One of the more frustrating things
about becoming a homeowner is the bevy of junk mail you receive
almost immediately upon moving in to your new residence. So was
the case when I dropped the first duffel bags at our new abode just
a year ago. Home Depot, local restaurants, phone companies and cable
providers all vying for a piece of our now heavily strapped
monthly income. Most every bit of the unsolicited bunk ends up stacked
neatly in the weekly recycling pile piece after piece of
glossy, richly colored envelopes, stickers, form letters, offers,
final notices and award notifications. The phenomenon known as junk
mail is something most everyone with a mailing address can experience
a little piece of capitalism helping consumers discover what
they didnt even know they needed. So intriguing is this age
old approach to invasive selling that Nicholson Baker, author of
some of the most beautiful writing ever put on paper (you MUST read
The Mezzanine), recently stated that he has been collecting
junk mail for the past year and plans to write a book about the
plethora of marketing brouhaha that has been expended on his behalf.
While this may seem only slightly intriguing to non-Baker readers,
after reading one of his books youll quickly appreciate the
potential he brings to the subject. Junk mail is very American,
and very big.
With the advent of the Internet,
it was inevitable that junk mail would make its way into whatever
new mail-like medium came to fruition as with the fax machine,
as long as there was a receiving address available, there would
be a destination for billions of marketing messages. Just as with
mailboxes poised on sidewalks across the nation, there is always
the possibility of receiving a crippling bomb (virus) in your mailbox.
Technology has given us the means and ways to combat the threat
of viruses, but these well-crafted gems of destruction have somehow
managed to gain a level of clout that makes us fear their wrath
all the more. When thinking of the effort and intention put into
viruses, they transform into something almost respectable. Junk
mail on the other hand, brings no such respect. Junk mail delivers
nothing short of complete frustration, accompanied by futile attempts
to be removed from endless mailing lists, confirming to the sender
that you have indeed received and read their message, justifying
future unsolicited mailings. There is no respect for the unwanted
HTML messages that turn your Outlook or Eudora into a sluggish beast,
further frustrating as you wait impatiently to press delete. There
is no respect for this evil this evil known as spam.
Hormel Foods (NASDAQ HRL) holds the
trademark to the now infamous word (SPAM), and was somehow un-counseled
when the junk email phenomenon was being labeled. Having coined
the brand name in the late 1930s, Hormel has a new and unfortunate
cross to bear, branded on their hide by the children of the new
economy. Branded by those who felt powerless in their real-world
responses to the timeless art of strategic (and not so strategic)
direct mailings. What was once a well-known "brand" is
now a "branding." The former a positive marketing result;
the latter a smoking insignia emblazoned on the flesh. As we noticed
in the wake of the dotcom fallout, most solid, "old economy"
companies have already figured out how to persevere in the face
of new technology and business trends. History is on Hormels
In case youve somehow managed
to remain shielded from the shelves of most grocery stores, you
might like to know that Hormel is the nations #1 turkey processor
and one of the worlds largest pork processors. Hormel is responsible
for unleashing a variety of well known labels into our homes: Jennie-O
turkey products, Cure 81 hams, and Always Tender fresh
pork, as well as canned Stagg chili and Dinty Moore
beef stews. The company also has its "little piggies"
dangling in a new market segment - so-called "value-added"
food products such as Chi-Chis Mexican foods and House
of Tsang sauces. Hormel has joint ventures in Australia, China
(the biggest market for pork in the world), Mexico, and the Philippines.
Led boldly by Chairman, President, and CEO Joel W. Johnson, Hormel
Foods squeaks (or rather "squeals") onto the Fortune 500
list at number 452. In April 2001, Hormel had assets valued at well
over $2 billion, with a total equity of $925 million - the Hormel
Foundation, a charitable trust, owns 46% of the companys stock.
In fiscal year ending October 2000, Hormel had sales of $3.6 billion,
with the company growing 4.2% - all of this fueled by the tender
hands of some 12,200 employees worldwide. Conclusion? "Theres
money in them there hog bellies." But were not here to
chat about the market for Cure 81 hams
oh no, were
here to take a candid look at the diamond in Hormels stinky
meat crown: SPAM - the mysterious canned meat that has managed to
grow from humble beginnings to new economy infamy.
What came first, the Turkey or
Hormel Spiced Ham rolled off
the Minnesota production lines for the first time in 1937. Jay C.
Hormel wanted a name as distinctive as the taste of his new fleshy
pork concoction, so he held a contest to build a little post-depression
PR. Kenneth Daigneau, an actor and brother of a Hormel vice president,
pocketed the $100 prize by coining the catchy word SPAM by combining
the "SP" from spiced, with the "AM" from ham.
SPAM was born.
Heres a little breakdown of
the major milestones in SPAMs history:
- In 1940, George Burns and Gracie
Allen pitched SPAM on the radio with "Spammie the Pig."
Many consider this spot to be the first on-air singing advertisement.
If I could only get my hands on a copy of that
- In 1942, the folks at Hormel convince
the government to start shipping canned meat in square cans instead
of round cans all to maximize shipping space and save money.
With the war effort in full swing, SPAM is credited (by Nikita
Khrushchev) with feeding the Russian army during their winter
battles with Hitlers army. Margaret Thatcher hails SPAM
as a "war-time delicacy." Maybe we should thank Hormel
for the cold war.
- In 1945 Jay Hormel organizes 60
ex-servicewomen to become the Hormel Girls, touring around the
country singing and dancing, preaching the beauty of Hormels
canned meat products at fairs, parades and other community events.
And you thought some guy driving a big weenie-shaped truck was
- Between 1955 and 1957, Hormel
manages to pull together agreements with executives from England,
Canada, Ireland and Venezuela in order to produce the first SPAM
overseas. No offense, but even if I werent a vegetarian
I wouldnt touch a can of European SPAM with a ten foot pole.
- In 1959 the 1 billionth can of
SPAM was sold. Due to SPAMs popularity with Hawaiian
based Navy and Air Force personnel, Hawaiian natives quickly learn
of the funky new canned meat from the mainland - scarfing down
can after can when it starts shipping to the islands in 1959,
just after Hawaii joins the union. To this date Hawaiians eat
more SPAM per person then any other state in the nation. Im
surprised Jerry Bruckheimer didnt try to work an early SPAM
reference into Pearl Harbor.
- In 1962 Hormel purchased a hydrostatic
cooker to makes SPAM in greater quantity a single operator
can now churn out 350 cans of SPAM per minute. That same year,
Hormel introduces the smaller 7-ounce can of SPAM. More SPAM,
smaller cans makes perfect sense.
- By the end of 1962, over 2 billion
cans of SPAM had been sold worldwide.
- In 1969, SPAM makes its way to
Australia through a joint venture marketing campaign. Now the
Australians have yet another unpalatable food to choose from.
- In 1970, Monty Python brings SPAM
to the small screen in a series of ultra-silly SPAM-centric diner
sketches at The Green Midget Café - also introducing a
group of Vikings who mutter "Spam, Spam, Spam," with ever-increasing
volume, drowning out normal conversation. Due to this catchy little
British sketch, late 90s techno-geeks coin the phrase "spam"
for unsolicited electronic junk mail drowning out normal email
- Hormel introduces smoked SPAM
in 1971. A kinder, gentler, sedated SPAM.
- By 1980, Hormel has sold its 3-billionth
can of SPAM
by 1986, that number hits 4 billion. Damn, people,
do you not see the tragedy here?
- In 1987, SPAM hits 50 years old
and still tastes 50 years old.
- In 1992, Hormel introduces SPAM-lite
and low-sodium SPAM. By 2000, Hormel added oven roasted turkey
SPAM to the line-up Im sorry, but theres no
ham in turkey
- In 1998, Hormel introduces SPAM
in a new gold can with a poly-film label, featuring the now infamous
SPAM-burger. Has anyone lived to tell what one of these things
- 1998 also saw the launch of SPAM.com.
Meat for the techno-masses.
- By 2001, Hormel has produced more
than 5 billion cans of SPAM with 3.6 cans added every second
its so popular that Hormels SPAM is a registered trademark
in 101 countries. Isnt capitalism beautiful?
From Meat to Mail
For those of us growing up in the
tech space of the 1990s, we can probably remember when junk
email was coined "spam"
our chunky canned friend
quickly gained new economy notoriety with nearly everyone in the
online world quickly adopting the name. On May 30, 2001, in an official
statement, Hormel Foods said it was reconciling itself to not fight
SPAMs double meaning as junk e-mail. In a message posted on SPAM.com
(the official site), Hormel said it had no qualms with the alternate
meaning as long as SPAM, the meat, is written in all capital letters,
and spam, the unsolicited e-mail, is in lowercase a policy
that Hormel established in late 1999. While far from being big news
for Hormel, SPAM.coms posting stirred up a whole new pot of
attention after an anti-junk mail conference called SpamCon was
held this past May in San Francisco. According to the SPAM Website,
"We do not object to use of this slang term, although we do object
to the use of our product image in association with that term."
Dont hug that friendly-looking
piglet yet - Hormel is far from a free lovin company with
an open heart they are after all, a corporation, not a public
service project. In a conversation with Reuters in May, Julie Craven,
Hormels director of public relations, reiterated Hormels
intentions to both live with the slang term, as well as continue
to keep the companys radar open for violations to their age-old
brand: "It certainly was at a point where it was becoming so much
out there, and so much a part of popular culture [the slang spam]
If somebody used it inappropriately, they could very well hear from
us. Next to our employees, our brand marks are our most important
With branding as their second most
important asset, Hormel has developed a darker side: envision a
mob of turkey-powered black limos and chubby, gun-toting henchmen
with glossy legal teams
freaky, eh? The company has remained
aggressively on the offense to squelch alternate meanings of SPAM,
listening to branding experts who know what can happen when a brand
name gains association with a social negative. The company defended
their brand in 1997 by suing Sanford "Spamford" Wallace, a crafty
junk e-mail wizard, for posing with cans of Spam in various marketing
materials for his spam business. Hormel even went so far as to "put
the pig on a spit" when Jim Henson Productions created a Muppet
named Spaam, the high priest of a tribe of wild boars that
worships Miss Piggy. Siding with Hensons claim that the brand
had not received a negative impact, a district court threw out the
claim in 1996.
Lawsuits, limos or not, Hormel is
an old economy company working profits in the new economy, so its
understandable that they have a strong desire to protect the things
that have powered them to the top of the processed meat pile. Hormel
doesnt sell Sony memory sticks or tickets to France; they
produce and sell meat products for general consumption. Companies
that know how to make something (make it well and make it cheaply)
and sell it
those are companies that America can call the
builders of its economic foundation albeit a pink and squishy
foundation. I imagine the majority of the people reading this article
have probably experienced the smooth, salty texture of SPAM on their
tongues at least once Hell, some of you might have a can
sitting in your desk drawer at this very moment, just waiting to
plop its jelly-jacketed goodness onto a slab of Wonder Bread.
When times are tough, people eat
cheap - for those of you looking for a good buy in this rotting
carcass of an economy (pun intended), call your broker and jump
on board Hormel, their stocks sitting at just over $25 and
its been rising steadily for the past year. Who knows, you
just might put your kids through college on the same thing thatll
feed them through midterms. History is on your side.
Hormel facts you really didnt
want to know, and Hormel hoped you wouldnt find out about:
- One of the less known facts about
Hormel is that the company holds rights to an odd array of patents.
Though possessing a variety of technical patents that might warrant
mention, the best kept secrets to Hormels success can be
found in the following patent highlights: Method for making
bacon bits from raw bellies; Process for making a low meat
product; Hog carcass configurer (youd hate to
have to do this by hand); skinning machine having a reciprocating
fat removing knife mechanism thereof; Process and apparatus
for cutting hog carcasses; Carcass splitting apparatus;
and my personal favorite
Apparatus for splitting animal
- Not wanting to stir up a paranoid,
Solient-Green-esque conspiracy, Hormel has decided to tread lightly
on the political front. Employees contributed a meager $2125 to
Hormels Political Action Committee (aka "HORMEL-PAC")
in 1999-2000 down from $4075 in 1997-1998. Maybe thats
a good thing its bad enough having a meathead in
the Oval Office (I couldnt resist).
- Hormel has been the focus of a
number of Federal court cases since incorporating, most recently
fielding the following highlights: one case for product liability
filed in 2000; two employment cases filed in 2000 and 2001; and
proving that you shouldnt mess with the big mean meat packer,
Hormel has two federal cases pending against local unions
both filed in 2000;
If you have absolutely nothing
better to do:
Check out the financial options available
to Hormel employees at the Hormel Employees Credit Union: http://www.hecu.org/
- the financial resources provided by canned meat.
Interested in checking out the entire
process for making bacon bits from raw bellies? Check out the patent
gives full details.