8 Italian-Inspired Facts About Progresso

Progresso
Progresso

Although Progresso is now known for its selection of canned soups, the company got its start by selling canned Italian foods to Italian Americans living in New Orleans. Now, the company also produces chili, stock, beans, balsamic vinegar, breadcrumbs, and more. Read on for eight facts you might not know about Progresso.

1. Progresso's history dates back to 19th-century Italy.

In the 1890s, Giuseppe Uddo left school to sell cheese and olives to his neighbors in Sicily, Italy. He was only 9 years old, but he helped support his family by selling goods out of a horse-drawn cart. That experience would come in handy when he left Italy for the U.S. in 1907. At just 24 years old, Uddo and his wife, Eleanora—whose family, the Taorminas, were also in the food business—moved to New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Uddos already had family ties in New Orleans. Vincent Taormina, one of Eleanora's relatives, had started a business there importing foods from Italy in 1905. Eventually, Uddo and Taormina would join together to form the company that would become Progresso. But first, Uddo would strike out on his own.

2. A horse named Sal was integral to its success at the start …

In New Orleans, the Uddos lived in the French Quarter, where Giuseppe decided to start his own import business. In 1913, he bought a horse named Sal and rode him around Italian communities in Louisiana, selling tomato sauce and olives that he had imported from Italy.

3. … But the business soon outgrew Sal.

Progresso

Uddo's business in Louisiana became successful enough that he ditched Sal, purchased trucks for deliveries, and opened a warehouse and grocery store in the French Quarter. Just before World War I broke out, he took a risk and purchased thousands of cans of tomato paste at once—a gamble that paid off when the war prevented U.S. merchants from importing goods from Italy, driving up prices.

After the war ended, Uddo opened a factory in Riverdale, California, to manufacture cans of tomato paste domestically, ensuring that he wouldn't have to rely entirely on the availability of imported Italian goods anymore. In doing so, he made history: His California factory was the first in the U.S. to manufacture cans of Italian food.

4. Progresso's founding families were partners in more than just business.

In 1925, Giuseppe Uddo and Vincent Taormina joined their two New Orleans-based businesses together to form the Uddo and Taormina Company. Taormina's son, Vincent Taormina, Jr., decided to get into the import business, too—he and another relative, Frank G. Taormina, set off for New York to establish their own Italian import company, selling olives, tomatoes, sardines, cheese, and peppers to New York City's large Italian population.

At that point, the Uddo and Taormina factory in California was producing more tomato products than they could sell in New Orleans, and they were searching for a new market for his goods. In 1927, the New Orleans and New York families merged to create the Progresso Italian Food Corporation in New York City. (It became Progresso Quality Foods in 1977.)

The connection between the Uddo and Taormina families was more than a business partnership, though. Besides Eleanora having been born a Taormina, in 1933, Frank Taormina married Giuseppe and Eleanora's daughter, Rose.

5. Progresso's label was based on a pastel painting.

Italian peppers arriving at the Uddo and Taormina factory in Vineland, New Jersey circa 1940
Progresso

The Progresso name came from Progressive Grocery Company, a grocery store in New Orleans's French Quarter. Uddo and Taormina bought the trademark from Progressive Grocery for $25 in order to call their new company the Progresso Italian Food Corporation. Besides the positive connotations of the term progress, the word Progresso also evoked Il Progresso, a popular Italian-language newspaper that was published in New York City from 1880 to the 1980s. The new company's label was based on a pastel painting that Uddo had purchased from Progressive Grocery years before.

6. World War II shifted Progresso's focus from importing to manufacturing.

When World War II made it again impossible to import canned food from Italy, Progresso expanded its domestic production, buying another factory in Vineland, New Jersey. Starting in 1942, Progresso's Vineland factory canned peppers, veggies, beans, and other goods, largely grown by Italian farmers in southern New Jersey. In 1949, Progresso introduced ready-to-eat canned soups—minestrone, pasta e fagioli, and lentil—as a way to make money during the winter, when vegetables weren't in season. Today, Progresso makes roughly 40 percent of the canned soup sold in the U.S.

7. Progresso is now part of General Mills.

Progresso cans circa 1978Progresso

By the 1950s, Progresso's products were on shelves in grocery stores all over the United States, helping popularize Italian favorites like canned tuna in olive oil, breadcrumbs, capers, and artichokes among American households. But the company wouldn't remain in the Uddo-Taormina families for long. Giuseppe Uddo died in 1957, and the two families feuded over control of the company. In 1969, they sold Progresso to Imperial Tobacco, a Canadian company. Progresso went through a series of acquisitions during the following decades, finally ending up in the portfolio of the Pillsbury Company in 1995. When Pillsbury was bought out by General Mills in 2001, Progresso became a General Mills brand, as it remains today.

8. Uddo's grandson honored him by opening an Italian restaurant in New Orleans.

In 1990, Giuseppe Uddo's grandson, the late chef Michael Uddo, opened a restaurant in New Orleans's French Quarter called The G&E Courtyard Grill. Named for the first initial of his grandparents' first names—Giuseppe and Eleanora—the restaurant served Italian food until it closed in 1999.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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The Surprising History of Apple Cider Doughnuts

Apple cider doughnuts have a surprisingly modern history.
Apple cider doughnuts have a surprisingly modern history.
bhofack2/Getty Images

Apple cider doughnuts are synonymous with fall, particularly in New England, where apple orchards from Maine to Connecticut use their own cider to flavor the fluffy, golden rings. Both sweet and savory, and often dusted in finger-licking cinnamon sugar, apple cider doughnuts may seem like a quaint tradition inherited from Colonial times—but the tasty treats have a more modern history that may surprise you.

It all started with Russian immigrant and entrepreneur Adolf Levitt. According to Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, Levitt bought a chain of New York bakeries in 1916. He was impressed by American soldiers’ fondness for the fried loops of flavored dough and began developing a doughnut-making machine to take advantage of troops’ appetites. In one of his early marketing coups, he installed a prototype in the window of his Harlem bakery in 1920. The machine caught the eye—and the cravings—of passersby. Levitt went on to sell his doughnut-making machines and a standardized flour mix to other bakeries.

He spun his marketing prowess into founding the Doughnut Corporation of America. The corporation evangelized doughnuts in marketing campaigns across print media, radio, and TV. A World War II-era party manual the DCA produced noted, “no other food is so heartwarming, so heartily welcomed as the doughnut.” Levitt’s granddaughter Sally L. Steinberg wrote that Levitt, “made doughnuts America's snack, part of office breaks for coffee and doughnuts, of Halloween parties with doughnuts on strings, of doughnut-laden political rallies.”

The DCA launched the first National Doughnut Month in October 1928. In its zeal, the DCA sometimes made dubious recommendations. In 1941, along with surgeon J. Howard Crum, it advocated for the single source “doughnut diet.” Later it marketed “Vitamin Doughnuts” based on an enhanced flour mix it claimed provided more protein and nutrients than made-at-home creations. (The federal government required them to use the name “Enriched Flour Doughnuts,” according to Glazed America.) A skeptical public didn’t gobble up the sales pitch—or the doughnuts.

In 1951, however, the DCA introduced a flavor with staying power. A New York Times article from August 19 of that year observed, “A new type of product, the Sweet Cider Doughnut will be introduced by the Doughnut Corporation of America in its twenty-third annual campaign this fall to increase doughnut sales. The new item is a spicy round cake that is expected to have a natural fall appeal.”

The cider doughnut recipe gives a fall spin to the basic buttermilk doughnut by adding apple cider to the batter, with cinnamon and nutmeg boosting the autumnal flavor. Each orchard typically has its own family recipe and usually serves them paired with mulled apple cider. The doughnuts have caught on well beyond pastoral landscapes and are now seasonal favorites in national chains and home kitchens. Dunkin’ has taken up the mantle, and Smitten Kitchen and The New York Times have recipes for a make-at-home version.

Although the apple cider doughnut has stood the test of time, the DCA didn’t. J. Lyons & Co. bought out Levitt’s DCA in the 1970s, and the entrepreneurs behind Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts later bought the DCA trademark. The company distributes its doughnuts nationwide; however, its offerings don’t include a cider doughnut.