In 1868, Charles Fleischmann, trained in Austria as a brewer, and his brother, Maximillian, developed Fleischmann's yeast, the first compressed yeast sold in North America.
In June 1929, Fleischmann's Yeast Co. acquired four smaller companies?Royal Baking Powder Co., Chase & Sanborn Co., E.W. Gillette Co. of Canada and Widlar Food Products Co.?to form Standard Brands.
Many of Standard Brands' best-known products came to the company via acquisition rather than through its own development efforts. In 1961, Standard Brands acquired Planters Nut & Chocolate Co., with its famous Planters brand; in 1964, it bought Curtiss Candy Co., known for its Baby Ruth bar; and in 1972, it bought Julius Wile Sons & Co., marketer of imported liqueurs, wines and specialties.
Other Standard Brands products included Chase & Sanborn coffee, Tender Leaf tea, Moosehead beer, Fleischmann's Egg Beaters, Blue Bonnet margarine, Dry Sack sherry and Pernod liqueur. Standard Brands' other major line of business was selling food ingredients, including corn-based products, vinegar and baking ingredients, to industrial customers.
Pioneering forays into advertising
Despite its reputation as a staid, conservative company, Standard Brands made pioneering forays in several areas of advertising. A 1969 ad for Fleischmann's, the top-selling premium-price margarine in the U.S., asked, "Is swimming as good for you as Fleischmann's margarine?" and went on to proclaim Fleischmann's as "The premium margarine doctors name most" and "made from 100% corn oil." Ted Bates & Co., New York handled the ad.
Standard Brands had used health claims and physician testimonials for decades, sometimes with dubious underpinnings. J. Walter Thompson Co. applied testimonials to Fleischmann's yeast in the 1920s, advertising the product as a cure for ills ranging from acne to constipation and even the common cold.
JWT, one of the most active ad agencies in the early days of radio, also helped make Standard Brands a pioneer in that medium and later in TV. The agency produced two Standard Brands-sponsored radio programs that helped create the template for future variety shows. Between the "Fleischmann's Yeast Hour" and the "Chase & Sanborn Hour," Standard Brands had at its disposal two of the biggest variety shows in radio.
The company's agency roster expanded in the 1940s. McCann-Erickson took on Royal baking powder, and Sherman K. Ellis & Co. handled Royal gelatins and puddings. After World War II, Bates was added for Blue Bonnet and some Royal products.
Consigned to history
In May 1976, F. Ross Johnson, who had led Standard Brands' Canadian operation, was named CEO of the company. The following year, Mr. Johnson added the chairman title. The high-living, celebrity-loving executive committed to more aggressive new-product activity to take full advantage of the company's distribution strengths.
One product combined Mr. Johnson's desire for new products and his penchant for hobnobbing with celebrity athletes. In 1978, Standard Brands introduced the Reggie! candy bar, named after New York Yankees baseball star Reggie Jackson. Though simply a renamed national version of a product already on the market regionally, Reggie was part of an intensified effort to reduce dependence on commodity-oriented businesses and expand the company's branded consumer-goods business.
The pairing of the athlete and candy bar garnered a lot of press, but despite several promotions, the Reggie! bar sold sluggishly and was dropped in 1980.
While building a spotty record in new products and failing to energize profits, Mr. Johnson remained ardent about acquisitions. Standard Brands was outbid by Grand Metropolitan in 1980 in a move to acquire Liggett Group.
Then, in 1981, Mr. Johnson spearheaded a $2 billion merger with Nabisco. The No. 1 marketer of margarine and branded nuts and the country's top purveyor of cookies and crackers joined to create the No. 4 food company in the U.S., with a combined $6 billion in sales. Standard Brands brought international strength, especially in Latin America, to the marriage.
Mr. Johnson became president-chief operating officer of the new food giant. Three months after the merger, the company made the surprise announcement of a unified restructuring plan under the new moniker Nabisco Brands, and the Standard Brands name was history.