Abstract: Closing the Dill: Building a Network of Quality at the H. J. Heinz Company, 1890-1920

Gabriella M. Petrick


Although the H.J. Heinz Company is well known for it ketchup and condiment production, the company has been largely ignored as an innovator in developing business networks. By providing high-grade products, the Heinz name became synonymous with quality. I argue that Heinz became a household name by the 1920s because it convinced housewives through their network salesmen and product demonstrators that its products, although more expensive, were not only safe and pure, but tasted better than those of their competitors. Through the company newspaper, sales manuals, and sales meetings, the company sought to create a loyal work force in the founder's image to proselytize H. J. Heinz's vision of quality food to middle-class housewives across the United States. One innovative way Heinz convinced the public that their products tasted better than other brands was by sampling. Salesmen opened cans and jars of Heinz baked beans and pickles for grocers, so they could taste the difference between Heinz products and the competition. Female demonstrators sampled pickles and preserves in the halls of world expositions, state fairs, and trade shows from the 1870s. Heinz salesmen also set up in-store demonstrations to convince a grocer's patrons about Heinz quality. Having received a formal invitation from the H.J. Heinz Company, the grocer's "best" customers tasted Heinz products at the hands of a knowledgeable "pickle girl." Through demonstrations, the Heinz Company was no longer a distant, unknown corporation, but a friendly female face serving tasty morsels at the local grocers. Salesmen and product demonstrators also formed relationships with grocers promising higher profits and personal service, such as stocking shelves, retiring outdated products, and cleaning the pickle barrel. Heinz did not create pickles and ketchup for the masses. Before World War I, Heinz produced their pure foods for the middle class and attempted to build customer loyalty through their product and their representatives. Heinz products were expensive compared to their competitors. They often cost double locally produced brands making Heinz products too expensive for regular consumption by the working class. Heinz focused their efforts on the families they thought could afford their products. Heinz salesmen accomplished this through store selection and personal relationships. Heinz's success was based on consumers' perception that Heinz was not only safe and pure, but also met their standards for taste.