May 19, 2011

Consolidation in the baking aisle

To look at these tins of baking powder, one might imagine three very different brands. Indeed, their designs reference three distinct origin stories and each has its regional loyalists. Their contents, however, are all manufactured in an aging Terre Haute, Indiana, factory owned by Hulman & Co.

Granted, there are subtle variations in the formulas. In addition to Sodium Bicarbonate, a universal basic ingredient, Clabber girl uses Sodium Aluminum Sulfate as its acidic element. Rumford uses Monocalcium Phosphate. There are minor differences in the performance of each, but who really knows. They all make the biscuits rise. It speaks to the power of branding to step in when real distinctions are invisible.

In this day of multinational conglomerates, where brands are traded back and forth as intellectual property, consolidation should not come as a surprise. The efficiencies of scale! Yet somehow, this baking powder revelation got a rise out of me. Clabber Girl acquired the Rumford brand (along with KC and Hearth Club) in 1950. For more than 60 years, people have been choosing red tins with a man’s silhouette over white tins with the Gibson girl, or vice versa, because “that one’s the best” or “the other doesn’t work right.” All the while both camps have been sending their money back to Terre Haute, where the Hulman family has invested in their other great interest: they own the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

comments

  1. Sheila Ryan on May 19th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    I always bought Clabber Girl because of the name. Little did I know. I been hoodwinked.

  2. Michael Smith on May 19th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Sheila, you haven’t been hoodwinked, Clabber Girl is still a superior name.

  3. Joel Bernstein on May 19th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    So if the formulas are different, and the branding is different, who cares where the check gets sent?

  4. Sheila Ryan on May 19th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Quit being so dang logical, Joel.

  5. Sheila Ryan on May 19th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    It’s baking powder affinity we’re talkin’ ’bout!

  6. Joel Bernstein on May 19th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Anyway, I buy the mildly racist stuff from Kraft

  7. Sheila Ryan on May 19th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    That can with the Injun’s silhouette, eh?

  8. Sheila Ryan on May 19th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Does anyone know anyone who buys Davis Baking Powder?

  9. Joel Bernstein on May 19th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I don’t know, but I’ve heard good things about Bakewell Cream

  10. Joel Bernstein on May 19th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
  11. Joel Bernstein on May 19th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Q. What is the difference between Baking Powders?
    A. Baking Powders differ in their reaction to moisture and heat depending on their formulation. Rumford Baking Powder’s reaction is approximately 70% with moisture (or in the bowl) and the rest when head is applied. Clabber Girl’s reaction is approximately 40% with moisture and the rest when heat is applied. Some people prefer the Rumford brand because it does not contain the acid ingredient sodium aluminum sulfate.

    Clabber Girl, Davis, KC, Royal and Hearth Club brands are regional favorites and all have similar formulations. They can all be used interchangeably in recipes.

  12. Mike Dresser on May 20th, 2011 at 1:05 am

    This is what I get for posting on my way out the door–I miss the discussion! Regarding the importance of who is profiting off of these sales, it’s not really that. I’m simply fascinated that such seemingly-different products are mixed and shipped by the same folk. I realized as I was writing this that for primitive, unprocessed products such as baking essentials, branding is all that a company has to set it apart from its competitors. Yet these are, in essence, competing with themselves.

    As for who uses Davis baking powder, ha, a can has resided above the stove in each NYC apartment I have lived in–some roommate’s purchase, not mine. Still works, still rises the biscuits.

    And Calumet’s mildly-racist tins still control about 45% of the market. The company profile I linked to indicated that Hulman & Co. was faced with aging equipment and a tougher marketplace, and “it remained to be seen” what might happen. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a the Kraft logo above Mssrs. Rumford and Davis, Miss Clabber Girl and Chief Calumet before too long. But they’ll all still be there.

  13. Dave Vogt on May 20th, 2011 at 11:26 am

    My mom buys Davis. I probably have too, if I’ve ever had occasion to buy it at all. I so rarely purchase staples.