The Henderson era
Wesson traces its roots to 1899, when food scientist David Wesson debuted a brand of shortening based on a method he had developed to produce an edible cottonseed oil he called Wesson’s Snowdrift. A liquid vegetable oil followed a year later—an introduction that the brand said “transform[ed] the way America's households cooked,” by offering a healthy alternative to what then was a common practice of cooking with animal fats.
Wesson’s long stretch of advertising darkness followed a series of business deals beginning in the 1980s that rapidly passed the brand between corporate parents (Norton Simon, Esmark, Beatrice, KKR and Conagra all claimed ownership of Wesson over an eight-year span). At Conagra, said Webb, Wesson was a “steady performer,” although the company often had bigger priorities than promoting a well-known brand in a slow-growing category.
Henderson, who passed away in 2016, said in interviews that her association with Wesson lasted 22 years, or until about 1998. At any rate, as advertising icons go, the last generation’s Flo (Henderson) endured at least as long as this generation’s Flo (Progressive’s fictional spokesperson, played by actress Stephanie Courtney, who has starred in those ads since 2008).
Tapping into Henderson’s background as a big-throated Broadway singer, and her equity as America’s most stylish and sensible mom from her role on "The Brady Brunch "(even though Alice commanded that show’s kitchen), Henderson was brought to Wesson by agency BBDO and its legendary executive Jim Jordan. In addition to coining the “Wessonality” slogan, Jordan was responsible for memorable consumer packaged goods hooks like “ring around the collar,” “Zest-fully clean” and “It’s the right thing to do,” for Quaker oatmeal.
Henderson sang “Wessonality” to the tune of Lloyd Price’s 1959 hit, “Personality,” but retained a role in the brand’s ads long after that slogan was retired. She said her engagement spanned five separate advertising agencies—and, as her ads over the years illustrate, about as many hairstyles.
In 2017, Conagra agreed to sell Wesson to J.M. Smucker Co., only to see the $285 million deal unravel when the Federal Trade Commission raised concerns of a cooking-oil monopoly related to Smucker’s control of Wesson’s top branded rival, Crisco.
That event provided an opening for Richardson, known as Canada’s largest agribusiness company. Richardson made no secret of its intention to reinvigorate the dormant brand, the first efforts of which are now reaching consumers.
“They understood this brand was primed to go to the next level,” said Webb, who arrived at Richardson shortly after Wesson did. “This brand was very resilient and retained its equity. Just imagine what you could do if you actually refreshed the brand, and got people talking about it again?”
When the Smucker-Conagra deal dissolved in 2018—the FTC had argued that Wesson and Crisco together would exceed 70% of the branded cooking oil market—Smucker executives cried that regulators had overlooked the growing influence of store-brand oils which by then had collectively captured 50% of the U.S. cooking oil market. They were the biggest beneficiaries of Wesson’s long period of brand silence.
Below, some more classic ads from the Henderson era.