Jell-O, Everybody

I must first thank the LeRoy, New York Historical Society for details they provided on America's favorite dessert. Would you believe that we buy 13 boxes of Jell-O every second, 24/7? And that does not include Jell-O pudding, just the quivering, fruit-flavored gelatin that has been around for 110 years.

The Society runs the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy. It has a fascinating history. The product has generated billions of dollars in revenue over the past century, but the inventor sold the formula for $450. Charles B.Knox was a young carpenter who earned a few dollars on the side selling patent medicines. In 1897 he discovered a way to extract a powder from the discarded bits of slaughtered cattle: Hooves, tendons, etc. He got the ideas from watching his wife make calves-foot jelly. His powder turned into gelatin when water and fruit flavoring were added. No one wanted his Jell-O, so he sold the trademark and formula to Orator Woodward, the richest man in LeRoy.

Woodward also had trouble getting American housewives to try his new dessert. He offered to sell it to his plant manager for $35. The manager refused.

Orator was stuck with a product nobody wanted but he had a flair for marketing. He set out to recoup his investment by creating a demand for Jell-O. His creedo was "sometimes it takes money to make money."

He hired a team of handsome, stylishly dressed salesman, put them in fancy horse drawn carriages, and told them to hit every county fair, ball game, family picnic and church social in the area. Their buggys were stocked with bowls of chilled, fruit flavored Jell-O which the salesman generously contributed to the party. Who could refuse such a generous gift from a handsome young man? Woodward noticed that children were the first converts and adjusted his strategy accordingly. Turn a child into a consumer and you have a lifetime customer.

Thousands of immigrants were passing through Ellis Island. They were his next target. After the new immigrant finished processing, a salesman welcomed him to America with a bowl of America's newest dessert. His staff concocted a number of recipes using Jell-O. Woodward had them printed in English, Spanish, Swedish, German and Yiddish .

These innovations made Jell-O a regional favorite but Woodward wanted to attract a national audience. He remembered how quickly the children had taken to his product and arranged for several doctors to endorse it.

They stressed how easy it was to prepare and how digestible Jell-O was for children. He spent $335 for an advertisement in the "Ladies Home Journal" calling Jell-O "America's Most famous Dessert." The ad paid huge dividends. Jell-O went from a regional to a national dessert.

His Jell-O molds were a key element of his successful marketing strategy. He stressed the convenience of Jell-O, it's taste and digestibility, and the visual appeal. Molds were given away free with the purchase of a box. Some were shaped like the ABC's. Teach your child the alphabet with a nourishing snack. Sales were also boosted with refrigerators coming to almost every home kitchen. Jell-O became a national favorite and was soon being served around the globe.

Blueberry Jell-O highlights the versatility of Charles Knox's discovery. It can be served as a salad. Add a topping and a dollop of whipped cream and it becomes a dessert.

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