How Two Guys are the Reason We Eat What We Eat for Breakfast

Bacon, eggs, toast, and a tall glass of orange juice: it’s a breakfast as traditionally American as apple pie. And it’s not hard to see why: after all, bacon and eggs are chock-full of protein while orange juice provides a healthy dose of vitamin C. Packing the calories and nutrients needed to fuel our busy lives, this combination has been a fixture of the American breakfast table for hundreds of years.

…only, no, it hasn’t. While few of us can imagine eating anything else in the morning, this staple breakfast as we know it is actually less than a century old. And far from being traditional, the combination of bacon, eggs, and orange juice is the deliberate product of a highly-influential marketing campaigns concocted by two of the greatest advertising minds of the 20th Century.

You may never have heard of Edward Bernays, but you’ve definitely seen his work. Born on November 22, 1891 in Vienna, Bernays was the nephew of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. From an early age Bernays was fascinated by his “Uncle Siggy’s” theories, especially as they pertained to people’s unconscious thoughts and desires. Indeed, Bernays was the first person to publish Freud’s work in the United States, and often used his connection to his famous uncle to advance his own career. In the early 1910s Bernays worked as theatre press agent, introducing the American public to the avant-garde Ballet Russes and helping to make opera singer Enrico Caruso a beloved star. During the First World War, he was recruited by the Committee on Public Information, a government organization devoted to shaping public opinion via propaganda printed in newspapers, pamphlets, posters, and other media. This work was a revelation for Bernays, who later recalled:

There was one basic lesson I learned in the CPI—that efforts comparable to those applied by the CPI to affect the attitudes of the enemy, of neutrals, and people of this country could be applied with equal facility to peacetime pursuits. In other words, what could be done for a nation at war could be done for organizations and people in a nation at peace.”

 After the war, Bernays formed his own marketing agency, combining his wartime CPI experience with his uncle Freud’s theories to pioneer a new field he dubbed “public relations.” One early campaign illustrates just how insightful – and diabolical – his approach could be. In 1928, George Washington Hill, CEO of the American Tobacco Company, came to Bernays with a problem: getting women to smoke. At the time it was almost unheard of for women to light up, the act of smoking being strongly associated with masculine virility. This deeply-entrenched cultural taboo was cutting American Tobacco off from a large, potentially lucrative market.

Bernays’ unorthodox campaign proceeded in three phases. American Tobacco’s research had revealed that women were put off by the green packaging of the company’s Lucy Strike brand cigarettes, green being seen as an unfashionable colour. After determining that the packaging was too expensive to change, Bernays decided instead to bring green back into vogue, organizing, among other events, a ‘Green Gala’ at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel for some of society’s most prominent trend-setters. Next, working off of Lucky Strike’s new slogan “Reach for a Lucky, not a sweet,” he publicized a scientific study on the negative effects of sugar and distributed photos of slim models smoking cigarettes, firmly linking the habit with keeping the trim “flapper” physique popular at the time. While the campaign worked, it only succeeded in getting women to smoke at home; in order to break the taboo against women smoking in public, Bernays went after another subconscious female desire. In newspapers around the country, he announced that at the upcoming 1929  Easter Parade along 5th Avenue a group of 30 debutantes would light “torches of freedom” in support of women’s liberation. When the day finally arrived, startled reporters looked on as the women confidently pulled out cigarettes and lit up. Almost overnight, smoking became associated with the modern, liberated woman, and sales of Lucky Strikes and other cigarette brands soared. The principle of consumption as personal statement or political performance remains a standard of the marketing toolkit to this day.

But Bernays’ most influential and long-lived campaign ran a few years earlier. In 1922 he was approached by the Beech-Nut Packing Company, which over the past few decades, Beech-Nut had seen a steady decline in its sales of bacon and eggs. This was largely the result of sweeping changes in the American labour market. For hundreds of years most Americans worked on farms, and to fuel this hard labour they ate hearty breakfasts including bacon and eggs. With the coming of industrialization, however, many Americans moved to the city and took up less physically-demanding work. At the same time, evangelists like John Harvey Kellogg began advocating a bland diet of cereals to ward off sinful impulses, while growing concerns over indigestion and keeping slim pushed people away from rich, fatty foods. By the 1920s the typical American breakfast consisted of little more than a roll or piece of toast, oatmeal, a piece of fruit or glass of orange juice, and a cup of coffee.

In order to reverse the trend, Bernays first contacted his agency’s resident physician and asked him whether a light breakfast or a heavy breakfast would be better for overall health. As he later recalled:

“[He agreed] that a heavy breakfast was sounder from the standpoint of health than a light breakfast because the body loses energy during the night and needs it during the day. We asked the physician: would he be willing, at no cost, to write to 5000 physicians and ask them whether their judgement was the same as his? He said he would be glad to do it. We [sent] out a letter to 5000 physicians; obviously all of them concurred that a heavier breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast.”

 In August and September of that year, newspapers around the country trumpeted the verdict of some 4500 physicians, the Chicago Tribune recommending:

 “Brain workers and persons in sedentary occupations should eat a substantial breakfast [of] fruit, cereals, bacon, eggs, toast—or as we of the south prefer, hot biscuits.”

While the Los Angeles Times breathlessly announced, under the headline ENTER THE BIG BREAKFAST:

“We were in dire peril of falling for the finicky French roll and chocolate, the virginal English tea and marmalade, the slice of fruit and swallow of vermouth of the Mediterranean. Not so breakfasted the men who hewed a new civilization from the rocks of the Western continent…. Ham, eggs, bacon, cornmeal, buckwheat cakes, maple syrup, codfish balls, coffee in great mugs, hot biscuits, butter without stint or limit, hash, fried potatoes, apple pie, farm-made cream cheese, bowls of warm, frothy milk—on the strength of such breakfasts as these the young republic grew to world overlordship.”

 The campaign was an instant success, Beech-Nut seeing sales of Bacon and Eggs climb back to pre-1900 levels. So successful, in fact, was Bernays at cementing in the American mind the association between bacon, eggs, and breakfast that to this day 70% of bacon consumed in the United States is eaten at breakfast.

Over his long career Edward Bernays would mastermind countless such campaigns, using his mastery of human psychology to mould public opinion and carve out new markets for his clients. For example, in 1924 he threw an elaborate pancake breakfast at the White House in support of Calvin Coolidge’s reelection campaign, creating a beloved political tradition that persists to this day. In the late 1940s, General Mills introduced its Betty Crocker-brand instant cake mix, but early sales were disappointing. Turning once again to psychoanalysis, Bernays deduced why: housewives, he reasoned, were put off by instant mix because they themselves contributed very little to the baking process, making them feel lazy and like they were failing their husbands. To correct this, Bernays added a single instruction to the box: add an egg. This tiny contribution did the trick, and sales of Betty Crocker immediately picked up. In the 1950s Bernays partnered with the American Dental Association to help the American Aluminium Company sell water fluoridation to the American people, while his campaign for Dixie Cup convinced people that regular drinking glasses were unsanitary, driving up sales of disposable cups.

Bernays’ approach to marketing is perhaps best summed up by his biographer, Larry Tye:

“Hired to sell a product or service, he instead sold whole new ways of behaving, which appeared obscure but over time reaped huge rewards for his clients and redefined the very texture of American life.”

While his work has been widely criticized as underhanded, manipulative, and dangerous – it was reported that Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels had a copy of his book Crystallizing Public Opinion on his bookshelf – Bernays himself took a different view:

“We worked out the engineering of consent, which applies to any social goal. But the people who don’t have social goals, unfortunately, can also employ it.”

Indeed, in his later years Bernays would do extensive pro bono work for non-profit organizations such as the NAACP American Cancer Society – including, ironically, on an anti-smoking campaign. Following a career spanning seven decades, Edward Bernays died on March 9, 1995 at the age of 104.

But the story of the American breakfast doesn’t quite end there. Remember how we said that the standard breakfast of the 1920s included a glass of orange juice? Well, just like bacon and eggs, there was nothing traditional about this breakfast staple either; in fact, up until the early 1910s, drinking orange juice was almost unheard of in America. This now-ubiquitous daily habit had to be invented by the other American godfather of marketing: Alan Lasker.

In 1908 the Southern California Fruit Growers Association partnered with Lasker’s firm Lord & Thomas to find a way to sell more oranges to the American public. While orange production in California was booming, demand had plateaued, leading to an orange surplus that threatened to tank prices and destroy the industry. Lasker’s first step was to rebrand the Association, giving them the now-familiar name of Sunkist. Increasing orange sales proved a trickier task, but in 1916 Lasker hit upon a solution. While the average American ate only half an orange at breakfast, a glass of orange juice took up to 3-4 oranges to make. If Americans could be convinced to make their own orange juice, orange consumption would significantly increase. To this end, Lasker designed a simple home juice press and heavily promoted it in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, under the catchy slogan “Drink an Orange.” These ads touted the health benefits of orange juice and even included a promotion whereby customers could collect and redeem orange wrappers and receive a free juicer. The campaign coincided perfectly with a health scare over vitamin deficiency and a condition called acidosis – a panic Sunkist was quick to exploit. A 1929 ad reading:

“Estelle seemed to lack vitality; didn’t even make an effort to be entertaining; hence, she did not attract the men…‘Acidosis’ is the word on almost every modern physician’s tongue.”

In 1934 scientists discovered that acidosis was actually a rare disease unaffected by drinking orange juice, but by then the damage was done. Almost overnight, orange consumption shot up nearly 400%, almost single-handedly saving the U.S. orange industry and securing orange juice’s coveted spot at the American breakfast table.

The campaign also cemented in the minds of the American public the notion that orange juice is a uniquely healthy drink, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In fact, the average glass of orange juice contains a whopping 27g of sugar – about as much as a can of Coca-Cola. When an orange is eaten, the pulp, being difficult to digest, causes this sugar to be absorbed much slower throughout the day. The sugar in orange juice, by contrast, is absorbed more or less all at once, meaning that over-consumption of orange and other commercial fruit juices carries the same obesity and diabetes risk as drinking sugary sodas. And while ads for orange juice promote it as ‘natural’ and ‘fresh,’ the modern product found on store shelves is anything but. Raw orange juice is often stored for up to a year before reaching the consumer, and the pasteurization process used to render it safe also strips it of most of its natural flavours and aromas. Orange juice producers must thus use ‘flavour packs’ – specially-formulated blends of processed orange oils and other aromatic compounds – to reintroduce these flavours to the juice before packaging and selling it.

The upshot of all this is just how intentionally planned many of our most common habits really are. No matter how ‘traditional’ it might appear, if you regularly consume some specific food, drink, or other product, there’s a good chance it’s because some marketing executive somewhere wanted you to.

And as a corollary, as we’ve covered in great detail on the origins of most major holidays, pretty much every holiday that enjoys massive popularity usually has that popularity thanks to one or more advertising campaigns that propelled it into the Big Leagues of holidays, and other campaigns that keep it there. Holidays that aren’t easily commercialized, rarely see the same heights of popularity as those that are. So next time you’re lamenting the over commercialization of some of our most beloved holidays, remember that the holiday probably wouldn’t even be much of a thing if it hadn’t been massively commercialized.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

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O’Reilly, Terry & Tennant, Mike, The Age of Persuasion, Vintage Canada, 2010

 

How ‘Bacon and Eggs’ Became the American Breakfast, The American Table, http://www.americantable.org/2012/07/how-bacon-and-eggs-became-the-american-breakfast/

 

Voyles, Bennett, Bacon, Eggs, and Public Relations: How P.R. Pioneer Edward L. Bernays Changed America, This is Capitalism, https://www.thisiscapitalism.com/bacon-eggs-and-public-relations/

 

The American Breakfast Was a PR Stunt? Flying Cork, https://flyingcork.com/blog/marketing-that-changed-us/

Mosher, Whet, How That “All-Day Breakfast” Became Breakfast in the First Place, Chicago, October 27, 2015, https://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/October-2015/How-That-All-Day-Breakfast-Became-Breakfast-in-the-First-Place/

 

4 PR Campaigns That Made Modern Marketing, Edology, https://www.edology.com/blog/marketing/pr-campaigns-edward-bernays/

 

Benison, Rebecca, Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Bad Marketing? sprinklr.com, September 27, 2018, https://blog.sprinklr.com/sunkist-orange-juice-marketing-history/

 

Spichak, Simon, The Campaign That Convinced Us Orange Juice Is Healthy, Medium, October 22, 2020, https://medium.com/better-marketing/the-campaign-that-convinced-us-orange-juice-is-healthy-ea954087d0ac

 

Braun, Adee, Misunderstanding Orange Juice as a Health Drink, The Atlantic, February 6, 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/misunderstanding-orange-juice-as-a-health-drink/283579/

 

Fiegl, Amanda, Squeezed: The Secrets of the Orange Juice Industry, Smithsonian Magazine, April 27, 2010, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/squeezed-the-secrets-of-the-orange-juice-industry-86550693/

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In New Orleans during Mardi Gras…

In New Orleans during Mardi Gras they serve an iced, multi-colored cake called King Cake. Inside the cake there is a small baby figurine called a fève which represents baby Jesus. Whomever gets the fève is said to have luck and prosperity for the rest of the year.

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Rags to Riches- The Jr High Dropout Who Created a Tasty, Tasty Billion Dollar Empire

In 1847 at the tender age of 16, seaman Hanson Gregory looked at some frying dough and said, “Everything is better with holes”… except his ship hull probably… and created the staple of breakfasts the diabetes lovin’ world over- the doughnut! Or so the story goes anyway. In truth, Captain Gregory’s account of how and why he supposedly invented the doughnut varied over time, and despite a statue being made of him in Rockport, Maine in 1947 commemorating his fried genius, nobody really knows where the holed doughnut came from. Some, including Captain Gregory, claim putting the hole in it makes it so you don’t get a mouthful of grease when you eat the center, but plenty of doughnuts exist that have no holes with no such issue. And people have been frying up such cakes for millennia with no apparent inclination to take the center out, except for occasionally to replace it with things like fruit and other fillings.

Nevertheless, it was in the late 19th and early 20th century that suddenly many decided a hole should be present in such fried dough. As to why, the timing of the change gives arguably the best hypothesis, or at least potentially why it became popular. Around the same time doughnuts with holes first popped up in New York City, bagels were also becoming very popular in the same place and were commonly put on display and sold stacked on wooden dowels. Thus, it is sometimes hypothesized that bakers in New York first got the bright idea to put holes in the dough before frying when one or more of them thought to sell the doughnuts in the same way as bagels- on dowels, which saved display space and, perhaps more significantly, made it easier to sell en masse on street corners. With this hypothesis, making more evenly fried dough may or may not have come into play.

Whatever the case, this holey fried dough rapidly gained in popularity in the early 20th century, particularly receiving a huge boost thanks to WWI and soldiers’ love of them in the trenches.

This all leads us to the topic of today- that time a Jr High dropout might as well have put a hole in people’s pockets with how fast they started throwing money at him when he created one of the most successful franchise businesses in history- The Open Kettle…

Doesn’t ring a bell?

Well, that’s because he later realized that was a horrible name for his company and, after a brainstorming session with his employees, rebranded. Here now is the story of Massachusetts native William Rosenberg, and how he went from dropping out of school in the 8th grade to creating the multi billion dollar behemoth- Dunkin’ Donuts.

Born on June 10, 1916 in Boston, Massachusetts to Jewish immigrants Nathan and Phoebe Rosenberg, at the age of 13 William Rosenberg decided academic pursuits were far less appealing when there was no food on the table. You see, at the time, his father’s grocery store became one of many causalities of the Great Depression. Needing to help support his family, the newly minted teen entered the work force taking a variety of jobs in the ensuing years- everything from shining shoes to snow shoveling. He even on particularly hot days would buy blocks of ice and sell ice chips at the racetracks. But things really began looking up for the young entrepreneur when, at the age of 14, he landed a full time gig as a message runner for Western Union, with his starting wages reportedly approximately $95 a month (about $1500 today) plus tips. A few years later, at the age of 17, he switched to working for Jack and Jill Ice Cream, initially as a delivery boy, but, within a decade, rising all the way up to National Sales Manager at the company.

When WWII hit, he switched from ice cream to something decidedly less easy on the digestive system- steel, working for the Bethlehem Steel Company, reportedly learning the trade of an electrician during his time with them, as well as climbing up the Union ladder as a union representative. It was here that his life was changed forever when he observed how well the various mobile food service companies did selling their edible wares to the workers during breaks. He also saw many ways their distribution methods could be improved.

Combining this with his previous experience with Jack and Jill selling their wares from trucks, after the war, he decided to start his own mobile restaurant company. Using $1500 (about $23,000 today) in war bonds he held, and borrowing another few thousand dollars from friends and family, in 1946 he founded Industrial Luncheon Services in Quincy, Massachusetts, initially purchasing and converting used phone company trucks and taxicabs to sell food from at various Boston area factories. As for these vehicles, he heavily modified them to be more suited for their new role as food trucks, with stainless steel shelving integrated to their sides and thin metal doors that would swing up as awnings to protect the food and customers from the elements while they made their purchases.

The food truck concept was a major hit and within three years, he’d expanded his mobile empire to over 200 vehicles, countless vending machines, and even some in-plant cafeterias- all serving various factories and major work locations across multiple states.

It was at this point it became apparent to Rosenberg that his bread and butter product was, in fact, bread based- the humble doughnut. He also observed people’s choice beverage to have with the sweet treat was, unsurprisingly, almost always something decidedly bitter- coffee. In fact, despite offering a variety of snack and beverage options, these two items alone accounted for almost half of the revenues of his company.

Teaming up with his brother-in-law and former mentor at Jack and Jill, Harry Winokur, the 32 year old Rosenberg then decided to open a decidedly wheelless location which would specialize in selling these two staple products. And so it was that The Open Kettle opened its doors in 1948 at 543 Southern Artery, Quincy, Massachusetts, with the location still in operation to this day, though under the updated name.

As with his previous business ventures, this new location was a hit, in the first week alone selling over 24,000 doughnuts at 5 cents apiece (57 cents today), and expansion was soon in the air using the basic model perfected in the single location- namely, offering a massive number of doughnut options, originally 52 types, which was a number unheard of in almost any other doughnut outlet at the time. Further, Rosenberg insisted on extreme high quality in both the coffee sold at the location and the doughnuts, with the former achieved by using more expensive beans than most of their competitors, and the latter assured by enacting a rule that any doughnut that sat for more than 5 hours on the shelf must be thrown out.

Ultimately happy with the product and perfected model in the store, Rosenberg was, however, not happy with the name of the business and felt they’d sell a lot more doughnuts and coffee under a better brand name. Thus, sitting down with various employees in 1950, they set about fixing the issue with a brainstorming session. Ultimately the company’s architect, Bernard Healy, was deemed to have come up with the best suggestion- Dunkin’ Donuts. This highlighted both that their major product was doughnuts and alluded to the coffee one could dunk them in.

On this note, Rosenberg would regularly state that the key to his success in business was not in his own intelligence and ideas, but rather his talent for hiring people who were far smarter and more qualified than himself, and then simply listening to them. And as for his own contributions, he famously stated he was “too dumb to make things complicated.” Further elaborating on his whole philosophy of management, he stated, “A person does not build a business; a person builds an organization. An organization builds a business.”

And as for that organization, he notes, “In unity there is strength. Consider the fragile snowflake that flutters slowly to earth and disintegrates; however, if enough of them stick together they can paralyze an entire city.”

Speaking of unity, in an age before McDonald’s and other such franchise behemoths, inspired by another Quincy Massachusetts company, Howard Johnson’s, Rosenberg had the idea to expand his little business via the then very controversial and legally embattled concept of franchising.

His business partner and brother in law, Harry Winokur, did not agree and subsequently left Dunkin’ Donuts, creating one of the world’s other extremely successful doughnut businesses, Mister Donut, which would go on to become the second largest doughnut company in the United States when Winokur realized the error of his ways and began franchising it out. If you’re now wondering why you may not have heard of Mister Donut- unless you live in Japan that is- this is simply because a parent company ultimately purchased both companies and gave the Mister Donut locations the option to switch to Dunkin’ Donuts, which almost all did, combining the companies and bringing things full circle.

Going back to Rosenberg, using the franchising model, he proceeded to expand Dunkin’ Donuts from the then 6 locations in 1955 to 100 locations by 1963, to 1000 by 1979, and beyond. (For reference, today Dunkin’ Donuts operates in 42 countries with almost 13,000 locations.)

In any event, further seeing the need for an organization to protect the interests of franchises- particularly needed at a time when some regions considered franchising, if not literally illegal, at the least disreputable- in 1960, Rosenberg on the side founded the International Franchise Association, which today represents over 1,400 brands and some 30,000 franchises.

Unfortunately for Rosenberg, 11 years later in 1971 a bout with lung cancer had him needing to step down as chairmen of the board of Dunkin’ Donuts, though this wasn’t a major issue as he’d previously already given over most of the day to day operations to his son, Robert, naming him president of the company in 1963.

However, not content to just sit around doing nothing, after his brush with cancerous death, he proceeded to spend his time focusing on horse breeding at his Wilrose Farms, ultimately becoming the largest standard bred breeder in all of New England. By 1979, his exploits with horses even landed him in the New England Hall of Fame of the Standardbred Industry, despite previously having no experience in any of this. As with his doughnut empire, he gave the credit for this not to his own knowledge or ideas, noting he knew little about horses in the beginning, but simply stating all the credit should go to the talented people he hired and subsequently learned from.

Shortly after his induction into the breeding Hall of Fame, in 1980, after a bout with cancer of the blood, he donated Wilrose Farms to the University of New Hampshire. And, after this, philanthropy became his focus, unsurprisingly focusing on cancer and diabetes.

About a decade after this, Dunkin’ Donuts was sold to Allied Lyons. As for Rosenberg, while having little to do with the company after this and no longer even regularly partaking in the doughnut side of this business owing to issues with his weight and diabetes, Rosenberg still remained something of a brand ambassador for the company until his death at the age of 86 on September 22, 2002 of bladder cancer.

As for how he went so far in life despite such humble origins and an almost complete lack of formal education, beyond noting his habit of surrounding himself with people more talented and knowledgeable than he, Rosenberg summed up, “There are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree. You can sit on an acorn and wait for it to grow, or you can climb the tree.”

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

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