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Actually, this story is more about Le Sueur, Henderson's conjoined upriver twin. The other day we had Le Sueur peas for dinner. I'd forgotten how really good they are. This is a story about how they came to be what they are.
Until the early part of the last century, all garden peas were the tiny, early june variety. In France they were called petit pois [tiny peas]. In England plant geneticists were successful in developing a large sweet pea that was also tender, something of a breakthrough because large peas were typical tough and starchy. A young Ward Cosgrove, just emerging as the driving force at the then-Minnesota Valley Canning Company, heard about the new variety and made the trip to England to learn more first-hand. His interest was driven by the fact that the tiny peas were expensive--it took a lot of peas to fill a can! A larger, still tender and flavorful variety, would be much more economical.
He brought seeds for this new variety back to Le Sueur. Geneticists in Le Sueur working with the peas called them green giant peas: a term that was simply descriptive. They more they worked with them the more they liked them, and by advancing the supply of seed stock--they grew two crops a year, one in Le Sueur, one in New Zealand--they had a enough to put up a first pack in the mid-1920s. "Green Giant" Peas they were branded, nothing more than that on the plain label. More next time on how the figure of a giant came to be. But before we leave, Le Sueur early june peas were not forgotten. In France, the famed petit pois were plainly labeled with a rectangular piece of tin (steel actually) soldered to the side of the can; expensive, sure, but this was early in the stages of mass production and marketing. Cosgrove's idea was to mimic this look by printing a label on foil paper, with a black rectangle similar to the french product. "Le Sueur" brand was the obvious choice, though Pierre Le Sueur had no other connection save lending his French name. In my days there we developed an advertising campaign that ran in New Yorker magazine and the the theme line was: "The tiny little peas with the funny French name." Among long-timers at the Company there was always a running discussion about which were best: the large, sweet variety ("Green Giant") or the tiny 1 & 2 sieve early junes ("Le Sueur"). Personally, I liked and still prefer the little ones. Next time: How the Giant came to be.

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Continued...Well, let's see...the first "Green Giant Pea" labels had just those words, no figure of a giant on them. A New York lawyer retained to give advise said: "The brand is just a generic description of the product. Any canner could decide to use the same name. Our ownership of the brand would be stronger if we added....say, the figure of a giant to the label." Cosgrove contacted a Le Sueur commerical artist by the name of George Baker and said, "George, I need a 'giant' to but on the label. Get me one." Baker went straight to the book of Grimm's Fairy tales and lifted an ogre, monster giant right off the pages; with only one change: He inserted a pod of peas in the arms of the figure. The figure had white skin, wore a fur skin body piece, had long shaggy hair and sort of a hunch-back. Neanderthal in every respect. But they put him to work on the label. The very first "green giant," and not even green. Several years later this same New York attorney made another suggestion: "You know, our case would be stronger if we made the "giant" green." Years later, William F. Dietrich, who would become President of the company, was at the meeting and wrote: "When he made the suggestion I thought it was the dumbest idea I'd ever heard--who ever heard of a GREEN Giant?" The idea prevailed inspite of it and this same ugly, Neanderthal figure was colored green. Not a pretty beginning but help was on the way in the person of a young Chicago advertising man. All of this seems to be relevant today on a Henderson website because with the passage of time Henderson-LeSueur have moved ever closer in identity. More on the beautification of the Giant later.

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Part 3...continued: In the early 1930s, the small canning company in Le Sueur had a new brand and an almost Halloween-quality trademark. It was on the edge of a big idea but probably didn't fully realize it. Young Edward B. Cosgrove--known widely as just "E.B."--had a vision. It was to create a national brand. He used the analogy "like Campbell Soup" in talking about it. Not many believed him. He set about getting an advertising agency to assist in the task. By happenstance we met a young Chicagoan named Leo Burnett who had dreams of his own--to start his own advertising agency. He did so in the early 1930s with a commitment from "E.B.": You open your own agency and we'll be your first account. And so the two were joined in a partnership, so to speak. It was Burnett who looked at this fledgling figure of a "giant" and saw potential. Through a series of "face lifts" Leo Burnett turned the giant from an ogre to a handsome, cheerful, friendly Green Giant. Along the way he tacked the word "Jolly" in front and the "Jolly Green Giant" was born. "E.B." was on his way to building a national brand. Burnett's agency created the advertising for Green Giant from that day to the present. More about the Cosgrove/Burnett duo next time.

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[Just to clarify: Unlike a previous story I recently posted on these pages, the foregoing are true stories. I did not want to gain the reputation as someone "loose with the truth" so this brief interlude is set the record straight--if indeed there is any question. There is more to come...just not now].

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Continuation: Green Giant story. Leo Burnett opened his advertising agency in Chicago in the midst of the Great Depression. Observers predicted failure and said that in no time at all he would be selling apples on the street corner. From those comments Burnett took the humble apple and made it a sort of symbol for his agency. Every day, on every reception desk, in every Burnett office, there was a bowl of big, red Delicious apples for callers to munch on. Leo's first account was Minnesota Valley Canning Comapny (later renamed Green Giant Company), and he and E.B. Cosgrove became fast friends, as well as business associates. As I previously mentioned, much of the credit for the evolvement of the Giant as an advertising icon goes to Leo Burnett. He was a proponent of the Big Idea in advertsing. Over the years, his agency was credited with the creation of Kellogg's Tony the Tiger, the Marlboro Man, Charlie Tuna (Starkist), the Keebler Elves, and the Pillsbury Doughboy. As a person, he was unpretentious, short, rumpled, and not a particularly good public speaker, but on the creative scale he was off the charts. A few years back, when Advertising Age selected a list of "the greatest" in the last century, Leo was voted the third most influential person in the ad profession.In the list of 100 Top Ad Icons of the century his agency placed the Marloboro Man as number 1, The Jolly Green Giant as number 3, the Pillsbury Doughboy as number 6, and Tony the Tiger as number 9. Quite a legacy! Over the years he was a frequent visitor to Le Sueur. In fact, his agency created the concept of the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant...this sort of mythical, Shangrila place where the soil was richer, the rains softer and gentler, where the sun shown warmly on the fields...and where the vegetables grew like no place else in the world! The caretaker who overlooked this idyllic place was a jolly, friendly Giant whose favorite expression was "Ho!Ho!Ho!" The Giant was ably assisted there by his helper, the Little Green Sprout, a sort of apprentice Giant. E.B. Cosgrove died in 1961, Burnett in 1971. Both left tracks that others still run on today. To be continued...

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A continuation: Companies, brands and time. Time is relentless, isn't it? Consider the impact that the canning factory in Le Sueur made on the surrounding area. It was a major employer for almost a hundred years; farmers in the area planted thousands of acres of vegetable crops during that time. It was a substantial economic engine. Then change begin sweeping the industry. The Le Sueur plant... CLOSED. The company SOLD...to Pillsbury. Then Pillsbury...SOLD to a British firm. Then...the British owners SELL Pillsbury and all its brands to General Mills. What we once thought was a durable enterprise has undergone dizzying change. Through it all, however, the Green Giant brand has survived and prospered. While we don't know the numbers, the sale of products under the brand are quite probably at an all-time high. The moral: Companies are transient; brands and products--if they're built on a stable platform and nutured--can ride out the changes and prosper. That day, 'way back when, when that New York lawyer suggested that the figure of a giant on the package would strengthen the ownership of the mark, no one had any idea that in the 21st Century Green Giant products would be marketed worldwide. All big ideas have humble beginnings; almost none are recognized for what they are at birth. Much like people, wouldn't you say?

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Here is a link to the voice of the Green Giant in one of the old commercials. (Midway down the page on the right hand side.)

http://www.tvparty.com/vaultcom2.html


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