Nabisco Inc.

Published on .

In 1898, William Moore and Adolphus Green merged Mr. Moore's New York Biscuit Co. and Mr. Green's American Biscuit & Manufacturing Co. to form the National Biscuit Co.

Mr. Green became president of the new company, headquartered in Chicago, where he developed Uneeda Biscuits, the first high-quality soda cracker sold in a moisture-proof cardboard package. National Biscuit began a national teaser campaign, the first of its kind on such a scale, to make the public aware of Uneeda Biscuits.

In 1899, National Biscuit set an advertising budget that, over the ensuing decade, reached the staggering sum of $7 million. The first year's appropriation was hailed as the largest commitment to advertising ever made, and the campaign appeared on streetcar and trolley car placards, store displays and in magazine and newspaper ads.

In 1900, National Biscuit patented the moisture-proof inner package (In-Er-Seal) it already used for Uneeda and several other products. The company adopted as its symbol the colophon, which the marketer hoped would remind consumers of its commitment to the freshest, highest-quality biscuit products. The company continued to use the symbol more than a century later.

In 1901, Mr. Green coined the name "Nabisco" by condensing the company's full name. The moniker first appeared on the company's new Sugar Wafers product. It took another 40 years, however before it came into widespread use.

At the end of 1902, Nabisco introduced Barnum's Animals Crackers. The product was not a new one-two other companies had previously sold animal-shaped cookies to groceries in wooden boxes, barrels and cans-but Nabisco was the first to "cage" the critters in take-home packages shaped like circus wagons.

In 1906, the company moved its headquarters to New York and, in 1912 introduced Oreo creme sandwich cookies. Early advertising showed the cookie being twisted apart to reveal the tasty creme center; studies in the 1990s showed that twisting and dunking remained the most popular way to consume Oreos.

Mallomars debuted in November 1913. The marshmallow cookie covered in pure dark chocolate was available only from October to mid-March. In the early 21st century, 70% of Mallomars sales were in the New York metropolitan area.

When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Nabisco produced 800,000 servings a day of bread rations, similar to hardtack biscuits, to sustain the troops. In 1928, Nabisco acquired the Shredded Wheat Co. and its Triscuit wafer and Shredded Wheat cereal.

Radio and TV sponsorship

In 1934, Nabisco's biscuit division hired McCann-Erickson, New York, to handle its cookies and crackers business; Federal Advertising Agency handled its shredded wheat products. McCann moved Nabisco into radio, using a dance music program, "Let's Dance," that featured a then-little-known Benny Goodman.

McCann promoted the program heavily with point-of-purchase materials in grocery stores. "Let's Dance" aired only from December 1934 through March 1935, but it represented Nabisco's most famous foray into radio. Following the show's demise, the company concentrated its budget largely in magazine and store displays.

In 1936, Nabisco launched Ritz Crackers, which within three years became the largest-selling cracker in the world.

In 1945, Nabisco President George H. Coppers began a 12-year modernization program for the company, increasing ad budgets into the 1950s, when Nabisco also added a heavy TV schedule.

In 1953, the marketer planned to spend more than $7.5 million on cracker and cookie advertising, principally for its Premium Saltines, Ritz, Nabisco Grahams, pretzels, Oreos and Fig Newtons (which had been introduced in 1891). The company's strategy was to push its leading brands on the belief that that would help the others. Also in 1953, Nabisco began a new spot TV strategy designed to reach large, diversified audiences.

In 1954, Nabisco spent $9.1 million on U.S. advertising, $6.1 million of that in measured media. The company also became a sponsor of "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin" on the ABC network via its agency, Kenyon & Eckhardt, and remained a sponsor for the next five years.

In 1957, Nabisco's U.S. ad expenditures reached $21 million, $12.8 million of that in measured media. The following year saw the biggest promotion for a single cracker product in the company's history: a fall ad drive for Premium Saltine crackers in print, newspaper supplements and co-sponsorships of the prime-time series "Wagon Train" and other daytime programming, via McCann.

In 1960, for the second year in a row, Nabisco trimmed its spot TV spending and invested more heavily in network TV; it spent $10.3 million in network TV, up 35% over 1959, and $1.3 million in spot TV, down 38%. Two years later, record sales pushed Nabisco past $500 million for the first time and U.S. ad spending rose to $33 million.

In 1963, Nabisco introduced Chips Ahoy! cookies, which it marketed as the first commercially produced chocolate chip cookie with a homemade taste. The following year, Nabisco's sales reached $607.5 million.

Cutbacks, change and resurgence

In 1968, Nabisco cut its agency roster from four to three. McCann, which had handled the entire biscuit division for 34 years, lost $1.8 million in billings in the shuffle but remained the dominant agency. Ted Bates & Co. gained $4 million to $5 million in cookie and snacks accounts and the Shredded Wheat and Spoon Size Shredded Wheat business. William Esty Co. gained about $3 million through Oreos and the snack cracker line. Kenyon & Eckhardt, however, lost $4 million in Nabisco spending. Nabisco's 1968 ad expenditures climbed to $43 billion, including overseas advertising.

In 1969, a production strike against Nabisco closed most major U.S. production facilities for eight weeks. Nabisco's total ad budget dropped 19% compared with the previous year, to $35 million. But a strong comeback by the biscuit division in 1970 mitigated the strike's effects.

Nabisco ended its 38-year relationship with McCann in November 1972, moving its $6 million U.S. account to Ogilvy & Mather. Ogilvy won Premium Saltines, Ritz crackers, Fig Newtons, Chips Ahoy! and Lorna Doone shortbread. In 1973, Nabisco's total ad spending reached $69 million, $32.2 million of which went to network TV and $11.2 million to national spot TV.

In 1974, Nabisco's biscuit division launched a testing system that revealed that by doubling or tripling advertising for mature brands, such as Ritz crackers, it could significantly boost the whole product category. The national campaign slogan "Everything tastes great when it sits on a Ritz" was developed from such testing.

Ad spending jumped to $80.7 million in 1975, and sales increased to $1.97 billion. Double Stuff Oreos, boasting a double dollop of creme filling, were also introduced. By 1976, Nabisco's biscuit division had captured 40% of the overall U.S. cracker and cookie market. Total company sales tallied $2.03 billion, with biscuit sales representing about 60% of total revenue.

In 1976, Nabisco moved $6 million in biscuit-division spending formerly handled by Ogilvy to Esty. Parkson Advertising, New York, began buying TV time for Triscuit and occasionally for other brands. With the 1977-78 TV season, Parkson became the agency of record for network TV purchases for Nabisco.

In 1985, R.J. Reynolds Industries bought Nabisco and renamed the merged entity RJR/Nabisco (later styled RJR Nabisco). In 1999, the conglomerate split itself in two once more, dividing its business between a tobacco marketer and a food company.

In 1988, Foote, Cone & Belding Communications (later FCB Worldwide) won the Nabisco cookies account from Esty. When the SnackWell's line debuted four years later, the agency's New York-based FCB/Leber Katz Partners unit played up Nabisco's inability to keep SnackWell's products—in particular the fat-free Devil's Food Cookies&mdas;on the shelves: Demand so exceeded supply that it took nearly two years for Nabisco to catch up.

TV spots featured a beleaguered SnackWell's employee who was tracked relentlessly by a group of hungry women hounding "The Cookie Man" for more treats. The campaign was recognized by the American Marketing Association as the most effective advertising of 1994.

In 1994, Nabisco's ad budget for cookies and crackers reached $107 million, and by 1997, Nabisco claimed it had captured 55% of the U.S. cracker business, with Ritz the top-selling cracker nationwide. However the company's ad expenditures decreased to $72 million as earnings dropped.

In 1997, Nabisco issued the "1,000 Chips Challenge" promotion via FCB, offering consumers scholarships and prizes for the most creative way to confirm there were at least 1,000 chocolate chips in every 18-ounce bag of Chips Ahoy! cookies.

As part of a 1999 contest via FCB, Nabisco imprinted the winning information right on its Oreo cookies. The grand prize was a new Volkswagen Beetle-filled with cookies.

Bought by Philip Morris

In 2000, Philip Morris Cos., parent of Kraft Foods, announced it would purchase Nabisco Holdings Corp., the company spun off from the former RJR food group, which was 80.6% owned by Nabisco Group, Parsippany, N.J.

Under Kraft’s ownership, major brands Oreo and Ritz began to be leveraged with line extensions, promotions and advertising. Oreo, an $860 million business in 2001, grew to nearly $1 billion by 2002 with the addition of Mini Oreos, Single Serve Oreo Packs to Go and Chocolate Creme Oreos.

But as a health trend started to kick in during 2002, snacks–and cookies in particular—began to suffer. Kraft shifted gears to try to stem the tide and meet consumer demand, launching a low-fat line of Ritz Chips in 2002 and in 2004 introducing 100-calorie packs from Nabisco, pre-portioned packages with 100 calories, two to three grams of fat per pack and zero grams of trans fat.

For 2001, Kraft Foods' Nabisco cookies and crackers were supported by $123.2 million in advertising, up 6.7% over the year earlier.

Most Popular
In this article: