February 7, 2007

Kellogg's

And the man behind the brand is...
William Kellogg

William Keith Kellogg once estimated that 42 cereal companies launched in the breakfast cereal boom during the early years of the 20th century. His, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, started when he was 46 years old, was among the last. How did his company become the most famous?

Today Battle Creek, Michigan is widely known as the cereal food capital of the world. But in the middle of the 19th century it was a small town of 1000 where the seeds of the Seventh Day Adventists were sown. The Kellogg family made the pilgrimage to Battle Creek to be nearer the center of Adventist teachings. Kellogg's father manufactured brooms in addition to his church activities.

In 1878 at the age of 18 Will went to Texas to help start a broom factory for an Adventist family in Dallas. When he returned to Battle Creek he began a stretch of 25 years living and working in the shadow of his brother Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a celebrated physician and director of the Adventist Battle Creek Sanitarium. Dr. Kellogg invented and marketed various health foods based on Adventist beliefs in health reform.

While searching for a more digestible form of bread the brothers were running boiled wheat through rollers in the Sanitarium basement. The day was long and one failed experiment followed another. They retired for the night. The next day they discovered the wheat dough had dried out. When broken up by the rollers thin flakes fell out. Flaked cereal was born.

The original flakes would be unrecognizable today. They were tough and rather tasteless but popular with patients at the Sanitarium and soon mail-orders came in from ex-patients. The Kellogg brothers called their cereal "Granose" and marketed it through the Sanitas Food Company. The factory on the Sanitarium grounds turned out 100,000 pounds of flakes in the first year.

The Kelloggs sold a 10-ounce box of wheat flakes for 15¢- a return of $12 for a 60¢ bushel of wheat. This sort of profit did not go unnoticed. The secret of the flakes leaked out and triggered a cereal boom in Battle Creek. Soon there were 30 cereal companies in a town of 30,000 people.

Will Kellogg broke with his brother in 1905 after building a new factory for $50,000. Dr. Kellogg said he had not authorized such an expenditure and Will would have to pay for the plant himself. Will started his new company in 1906. He was 46. The thin, brown-haired boy had given way to a stocky man with thinning hair. Kellogg was a shy, deeply religious man with strong convictions. So it was no surprise that despite the enormous popularity of wheat flakes and sneers of the cereal community Kellogg never wavered from his plan to make corn flakes his main product. To that point only one company had manufactured corn flakes and it had gone bankrupt. Only Will Kellogg saw the future of this breakfast table staple.

His first flakes were ground from whole corn and their taste was indistinguishable from the box. Kellogg switched to corn grits and the boom was under way. He built his company on advertising in a market glutted with look-alike products. He spent one-third of his initial capital on an advertisement in Ladies Home Journal. It is not clear why the famous "W.K. Kellogg" signature began gracing company cereal boxes but it probably was an attempt to ward off imitations. Orders outpaced production from the beginning.

In 1907 a fire destroyed his main factory building. Kellogg made plans for a new plant with a capacity of 4200 cases a day. "That's all the business I ever want," he told his son John. By 1920 capacity had reached 24,000 cases a day.
Kellogg advertised relentlessly. He made cases oversized so he could pack samples for grocers to distribute free. His ads hinted, "Wink at your grocer and see what you'll get." You got a free sample of corn flakes. He pioneered test-marketing his products with trial runs in Dayton. Later, during the Depression when sales drooped he doubled the advertising budget.

The Toasted Corn Flake Company became the Kellogg Corn Flake Company in 1909 but his brother had renamed Sanitas the Kellogg Food Company in 1908. A decade of litigation began between the brothers in 1910 before Will won the use of the name in 1919. Afterwards the two men saw each other only briefly two or three times a year.

Will's son John was instrumental in the company from its early years, helping to invent All-Bran cereal and waxed paper inserts. In 1925 Will forced his son, who served briefly as president, out of the business after John Kellogg bought an oat-milling plant and divorced his wife to marry an office girl. Will Kellogg objected both to his son's moral lapse and to his preference for oats.

The two men remained close, however, and there were hopes John Jr. would carry on the Kellogg dynasty. The young Kellogg resigned, however, after trying to sell his grandfather a process he developed on company time for puffing corn. Shortly afterward the 26-year old Kellogg committed suicide in 1938.

After 1930, although he received weekly reports and a daily statement of the cash status of the company, Will devoted most of his energies to the Kellogg Foundation, endowed with a million shares of company stock. The Foundation was dedicated to the promotion of the "health, happiness and welfare of mankind, principally of the children and youth." Mr. Kellogg gave over $47 million of his $50 million fortune to the Foundation.

Kellogg lived to the age of 91, spending time at several fabulous houses. Despite blindness caused from glaucoma he indulged a passion for German shepherd dogs, one descended from Rin-Tin-Tin, and Arabian horses. He had lived long enough to see his name become synonymous with breakfast in America.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought that John H. Kellogg
created the first cereal this information isnt true because
he didnt invent cereal John Kellogg did!!!!

Anonymous said...

John and William Kellogg were brothers. They invented the Kellogg brand together. But i agree the article doesn't make that clear, its pretty one sided.

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