At 100, why American bakery icon Betty Crocker is still a household name

How does a brand stay a household name for a century?

Betty Crocker has a simple recipe: keep changing.

In October, the icon turned 100 and has now completed its 100th holiday baking season. General Mills, the company that looks like it, intends to keep it relevant for another century by embracing more diverse cooks and bakers and finding new ways to reach them in their kitchens.

“Betty Crocker remains relevant because she and her product lines adapt to changing political, social and economic currents,” culinary anthropologist Pauline Adema wrote in the “American Icons” encyclopedia. “His tenacity in the American imagination – and in our kitchens – attests to his timelessness as a fused icon of business and home.”

In 1921, Betty’s signature began to appear on response letters to amateur bakers seeking cooking advice.

Then she took part in radio shows, cookbooks, cake mixes, and her own website.

In 2021, thousands of Instagram posts featuring photogenic pastries were tagged #CallMeBettyCrocker.

“Betty has been associated with this pride and accomplishment in the kitchen,” said Maria Jaramillo, director of the Meals & Baking business unit at General Mills, which includes Betty Crocker. “How do we make sure that the next generations have this knowledge of how to cook, so that it’s really inclusive for everyone?” “

As Betty Crocker does, marketing food to the widest possible audience is increasingly difficult amid the “commodification” of many popular products, said Doug Jeske, president of Meyocks, a branding agency. and marketing.

More and more, marketers are using what’s called the “mentoring brand,” Leske said. It’s a way for the company to gain the good graces of customers by providing them with more information, inspiration and even advocating for their interests.

“Of course Betty Crocker was a mentor even before being a product brand, so the folks at General Mills have been on to something for a long time,” Leske said.

1920s

In 1921, Washburn-Crosby Co., a predecessor of General Mills, ran a contest in the Saturday Evening Post promoting the Gold Medal Flour which inadvertently produced market research. In addition to the completed puzzles, letters poured in asking for baking tips, and the company concocted a character to answer it. “Betty” was chosen for its friendliness; “Crocker” was the last name of a retired board member.

And by 1924, Betty got a voice – and later a variety of voices – with a daytime radio show. “Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air” debuted on WCCO (the station’s call sign named after its then owner, Washburn-Crosby Co.). The show was picked up by NBC and will run for more than two decades.

1930s

Betty was first officially personified beyond a voice and a signature: a painted portrait published in 1936 was the first of eight different faces for the brand over the next 60 years.

Throughout the Great Depression and through the war years, Betty’s advice to bakers and housewives increasingly focused on stretching limited food reserves. A free booklet has been “a saving grace to many Americans, and her sound advice has gained national recognition among nutritionists and social workers,” Susan Marks-Kerst wrote for Hennepin History magazine in 1999.

40s

By this point, Betty Crocker’s popularity had inspired a number of other fictitious spokespersons for rival companies, including General Food’s Ann Pillsbury, Kay Kellogg, and Frances Lee Barton. None was as tall as Betty. In 1945, Betty Crocker was named the second best-known woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt.

“In part, she flourished because General Mills, unlike many other companies with vibrant brands, recognized the value of her widely recognized personality and devoted considerable resources to promoting her,” wrote culinary historian Laura. Shapiro in a 2005 essay, “Betty Crocker and the Woman in the Kitchen.”

1950s

The short-lived “Betty Crocker Show” premiered on CBS in 1950, one of several programs featuring Adelaide Hawley Cumming as the “First Lady of Food” over the next 15 years.

Also in 1950, “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book” aka “Betty Crocker Cookbook” aka “Big Red” was released. Millions of copies have been sold.

“It was the first time that a cookbook contained step-by-step instructions,” Jaramillo said. “Before that, the way you learned to cook was passed down from generation to generation. “

60s

Betty Crocker’s first product in the grocery store aisles was a pea soup mix released in 1941, soon followed by cake mixes. In the late 1960s, Betty’s name began to adorn the box with a hot new toy credited with instilling a love of baking in a new generation: the Easy-Bake Oven.

She also received two portrait makeovers during this rapidly evolving decade.

“The Changing Faces of Betty Crocker is a barometer of the changing concepts of domesticity and the role of women as housewives in the United States of the 20th century,” wrote Adema, the culinary anthropologist.

1970s

As consumers continued to seek convenience, which was one of the brand’s main selling points over the years, Betty Crocker’s Hamburger Helper was launched. Thon Helper and Chicken Helper would follow, helping to anchor a new category of food: boxed dinner.

“With a pan, a pound of hamburger and a package, Hamburger Helper revolutionized the diner,” General Mills wrote in the history of the brand now known as Helper.

1980s

Although widely associated with baking – and in particular the classic layered cake – Betty Crocker added a global touch with the 1980 “Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook”. The following year came the release of Chinese and Mexican cookbooks. .

Always on the cutting edge of technology, a number of Betty Crocker microwave cookbooks have also been released over the decade, such as residential use of the device skyrockets.

90s

Betty widened her reach to the World Wide Web in 1996 when bettycrocker.com was first registered. The first website snapshots taken from the Internet Archive show that while the images and functionality have improved over the years, the site’s goal has always been to help people in the kitchen with recipe ideas. and ways to contact Betty.

The final updated portrait of Betty Crocker was also released in 1996. It was painted from a computer-generated composite image of 75 women “of varying origins and ages who embody the characteristics of Betty Crocker,” the company said.

2000s

Betty continued to embrace digital media, with recipe software and an electronic cookbook released in the early years.

The use of Betty Crocker’s portraits was eventually discontinued, as the changing demographics were reflected in the changing messages.

“The community of bakers and makers is much more diverse right now. It would be impossible to portray that with a portrait,” Jaramillo said. “So we are now using the iconic red spoon to be more inclusive and more inviting.”

2010s

Betty has kept pace by adding smartphone apps and a full suite of social media accounts to connect with consumers. Bettycrocker.com remained one of the most visited foodie websites in a crowded category of recipe blogs.

“What Betty Crocker does differently is that every time we come up with dish ideas, we make them foolproof,” Jaramillo said. “Even if you make a small mistake, everything will be fine.”

Today

The pandemic has caused a massive increase in consumption and baking in the home, a trend that continues into Betty’s 101st year.

With the help of social media influencers and other modern tactics to reach consumers, Jaramillo said she is confident new generations of cooks and bakers will embrace the brand.

“A lot of people have rediscovered the pleasure of baking or have taken up baking,” she said. “As long as we continue to provide inspiration, we should be able to celebrate 200 years of Betty Crocker.”

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