“Hoo-hoo!” That is the calling card, if you will, of one of the most famous TV personalities of all time – the Pillsbury Doughboy. As a food mascot, the Pillsbury Doughboy ranks up there with the Jolly Green Giant, Chester Cheetah, the Nesquik Bunny, M&M’s, the California Raisins, and the Kool-Aid Man.
But Pillsbury wasn’t always about its Doughboy. In fact, “Poppin’ Fresh” (his character name) wouldn’t be born until almost a century after Charles and John Pillsbury founded the company.
ON THE BANKS OF THE MISSISSIPPI
When you think of the Mississippi River, you might be thinking of the part that runs through the state, traversing through Louisiana, finally dumping into the Gulf of Mexico. What you may not realize is that the Mighty Mississippi doesn’t just run through those two states, but the river begins all the way up in Minnesota, working its way south across the United States before joining Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s this upper portion of the river, the Minnesota portion, that Pillsbury started the business.
Charles A. Pillsbury was just 27-years old and working at his uncle’s hardware supply company in Minneapolis, MN when he decided to take $10,000 and purchase one-third of a local flour mill. This would be the simple start to the Pillsbury Company. Aided by his uncle, John S. Pillsbury, who not only owned the hardware supply company but would also serve as the eighth Governor of Minnesota, the two formed C.A. Pillsbury and Company in 1869.
From that beginning, Pillsbury went on to build five more mills along the Mississippi. They were the second company to use steel rollers to process grain. Because their company’s location was well off the beaten path of the growing country, the Pillsbury’s needed transportation to move their product. For this they helped fund the development of the railroad throughout Minnesota.
Pillsbury was a leader in Improvements to milling and these led to the company producing over 2,000 barrels of flour a day. Pillsbury’s Best XXXX was registered as their trademark in 1872. During the 1880’s, Pillsbury continued to expand, and they added what was, at the time, the largest flour mill in the world.
For 20 years the Pillsbury Company supplied the country with flour but in 1889, Pillsbury sold all the mills to a British company. The company also tried to buy out another local mill, the Washburn Crosby Company, but Washburn was able to block the sale.
Charles Pillsbury stayed on with the company and eventually it was able to grab Washburn Crosby as well. Pillsbury then became the managing director of the new company, which they called the Pillsbury-Washburn Flour Mills.
Under Pillsbury’s leadership, they used their local water-power rights and 1896 they finally hit 10,000 barrels-per-day. It was a big accomplishment that grew the company into the world’s largest milling company.
The company hit hard times in 1907 following a bad harvest, forcing the company to reorganize. Charles S. Pillsbury, son of Charles A. was one of three men appointed to bring the company back from the brink. They did so under the new name of Pillsbury Flour Mills Company and by 1923, the family purchased the remaining assets to once again be sole owners of the company.
EXPAND AND DIVERSIFY
As soon as Pillsbury went back to the family, they went to work on expansion. More mills were built or purchased and because of this, they were also able to diversify their product. Cake flours and cereal were added to their portfolio.
When the 1940s rolled along, a $3 million purchase of the Globe Grain and Milling Company allowed for Pillsbury to set a flour-milling record of 40,000 barrels a day. Even bigger for them that came with the Globe Grain purchase was that they took over manufacturing Globe’s line of biscuit mixes, pancake mixes, and pasta.
Pillsbury’s growth and domination of the market continued well into the ‘50s. Early in the decade, they purchased another company, this one Ballard & Ballard Company, which had a strong line of refrigerated foods. They were now Pillsbury’s.
The company didn’t keep its business purchases strictly in the US. They were now looking at the world market and it showed at the ‘60s began. They purchased mills in Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ghana, the Philippines, and Trinidad. Then they found operations that included food companies in Germany, Australia, and France.
Pillsbury’s growth and expansion continued. The ‘70s and ‘80s were great decades for the company. By the time 1985 rolled around, the company had seen profits increase for 27 straight years. The purchase of brands such as Burger King and Häagen-Dazs helped their bottom line.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
As the ‘80s came to a close, the company was starting to teeter. They successfully stopped a takeover bid by the British distiller Grand Metropolitan, but they couldn’t prevent the second attempt. Pillsbury shareholders accepted the $66 per share offer from Grand Met (up from $60 per share) and Pillsbury was rolled into GrandMet.
Pillsbury lingered for a number of years under GrandMet until General Mills stepped up to the plate. In a complicated deal that saw an extremely long period of scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission, General Mills was finally able to put the deal to bed for $10.5 billion.
THE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY
Back in 1965, a Chicago copywriter named Rudy Perz was working on the Pillsbury account. Trying to come up with new ways to advertise the product, he landed on a mascot who would simply pop out of a Pillsbury can of dough. The idea came to him in his own kitchen and after he pitched his idea, Poppin’ Fresh was born.
Perz was concerned, though, that his vision of the character would come too close in resemblance to the popular Casper the Friendly Ghost, so he turned to Disney. Milt Schaffer worked for Disney at the time and became the original designer for Poppin’ Fresh. The Pillsbury Doughboy has been the mascot ever since and has been seen in thousands and thousands of commercials.
The Pillsbury brand is still as popular today as it has ever been. Poppin’ Fresh still makes the occasional appearance on TV commercials and if you walk through the grocery store, you will surely find a one of its famous baked treats.
From cookies to pie crusts to strudels, Pillsbury’s got your fix. Some of their top-selling items include mini Cinnamon Crumb Cakes, Peanut Butter Cookies, Toaster Strudel, Crescent Rolls, and Grand Flaky Rolls, and one of their top-selling treats are the Simply Ready to Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Pillsbury has been a way of life for over 152 years. It is still going strong and with Poppin’ Fresh’s help, it looks like it has another 150 years in it. Hoo-hoo!