A Baby’s Illness Was Responsible for One of the World’s Most Revered and Iconic Brands

There is barely a household anywhere in the world that is home to a baby that does not have a supply of Gerber Baby Food in the cupboard. The product is ubiquitous. The label is one of the most recognizable in the world. The story behind the germination of the brand is a testament to the old adage of opportunity arising from ones life’s experiences.

Daniel F. Gerber owned a Michigan-based Food canning Company in the 1920’s. In 1927 his seven month old daughter Sally became ill. Mr. Gerber’s wife Dorothy took little Sally to the child’s pediatrician. The Doctor advised Mrs. Gerber to put young Sally on a diet of strained, hard foods. This was an unusual prescription for that time.

In the early 20th century babies were not usually put on a hard or strained food diet until about the age of one year. Strained foods were a chore to create requiring a lot of preparation, boiling and mashing. There were no shelf ready strained fruits and vegetables. Mrs. Gerber took the task home and went to work.

Daniel Gerber became interested in the straining process and quickly saw the Marketing and Sales opportunities that he believed a line of strained, canned, prepared foods would offer. After much testing, Gerber began to make strained baby food in five flavors: peas, carrots, prunes, spinach and vegetable beef soup. The Brand was almost an immediate hit. It was convenient and babies loved the product. Within six months Gerber Baby Food was being distributed nationally.

The Gerber Baby Food Company did a very clever thing to find a logo for its packaging. The Company publicized a contest for artists and consumers to submit drawings of possible label icons. The charcoal drawing submitted by Dorothy Hope Smith won the contest. The baby drawn was not Sally Gerber, but Ann Turner Cook, her neighbor’s child. Ms. Cook has been the famous Gerber Baby ever since.

Sally Gerber played an interesting role in the Gerber Baby Food Company. As a 10 year old in 1938, she went to work in the firms Consumer Relations Office. She answered personally each letter sent by Gerber customers, and she continued this practice for many years. Ms. Gerber became a Senior Vice-President of the Company, a nice consolation for not being the face on the jars.

Today Gerber offers more than 200 products sold in more than 80 countries with labels translated into 16 languages. The Company has expanded into Infant Toys, Youth Accessories, Juvenile Safety Products and Life Insurance for young families. Gerber controls more than 80% of the United States Baby Food market. In 2007 Nestle purchased Gerber for $5.5 billion.

A baby was sick more than 80 years ago. Concerned parents took the baby to a doctor. The prognosis was to treat the child with strained fruits and vegetables. This everyday occurrence, one of the situations that every parent faces, resulted in discovering the process that birthed of one of the world’s great Consumer Product Brands. Smart Branding and Marketing, mated with an Entrepreneurial sensitivity for opportunity resulted in the creation of a Company which has enriched lives around the world. Oh… and the label is still one of the cutest ever seen on any product.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.