Creation of a new industry
Although Will Keith and John Harvey were aware that they had invented a good-tasting food that was easy to prepare, they had no way of knowing that they had also invented a new industry.
The Sanitorium patients enjoyed the wheat flakes and wanted to continue eating them at home. As a service to former patients Dr Kellogg started the Sanitas Nut Food Company. He put his younger brother in charge of the small business to produce the cereal for mail orders. Entrepreneurs quickly profited from copying and retailing flaked wheat cereal. By 1902 more than 40 factories sprang up in the shadow of the San, taking advantage of its reputation to advertise their products as health foods.
Meanwhile ‘W.K.’, as Will Keith was commonly known, continued his own experiments, developing the process for flaking corn in 1898. Seeing the potential of cereal products and recognising his brother’s lack of interest in expanding their own food company, W.K. left his job of 25 years to go into business for himself.
For the first time, he was able to use his own ideas for manufacturing and marketing his products to the public. He decided to introduce corn flakes with malt flavouring to distinguish his cereal from the competition. On April 1 1906, less than one week before W.K.’s 46th birthday, The Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company started production.
A quarter of a century at the San taught W.K. that people may be attracted to a food because it’s nutritious, but they continue to eat it because of flavour, freshness, value and convenience. These were the qualities he emphasised in advertising. He also reasoned that because there are more healthy people than ill ones, he would advertise to healthy people. W.K. wasn’t afraid to take risks. He spent much of his working capital to buy a full-page advertisement in the July 1906 issue of The Ladies Home Journal. The results astonished him. Sales burgeoned from 33 cases to 2900 cases per day. With more widespread ads and promotions to tell the public about “The Original and Best” Kellogg’s® Corn Flakes, the small company’s annual sales exceeded a million cases by 1909.
In an aggressive business climate that encouraged flamboyant marketing, W.K.’s innovative sales promotions still stood out in the crowd. “Give the Grocer a Wink” won shoppers free samples of Kellogg’s® Toasted Corn Flakes. “The Jungleland Funny Moving Pictures” book in 1910 became the first of thousands of premiums offered to consumers who bought Kellogg’s® cereal.
From the largest electric sign at Times Square in New York City, to small grocery store windows, the Kellogg name, written in W.K.’s distinctive script, reminded the public that “The Original Bears This Signature”.
Of equal importance to the company’s success was consistent quality in every step of the cereal production process. W.K. did more than maintain stringent standards. He constantly looked for improvements. Cereal packaging in Waxtite®, introduced in 1914, was a breakthrough in keeping packaged products fresh. Later, Waxtite was put inside the package as a liner. This was one of countless developments in packaging and processes that would keep Kellogg cereals ahead of the rest.
W.K. was strongly committed to communicating about health and nutrition. In 1923 he hired Mary Barber to establish one of the industry’s first professional home economics department to develop recipes using Kellogg cereals. Her work with consumers and educators initiated a company tradition of providing the latest information about diet and nutrition.