February 6, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Henri Nestle

The man who gave his name to the largest food company in the world spent the first 54 years of his life plying his trade as a merchant, peddling mustard and seeds and artificial fertiliser. In 1857, at the age of 46, Henri Nestle set up a small company for the manufacture of liquid gas. For the next six years he supplied gas to the 12 street lamps of his hometown of Vevey, Switzerland.

Nestle, a luxuriously bearded man, was a born inventor and in 1867 he turned his attentions to the alarming infant mortality rate in Switzerland - one out of every five children was dying in the first year of life. Nestle set about to create a "good cow's milk" and he shortly had a prototype. "The basis of my milk food is good Swiss milk," he said, "concentrated by an air pump at low temperature which keeps it as fresh as milk straight from the cow. The meal is baked by a new process of my invention."

But who would risk their child's health on an untested food? By chance a friend brought to Nestle's attention a young mother named Wanner who was seriously ill after giving birth one month prematurely. The convulsing child refused mother's milk and everything else. The doctor suggested that Nestle's milk food be tried. The little boy took the milk and nothing else for months and was never ill again.

Nestle was now convinced that he had the ideal food for infants who could not be breast fed. He was a tireless persuader of the wonders of his new product. He first sold mainly through doctors and received many medical endorsements for his baby food. By 1868 the milk food was on sale in Vevey and Frankfurt on Main, Germany, the town of his birth.

He soon pitched his baby food directly to mothers and demand for Farine Lactee Nestle soared to over 1000 tins a day. Nestle's energy in promoting his milk food was endless, however his financial resources were not. During his early years he did everything from bookkeeping to production, never keeping up with orders.

He searched in vain for an ideal financial backer but by 1873, at the age of 61, he had wearied of travails and was ready for retirement. A buyer for his baby food enterprise was not long in materializing and Nestle sold the venture for one million Swiss francs. Conditions of the sale included the food processing plant, equipment and rights to the Nestle name and trademark nest, Nestle being German for "little nest".

Henri Nestle made a complete severance from his company. He was never a shareholder of the new company nor involved in any operations. He led a quiet life until dying in 1890. He left no heirs.

The Nestle company was fierce rivals with the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company, launched by American George Page to sell condensed milk in Europe. In 1905 the two firms merged under the Nestle name. Today Nestle is the most multi-national of all multi-nation companies. Only 2% of total sales come from Switzerland.

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