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.

Two men look at Progresso canned goods
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.

A black-and-white photo of factory workers packing peppers
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.

Stacks of Progresso cans
Progresso cans circa 1978
Progresso

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.

The Reason Why 'Doritos Breath' Stopped Being a Problem

iStock/FotografiaBasica
iStock/FotografiaBasica

In the 1960s, Frito-Lay marketing executive Arch West returned from a family vacation in California singing the praises of toasted tortillas he had sampled at a roadside stop. In 1972, his discovery morphed into Doritos, a plain, crispy tortilla chip that was sprinkled with powdered gold in the form of nacho cheese flavoring.

Doritos enthusiasts were soon identifiable by the bright orange cheese coating that covered their fingers. But there was another giveaway that they had been snacking: a garlic-laden, oppressive odor emanating from their mouths. The socially stigmatizing condition became known as "Doritos breath." And while the snack still packs a potent post-mastication smell, it’s not nearly as severe as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. So what happened?

Like most consumer product companies, Frito-Lay regularly solicits the opinions of focus groups on how to improve their products. The company spent more than a decade compiling requests, which eventually boiled down to two recurring issues: Doritos fans wanted a cheesier taste, and they also wanted their breath to stop wilting flowers.

The latter complaint was not considered a pressing issue. Despite their pungent nature, Doritos were a $1.3 billion brand in the early 1990s, so clearly people were willing to risk interpersonal relationships after inhaling a bag. But in the course of formulating a cheesier taste—which the company eventually dubbed Nacho Cheesier Doritos—they found that it altered the impact of the garlic powder used in making the chip. Infused with the savory taste known as umami, the garlic powder was what gave Doritos their lingering stink. Tinkering with the garlic flavoring had the unintended—but very happy—consequence of significantly reducing the smell.

“It was not an objective at all,” Stephen Liguori, then-vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, told the Associated Press in April 1992. “It turned out to be a pleasant side effect of the new and improved seasoning.”

Frito-Lay offered snack-sized bags of the new flavor and enlisted former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman to promote it. Ever since, complaints of the scent of Doritos wafting from the maws of co-workers have been significantly reduced, and the Nacho Cheesier variation has remained the Doritos flavor of choice among consumers.

When Arch West died in 2011 at the age of 97, his family decided to sprinkle Doritos in his grave. They were plain. Not because of the smell, but because his daughter, Jana Hacker, believed that mourners wouldn’t want nacho cheese powder on their fingers.

Recall Alert: King Arthur Flour Sold at Aldi and Walmart Recalled Due to E. Coli Concerns

iStock/KenWiedemann
iStock/KenWiedemann

A new item has been pulled from supermarket shelves in light of an E. coli outbreak, NBC 12 reports. This time, the product being recalled is King Arthur flour, a popular brand sold at Aldi, Walmart, Target, and other stores nationwide.

The voluntarily product recall, announced by King Arthur Flour, Inc. and the FDA on Thursday, June 13, affects roughly 114,000 bags of unbleached all-purpose flour. The flour is made from wheat from the ADM Milling Company, which has been linked to an ongoing E. coli outbreak in the U.S. Though none of the cases reported so far have been traced back to King Arthur flour, the product is being taken off the market as a precaution.

Five-pound bags of unbleached all-purpose flour from specific lot codes and use-by dates are the only King Arthur products impacted by the recall. If you find King Arthur flour in the grocery store or in your pantry at home, check for this dates and numbers below the nutrition facts to see if it's been recalled.

Best used by 12/07/19 Lot: L18A07C
Best used by 12/08/19 Lots: L18A08A, L18A08B
Best used by 12/14/19 Lots: L18A14A, L18A14B, L18A14C

E. coli contamination is always a risk with flour, which is why raw cookie dough is still unsafe to eat even if it doesn't contain eggs. The CDC warns that even allowing children to play or craft with raw dough isn't a smart idea.

[h/t NBC 12]

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