Many years ago, when I had made a little money in business, I decided to invest a little in the stock market. I bought only two stocks and watched them go up and down. Finally, I sold them and said the market is not for me. One of the stocks I bought was Campbell’s Soup. Of course, Campbell’s stock played leapfrog — up and down — but the company has been a staple of U.S. industry for more than 100 years.

Although Campbell‘s has diversified over the years, it considered soup to be the centerpiece of its business. It still adds new soups to the line — and discontinues some, like Golden Mushroom, which I frequently used as a basis for gravies.

Americans have a permanent love affair with soups. We spoon down more than 10 billion bowls of soup a year. Ninety-eight percent of all American households purchase soup, with 90% of them buying Campbell’s. Soup accounts for one-fourth of the company’s sales.

In 1869, Joseph Campbell a fruit merchant, and Abraham Anderson, who manufactured iceboxes (there were no electric refrigerators at the time), started the Anderson & Campbell Preserve Company in Camden, New Jersey. Eight years later, in 1877, the two men realized that they had entirely different goals for the company.

Campbell bought Anderson’s share in the company and expanded the business to include ketchup, salad dressings, mustard and other sauces. The Ready-to-Serve Beefsteak Tomato Soup became Campbell’s bestseller.

In 1894, Campbell retired and Arthur Dorrance took over as company president. Three years later, Dorrance hired his nephew, John Dorrance, who had a chemistry degrees from MIT and a doctorate from the University of Gottengen in Germany. His salary was $7.50 per week, and he had to bring his own chemistry equipment.

At the time, soups were inexpensive to make, but costly to ship. Dorrance found that if he could remove soup’s heaviest ingredient — water — he could create a condensed soup. The price of a can of soup could be cut from 30 cents to 10 cents. By 1922, soup was such an important part of the business that Soup was incorporated into the company’s name.

In 1904, Grace Wiederseim, a writer and illustrator, was asked to do some sketches of children for her husband’s account — Campbell’s Soup. Everyone loved the child appeal of soups, and the kids appeared as all types of personas, enjoying Campbell Soup. Even doll manufacturers produced Campbell kids dolls and their clothes.

Although Campbell ‘s has grown tremendously through acquisitions, it is still the Campbell’s Soup Company. Campbell’s considers soup to be the centerpiece of its business and has basically added other foods companies to its line. In 1915, Campbell’s acquired the Franco-American Company. Campbell’s acquisitions have to be food related and dedicated to serving the health and nutritional needs of its consumers.

Campbell’s produces much of the food it uses, including tomatoes, chicken and salmon. It processes the ingredients, makes the cans for hundreds of food items, and packages and distributes the product to the marketplace.

Campbell’s marketing strategy was and is a simple one. It depends on mass appeal and satisfying a need. The company has been able to manufacture its product economically and have an abundance stored in distribution centers, not only in this country, but also around the world.

After World War II, Campbell’s was slow to recognize changing lifestyles, which in turn changed the market for its products. Singles were living alone, and a booming elderly population with money to spend changed the mass marketing of Campbell’s. Somewhere in the late '70s, Campbell’s recognized that there was no longer a uniform approach to marketing its products. It meant getting to know its customers all over again.

Campbell’s unique marketing approach put its top executives into American kitchens at various times of the year. They observed homemakers preparing meals. This exercise added significantly to Campbell’s consumer knowledge. Executives learned why their products sold or didn’t sell and how food products were used in the kitchen. These executives also spent time in grocery stores learning what sold and what didn’t.

Probably the most striking result of this market research was Campbell’s Le Menu dinners. A company study of consumer attitudes toward frozen dinners indicated that there was a large untapped market for a more upscale product. Thus, Campbell’s offered gourmet food on a plastic plate — all of which could be put in the microwave and when heated put on the table.

Le Menu ended its first year of national distribution with $200 million in sales. The wave of the future was to offer tailor-made products to satisfy specific requirements. Campbell’s quickly saw that food products must be as good as the container, must be convenient, and must be fresh with flavor. Campbell’s soon found that product and flavor cannot be divorced. Thus, a new Plastics Research Center was created to discover what plastics would keep foods at peak quality, whether they be frozen, refrigerated or stored on a shelf.

Food, Campbell has found in its long history, can be as fussy and as demanding as the consumer who buys it. Thus, for more than a century, Campbell’s has produced some of America’s simplest and most beloved foods.

For years, Campbell’s has presented the American cook with innovative recipes, such as the Tomato Spice Cake and the Green Bean Bake. Many of the company’s recipes were printed on cans of soup and eventually were compiled in “The Creative Cook,” a small illustrated cookbook by the Campbell Soup Company. (You might be able to find it online under used books.)

Campbell’s also invented the Green Bean Casserole, which has been a favorite for many years. I know of several families who will not have a holiday meal unless this dish is included. However, there have been many recipes perfected with Campbell’s Soup. One of my favorites of these recipes is Shanghai Chicken with Vegetables. It has an Asian taste without the effort of stir-frying. Leftovers freeze well for another meal. Use fresh bamboo shoots, if available.

Shanghai Chicken with Vegetables

1 pound chicken breasts, skinned and boned and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons salad oil

2 cans (10 ¾ ounces each) chicken broth

½ cup raw regular rice

½ cup sherry

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 large clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

2 cups diagonally thinly sliced carrots

1 cup diagonally sliced green onions

1 can bamboo shoots, drained

1 package (6 ounces) frozen pea pods

½ cup water

3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch

In a skillet, lightly brown the chicken in oil. Add the broth, rice, sherry, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add carrots, onions and bamboo shoots. Simmer 5 minutes more or until done. Stir occasionally. Add pea pods. Blend water into cornstarch until smooth; slowly stir into chicken. Cook, stirring until thickened. Serves 4.

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