Chase & Sanborn and Yesterday’s Marketing Lessons

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When coffee first gained popularity in the United States, it was sold as other commodities then were sold, in bulk, from bins and barrels, and generally with no brand name known to the consumer. As coffee sales increased, US coffee producers realized both that they could greatly increase sales with name recognition, and that they could increase prices by packaging their product and selling it in bags and eventually in sealed metal cans. One of the first producers to develop such brand recognition - and the very first to package coffee in cans - was Chase & Sanborn, but their great success
beginning a century and a half ago was also in no small part due to benevolent and almost altruistic marketing practices that have not been seen in generations and certainly are no longer seen in 21st century corporate America.

In the 1860s, both Caleb Chase and James Sanborn had begun coffee roasting businesses in the Boston area. In the late 1870s, they joined forces under the new name Chase & Sanborn, roasters and purveyors of coffee and tea.They rapidly gained a positive reputation for their high-grade Java brand coffees, that eventually was shipped and sold in metal cans that they also manufactured. Expanding across much of the US and into Canada, by 1882 they were selling well over 1,000,000 pounds of
coffee per year, and employed more than 25,000 local selling agents, in cities and towns across the continent, and the company’s profits soon exceed a million dollars per year. Their Seal Brand Java Moca coffee (pictured) was their top of the line product, sold in cans and featuring the “family” seal (the Chase family, that is) and the Latin slogan “Ne cede malis” [“Yield not to evil”].

But, it was their marketing strategies that made the biggest mark on the coffee industry and that were perhaps some of the most significant elements of their success. They spent significant sums on advertising, long before that became the
norm, and much of their budget went to giveaways, which included all sorts of booklets on a variety of subjects, from the history of the American flag to North American birds, and even to the history of coffee, plus such things as blotters (much needed and popular back then, long before ball point or felt tip pens) and novelty cards. They also produced “stunts” such as mounting giant coffee pots on many of their delivery trucks.

But, they also excelled at customer relations, and seemed to regard their loyal customers as people with problems and needs, and not as the unknown numbers on a computer sheet to be milked for every last cent as consumers are thought of today. Their salespeople were
recruited not just for sales ability, but for their personal touch and good nature as well. They developed relationships with their customers, and when illness or other problems struck, they were there to commiserate and even to lend assistance.
When major events occurred, bringing destruction and suffering, Chase & Sanborn was there to help.

In 1927, the great Vermont Flood struck, killing 84 people, destroying over one thousand bridges, miles and miles of roads and train tracks, and countless homes and businesses. In response to the suffering of their Vermont customers, Chase &
Sanborn cancelled all debts they were owed by the Vermont customers. When times grew difficult in southern states with damaged crops and/or declining market prices, the company accepted crops such as cotton in lieu of currency.

Chase and Sanborn operated the company until 1929 when it was acquired by the newly formed Standard Brands, an amalgam of Chase & Sanborn, Royal Baking Powder and Fleischmann’s. In 1981, Standard Brands merged with Nabisco and the Chase & Sanborn brand was bought and sold several times, between Kraft, General Foods, Hills Bros., Nestles, and Sara Lee. Since 2006, the Chase & Sanborn brand, plus Hills Bros.,MJB, and Chock Full O' Nuts have been owned and operated by the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group, a multi-billion dollar Italian company that sells
120,000 tons of coffer per year, manufactures coffee and espresso machines, and operates hundreds of cafes around the world.

But, I doubt it any of their sales people ever call on a sick consumer or if they would accept a bale of cotton for a can of coffee.

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