in 1875, settling in the small town of Fremont, 200 miles from Detroit. Joseph Gerber organized the Fremont Canning Company and his son Frank returned from school in Indiana in 1901 to join the family business. He worked his way through the plant and office until in 1917 Frank became president.

Now in 1928 Gerber, joined by his son Dan, applied the process used to make tomato puree to produce strained fruit. The experiment was a success. Word about little Sally's food spread around Fremont and local mothers began requesting samples.

The Gerbers knew their baby food could be an important money-maker for them but several questions needed to be answered. Would the medical profession accept the new food? Would the grocery trade handle the product? And did the mothers in a small town of 3000 represent a workable sample?

Dan took samples to a Grand Rapids physician who was more enthusiastic about the strained food than even the Gerbers. So they tested market acceptance with a survey, rare for the times. They found that mothers would buy the strained food only if it was cheap and readily available at stores. The Gerbers decided to sell the new baby food for 15¢ a can at a time when drugstores carried other baby foods for 35¢.

In Autumn of 1928 the Gerbers spent $40,000 advertising an introductory assortment of 6 cans to mothers for $1 and a coupon with their local grocer's name. Dollars poured in and the Gerbers took the coupons to grocers to demonstrate demand. Within six months Gerber strained peas, prunes, carrots, spinach and vegetable soup were available across the country.

Within a few years the cannery was devoted solely to making baby food and Frank Gerber changed the name of his company to Gerber Products Company as his name became known the world over. Baby foods expanded into infant nutrition and Gerber's was offering 69 varieties after its first 25 years.

Aggressive competitiors entered the marketplace which helped expand the entire baby foods industry. When Frank Gerber died in 1952, in the midst of the post World War II baby boom, the business he founded because his granddaughter was sick, was selling $54,000,00 worth of baby food each year.

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