Spam Stands the Test of Time

"Miracle meat of a million uses" celebrates 75 years.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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For the majority of consumers throughout the world, Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corp. (ranked number 16 in the 2012 Top 100) is most recognized for one brand, Spam, which has sold more than 7 billion cans since it debuted on July 5, 1937. On New Year's Eve, 1936, then-President Jay Hormel hosted a party and asked his guests to submit their most creative name for his new luncheon meat. Kenneth Daigneau, an actor from New York, was the lucky winner and was rewarded with $100 for the moniker Spam, a combination of "spiced" and "ham."

When the first can of Spam rolled off the assembly line at the Geo. A. Hormel & Co. plant in Austin, the precooked luncheon meat ham became an instant success, with sales of more than 40 million pounds in less than four years -- which the company attributes to a clever trademark, a national advertising campaign blitz and a world war.

With America's entry into World War II, Spam was called into action overseas. With Allied forces fighting to liberate Europe, the company provided 15 million cans of luncheon meat at its peak to troops every week. It became an essential item in soldiers' diets, often serving as the last line of defense between battle-weary soldiers and starvation. Following the war, world leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher and Nikita Khrushchev all credited Spam luncheon meat for its role in the Allied victory.

Those soldiers brought back a taste for and emotional connection to Spam when they came home, and the company touted its versatility through print, radio and TV advertising. Made with chopped pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder and sodium nitrite as a preservative, Spam classic remains relatively unchanged. It's also the brand's biggest seller, although there are 14 varieties (including less sodium and Lite). Spam is only produced in two U.S. locations, Austin and Fremont, Neb., and three other countries: Denmark, South Korea and the Philippines.

The Spam trademark is registered in more than 100 countries, and sold in 44, including China, Japan, England, Korea, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, Spam products are regarded as luxury goods, and a gift pack retailing for as much as $45 would be considered an appropriate wedding gift. Its largest market, Hawaii, accounts for 7 million cans per year; Spam musubi, a tangy, sushi-type roll, is the favorite way to enjoy it; and even McDonald's in the Aloha state features several Spam products on its breakfast menu.

Monty Python parodied Spam in a famous 1970 sketch, which spawned a hit Broadway musical (Spamalot) in 2005. The Smithsonian Institution inducted Spam in 1998 because of its historical significance during the war. Spam got its own museum (in Austin) in 2001. In 2012, Hormel introduced Spam spokescharacter Sir Can-A-Lot – playing off Monty Python's successes -- for TV and Internet advertising and introduced two limited edition varieties (Spam jalapeno and Spam black pepper) to celebrate its 75th birthday.

Of course, Spam is synonymous with unsolicited emails according to Merriam-Webster, but on the plus side, one is reminded to buy Spam everytime one gets spam.

No product is better known for its dependability, convenience and reasonable price. Conveniently packaged in the famous blue and yellow pull-top cans, Spam offers a distinct savory and salty-sweet taste that has been enjoyed by millions for generations, making it a pop culture icon that has stood the test of time. No refrigeration is needed (until opening), so Spam is convenient for camping, hiking and other outdoor adventures or just for keeping on hand in the pantry. Hot or cold, fully-cooked and ready to go whenever or wherever, Spam saves time for busy families.

Hormel spreads the word on sites such as Google, Facebook, Hulu and AllRecipes.com, all of which direct consumers to spam.com. The brand is also on Twitter, has its own YouTube page and a Facebook page with more than 137,000 followers.

Hormel's current Chairman, CEO and Pres. Jeffrey Ettinger rang the New York Stock Exchange's closing bell July 5 to commemorate the anniversary. "The 75th anniversary of the Spam brand marks a major milestone for our company," he said. "We are ringing the closing bell today in recognition of the longevity of this beloved brand, as well the continued growth and success of Hormel Foods."

It's never too late to celebrate. Congratulations, Spam!

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