33 Grocery Store Staples Named After Real People

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Betty Crocker, Dr Pepper, and Aunt Jemima may be figments of a marketing team’s imagination, but a lot of the names on foods were actual people. From Duncan Hines to Chef Boyardee, here are 33 grocery store items named after real people.


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Before Tim and Nina Zagat, there was Duncan Hines, a traveling salesman who made a habit of writing about the food that he ate on his travels, which he eventually turned into a best-selling book, Adventures in Good Eating. The book—and man—became so popular that restaurants and hotels given positive reviews by Hines began hanging signs in their establishments denoting that they were “Recommended by Duncan Hines.” By 1940, Hines’ name was so synonymous with good eats that he was approached about licensing it for a line of high-quality food products, which at that time consisted of more than 250 canned, bottled, and boxed products. Today, the Duncan Hines line is not so diverse, but it’s still pretty massive, with more than 80 boxed mixes for cakes, muffins, brownies, and beyond.


Birds Eye

Would-be biologist Clarence Birdseye revolutionized the food industry when he invented a new method for flash-freezing food—the same process that’s used to freeze the Birds Eye line of fruits and veggies. More interested in being an inventor and entrepreneur than a food-maker, in 1929 Birdseye sold his company and patents for the tidy sum of $22 million.


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Joseph A. Campbell is the man behind the canned soup company that spawned a home cooking revolution and a pop art phenomenon. Originally part of a beefsteak tomato canning and preserving company, in 1891 Campbell bought out his original partner and began working with chemist-turned-chairman John T. Dorrance on a condensed soup recipe. In 1894, Campbell retired, but the company retained his name; in 1897, the company released its first product line—including tomato, chicken, vegetable and oxtail soups, and consommé—and a year later unveiled its now-iconic red and white packaging.


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In 1931, Herman Lay was a traveling potato chip salesman working out of his car in the southern part of the United States. By the end of the decade, he was running the show, at least from a distribution standpoint. In 1939—after buying two plants from the Barrett Company—Lay moved to Atlanta to set up shop on his own as the H.W. Lay Company. In the decades that followed, Lay’s became the country’s most successful snack food company, and eventually merged with Frito (in 1961) then Pepsi (in 1965).


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The only thing fictional about Chef Boyardee is the spelling of his last name; Ettore “Hector” Boiardi is the real name of this master of canned pasta, who began working professionally at the age of 11 and was leading the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel by the time he was 17. (The spelling change was, understandably, for pronunciation purposes.)


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From fresh fruits to frozen ones and fresh-cut vegetables to packaged foods, Dole Food Company products can be found from one end of the grocery store to the other. And it all began back in 1899, when James Dole came to Hawaii with $1000 to his name, a Harvard degree on his resume, and a desire to grow the world’s best pineapples, in order to give the rest of the country a taste.



Today, you can usually find Entenmann’s donuts, cookies, cakes, and pies at the end of the bread aisle. But back in 1898, you would have had to travel to Brooklyn to get your Entenmann’s fix, for it’s here that German immigrant William Entenmann started up his own bakery business, with products which he delivered door-to-door by horse-drawn carriage.



Italian immigrant Celeste Lizio is a culinary legend in the Chicago area, where she opened her first pizzeria in the 1930s. By the next decade, demand for her pies had outgrown the supply, so Lizio opted to close the restaurant and focus solely on supplying her product and ingredients to a host of nearby pizzerias. Shortly thereafter, the Quaker Oats Company came calling to begin freezing “Mama” Celeste’s pizzas (yep, that’s her picture on the box) and supply them to a nation full of hungry pie lovers.


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Anyone who follows politics—or the life of John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, in particular—knows that there is indeed a real family behind the Heinz brand. And it started with Pittsburgh native Henry J. Heinz at the helm, who began his food career in the 1860s delivering horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut, and vinegar by horse-drawn carriage. In 1876, ketchup and relish were added to the Heinz culinary repertoire. In 1896, Heinz added the “57 Varieties” to the company packaging, indicating the 57 products the company produced. In truth, there were more than 60, but Heinz thought 57 sounded more interesting. Today, the brand manufactures more than 5700 products.


W.K. Kellogg Foundation

One of the world’s most iconic breakfast cereals is the result of a mistake made by W.K. Kellogg and his brother, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, when their failed attempt at making granola resulted in a bowl of flaked wheat berry. Which tasted pretty darn good. So they tried to fail again, this time with corn, and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were born. They were introduced in 1906 by the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which was renamed the Kellogg Company in 1922.


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By now it’s no secret that the titular ice cream makers responsible for such legendary flavors as Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough are Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, two childhood friends who opened their first ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont in 1978 and have since transformed the brand into a frozen global behemoth.


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Not only is Wally Amos, the man behind Famous Amos Cookies, a real person, he’s alive and well—having recently celebrated his 78th birthday—and splits his time between Hawaii and New York (he even appeared as himself in a 2012 episode of The Office). And though he was still a teen when he began tinkering with the chocolate chip cookie recipe that made him famous (it was a twist on his aunt’s cookie concoction), it wasn’t until later in life that he pursued baking as a vocation. After a stint with the Air Force, Amos went to college and took a clerical job at the William Morris Agency, which eventually led to him becoming the company’s first African American talent agent, where he headed up the rock ‘n’ roll department. (Discovering Simon & Garfunkel didn’t hurt his career.) In 1940, with the support of some of his celebrity friends—and a $25,000 loan from Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy—Amos quit the show business game and opened his first cookie store in Los Angeles.


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Apple pie’s favorite filler was discovered in Australia in 1868, when Maria Ann “Granny” Smith found the seedling in her garden in the same spot where she had thrown out some French crab apples from Tasmania, which is what she originally believed them to be. It wasn’t until almost a century later, during the 1960s, that American apple growers began harvesting the variety, which today is one of the most popular types of apple.



Dannon (a.k.a. Danon or Danone) is the nickname of Daniel Carasso, the son of yogurt producer Isaac Carasso, who founded the Dannon company (as Danone) in Spain in 1919. A decade later, the company relocated to France and then, following the German occupation of France during World War II, to New York, where the company name lost an “e” and gained an “n” for easier pronunciation among Americans. As for Daniel: He eventually became an important force in the brand’s global marketing, and the man many hold responsible for popularizing yogurt around the world.



Long before he became a sausage king in 1969, Jimmy Dean’s name was a familiar one, thanks to a thriving country music career (his biggest hit came in 1961, with “Big Bad John”) and a television gig on The Jimmy Dean Show (which kicked off Jim Henson’s career). But Dean believed he needed a fallback career, so he and his brother Dean began a butchering company in Plainview, Texas. Within six months, the Jimmy Dean Meat Company had turned a profit. In 1984, Dean sold the multimillion dollar company to Sara Lee Foods, and stayed on as its spokesperson through 2003.



You know Little Debbie’s face from the last time you tore into a box of Swiss Cake Rolls. But did you know that Little Debbie—the same gingham-dress and wide-brim-hat-wearing youngster on the box—is the granddaughter of McKee Foods founder O.D. McKee? While trying to come up with a name for a new line of family-size cartons of snack cakes, someone suggested that McKee name them after a family member. He chose his granddaughter Debbie, who was four years old at the time.



In 1891, George A. Hormel opened a pork processing plant in Austin, Minnesota, which—thanks to tremendous sales—spawned a retail shop in Minneapolis just two years later. In the 1920s, Hormel developed the world’s first canned ham, which led to a variety of other canned products, including chili and, in 1937, SPAM!



Believe that a team of elves are the real source behind Keebler’s line of cookies all you want. The truth is that it’s a man named Godfrey Keebler, who started it all when he opened up a tiny bakery in Philadelphia in 1853. In 1926, Keebler became a founding member of the United Biscuit Company of America, which consisted of a collection of bakeries that distributed their goods to out-of-area customers via automobile. By 1966, this collection of bakeries had grown so large that consolidation became the best option and the company name was changed to the Keebler Company in honor of its founding father. Oh, and about Ernie and the rest of the elves? They didn’t appear until 1970, when the Leo Burnett Company devised them as part of an advertising campaign.



In the early 1940s, Marie Callender began delivering her pies to area restaurants. By the end of the decade—with the help of her son and her husband—she was running a wholesale bakery and making more than 200 pies each day. In 1964, she opened her first pie and coffee shop. As Callender’s name grew in popularity, the opportunity to license it became a profitable part of the family business venture. In 1994, ConAgra Foods purchased a variety of product licenses and began putting out the frozen food line, which includes both sweet and savory pies and more.


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The Orville Redenbacher brand claims that the company founder “dedicated his life to perfecting a lighter, fluffier popcorn.” The Indiana farm boy was just 12 when he began growing and selling popping corn, the profits of which he used to fund his college education (a B.S. in Agriculture from Purdue University). After years of playing around with popcorn hybrids, Redenbacher and his business partner Charlie Bowman came up with their famous formula in 1965, which is light and fluffy and offers a 44:1 ratio of popped to un-popped corn.



Today, the J.M. Smucker Company is home to more than 30 product lines, including Jif peanut butter, Folgers coffee, and Pillsbury baked goods. But back in 1897, when it was founded by farmer Jerome M. Smucker, pressed cider was its main product. Apple butter (sold from the back of a horse-drawn wagon) came next and eventually blossomed into a full line of well-known jams, jellies, syrups, ice cream toppings, and more.


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Success was not immediate for Kraft Foods founder James L. Kraft. In 1903, the Canada-born businessman started a door-to-door cheese company in Chicago with just $65 to his name. Though the company lost $3,000 in its initial year, business started booming when James’ brothers joined him in the endeavor in 1909. Five years later, the company had more than 30 varieties of cheese among its offerings. Today, it’s one of the world’s largest food manufacturers, with nearly $19 billion in revenue last year alone.


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Originally established as Richmond & Company, Agents for Onondaga Salt in 1848, the salt company that made an icon of a little girl in a yellow raincoat first took on the Morton name in 1889, when businessman Joy Morton acquired a major portion of the company and renamed it Joy Morton & Company. Twenty-one years—and several acquisitions—later, the company was renamed the Morton Salt Company.


Pork chops have got Samuel R. Mott, a Quaker who decided to start his own cider and vinegar business in 1842, to thank for the applesauce that makes the dish. It wasn’t until the Great Depression, when it was known as Duffy-Mott, that the company began to truly diversify. In 1930, they introduced a wide range of new products, including the applesauce that would become a flagship item.


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German immigrant Oscar Mayer was just 14 years old when he began learning the meat market trade as an apprentice in Chicago. By 1900, Oscar and his brothers were some of the Windy City’s busiest sausage makers. In 1924, they were the first to bring pre-sliced packaged bacon to the market. Five years later, Oscar released his now-famous yellow paper band-wrapped hot dogs to the public.


Though not much is known about the real Uncle Ben, the company asserts that he is indeed a real person. He is, in fact, a combination of two people: the actual Uncle Ben, a farmer from Texas who set the standard of how rice should be grown, and Frank Brown, a chef and waiter from Chicago whose likeness is used on every Uncle Ben product.



The Nathan behind these rightfully famous frankfurters is Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant and restaurant worker who—at the urging of his co-workers Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante (both of whom worked as singing waiters)—opened a hot dog stand on the Coney Island Boardwalk in 1916. Cantor and Durante quickly became some of Nathan’s best customers (Al Capone and Cary Grant frequented the stand, too), but Nathan truly earned the “Famous” in his name in 1939, when FDR served Nathan’s hot dogs to the King and Queen of England.


Ice cream was in its infancy in 1866, which is when William A. Breyer began to make and sell it via horse and wagon in the Philadelphia area. In 1908, William’s son Henry incorporated the business, which became part of the Kraft family of foods in 1926, and then Unilever in 1993.


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If you believe what the commercials tell you, the only people to know the secret recipe for Bush’s variety of baked beans are select family members and a talking dog named Duke. What we do know is that the company was founded in 1904 by A.J. Bush, mainly as a tomato canning business. During the Great Depression, the company added canned pork and beans to its product line. It wasn’t until 1969 that the family’s secret recipe for baked beans came into the picture, when Condon Bush (A.J.’s grandson) decided to re-create his mom Kathleen’s recipes for mass consumption.



Pottstown, Pennsylvania housewife Amanda Smith’s transformation from homemaker to business owner began at the urging of her son Robert, who was so enamored of his mom’s cooking that he began selling slices of her fruit pies door to door. By 1925, the family business was doing so well that they needed to incorporate and Mrs. Smith's Delicious Home Made Pies, Inc. was born. Today, there are more than 20 varieties of Mrs. Smith’s products available in the frozen food aisle, from crusts to cobblers and two separate pie lines (Original Flaky Crust or Classic).


Before their family name became synonymous with frozen seafood, the Van de Kamp clan—headed up by Theodore, with support from his sisters Marian and Henrietta—dabbled in snacks (the brand began as part of a potato chip stand in Los Angeles). They eventually expanded their offerings to include baked goods and, in the 1950s, ran a local restaurant chain that became known for its delicious plates of batter-fried halibut.


Sara Lee Lubin may get most of the culinary credit, but she was merely the namesake of the dessert line that was named in her honor. In fact, she was only eight years old when her father, Charles, started the Sara Lee bakery chain in Chicago. In 1956, the company was purchased by Consolidated Foods, and Sara Lee became a baked goods icon.



Though the Annie’s Homegrown line of foods now goes well beyond mac and cheese, that signature boxed food item was where this company started in 1989 when Annie Withey and Andrew Martin decided to show that healthy food could taste delicious, and that success and social responsibility could go hand in hand in the business world. In the early days, the phone number and address on Annie’s products connected the customer directly to Withey herself.