Although most well known for its peas and corn, the Green Giant brand sells a variety of fresh, frozen, canned, bagged, and boxed vegetables (as well as hummus). Founded in 1903 as the Minnesota Valley Canning Company, the company changed its name in 1950 to Green Giant, though its recognizable mascot had been around much longer. Read on for 11 things you might not know about the veggie company.
1. THE COMPANY WAS AT THE FOREFRONT OF INDUSTRIAL CANNING.
In 1903, 14 merchants in Le Sueur, Minnesota joined forces to create the Minnesota Valley Canning Company. They started an industrial cannery, producing and selling 11,750 cases of white corn in their first year of business. In 1907, they started producing cans of Early June peas, and they continued to focus only on corn and peas until 1939 when they began also selling canned asparagus.
2. GREEN GIANT PEAS WERE NAMED AFTER A BIG PEA FROM ENGLAND.
Until 1925, the Minnesota Valley Canning Company only sold Early June peas, a variety of small, sweet peas. When a company executive found a large pea in England that was tender and tasted sweet, he brought it back to Minnesota. At the time, the company couldn’t legally trademark the name Green Giant to describe the peas, so they created a mascot named Green Giant and sold the new type of peas under that name.
3. THE ORIGINAL GREEN GIANT MASCOT WAS NEITHER JOLLY NOR GREEN…
COURTESY GREEN GIANT
The original Green Giant mascot was a white (not green) man holding a giant pea pod in his arms. Starting in 1928, he appeared in ads for the peas. The Green Giant’s original incarnation was reportedly influenced by illustrations from Grimms' Fairy Tales, a collection of German fairy tales from the early 1800s.
4. …BUT HE BECAME THE GENTLE GIANT WE KNOW TODAY THANKS TO THE CREATOR OF TONY THE TIGER AND THE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY.
The advertising company Leo Burnett, which created other well-known food mascots such as Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and Toucan Sam, softened the Green Giant’s appearance in 1935. The revised giant had a smile to match his new name, the Jolly Green Giant, and he wore a toga of green leaves. He also got a backstory—he watched over the Jolly Green Giant Valley, protecting the crops.
5. GREEN GIANT HAS CLOSE TIES WITH LE SUEUR VEGETABLES.
Green Giant and Le Sueur are different brands under the same company. Because the Minnesota Valley Canning Company was founded in Le Sueur, Minnesota, the company named its canned vegetables Le Sueur Z. They dropped the Z in 1933, but Le Sueur still sells cans of peas, asparagus, and carrots today.
6. LITTLE GREEN SPROUT HAS BEEN LEARNING FROM THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT SINCE THE EARLY 1970s.
Green Giant introduced another company mascot called Little Green Sprout in 1973. Aimed at children, the young green boy with leaves for hair joined the Jolly Green Giant in the valley, learning about veggies and keeping him company. Little Green Sprout’s youth is reinforced with his high-pitched voice, a stark contrast to the Jolly Green Giant’s booming "ho, ho, ho" tagline.
7. YOU CAN VISIT A TOWERING 55-FOOT STATUE OF THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT.
Tourists to Blue Earth, Minnesota will probably marvel at the sight of a 55-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant. Paul Hedberg, a radio station owner, wanted to encourage visitors who were traveling on Interstate 90 to stop in Blue Earth, so he contacted Green Giant to ask if a statue could be erected. Green Giant gave the okay, and Hedberg raised money from local businesses. The fiberglass statue, which has been towering over the town since 1979, even gets a giant red scarf placed around his neck each winter.
8. GREEN GIANT HAS INNOVATED VEGETABLE MANUFACTURING METHODS.
Green Giant has a history of being on the cutting edge of research and development. In 1929, the company invented Green Giant Niblets by canning vacuum-packed sweet corn in a new way. In 1933, the company used gravity separators—machines that measured and separated peas during the manufacturing process. And in 1969, Green Giant was the first company to sell frozen corn on the cob and mushrooms in glass jars.
9. GREEN GIANT FREEZES THEIR VEGETABLES AFTER HARVESTING TO PRESERVE NUTRIENTS.
Studies have shown that freezing vegetables at their peak ripeness can preserve the nutrients, so you can get just as much benefit from eating frozen veggies as eating fresh ones. Green Giant’s sweet corn, for example, is frozen and packaged within 24 hours of being harvested, and then shipped to a grocery store near you.
10. GREEN GIANT SUPPORTS BULLY PREVENTION.
Green Giant has partnered with Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center to help kids who are bullied. With the "Nominate A Giant" program, Green Giant encourages people in the community to nominate kids and adults who stand up against bullies. "From being friendly in the halls to inviting others to sit with you at lunch, your nice gesture is what makes you a Giant," the company writes, and they reported that more than 12,000 people nominated "giants" on their social media pages.
11. THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT HAS BECOME A POP CULTURE ICON.
People love the Green Giant’s combination of brawn and gentleness. In Blue Earth, Minnesota, people can visit the Green Giant Museum and get a kick out of seeing the giant green footsteps that are painted on the sidewalks each summer for the town’s Giant Days festival and parade. For those not in Minnesota, Green Giant vintage merchandise such as dolls, kites, shirts, hats, coffee cups, and posters are available for sale online.