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.

10 Frank Facts About the Wienermobile

Business Wire
Business Wire

This year marks the 83rd anniversary of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, that effortlessly charming, street-legal marketing tool on wheels. The next time you’re in the vicinity of one—a fleet of six makes up to 1400 stops annually—take the time to reflect on the past, present, and future of history’s most famous locomoting hot dog.

1. The Wienermobile started as a kind of land sub. 


Oscar Mayer

In 1936, Carl Mayer, nephew of hot dog scion Oscar Mayer, suggested a marketing idea to his uncle: build a 13-foot-long mobile hot dog and cruise around the Chicago area handing out his “German wieners” to stunned pedestrians. Crafted from a metal chassis, the vehicle was operated by Carl, who could usually be seen with his torso sticking out from the cockpit.

2. The Wienermobile was once driven by "Little Oscar."

Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, Oscar Mayer enlisted various little people to portray “Little Oscar,” a company mascot sporting a chef’s hat. Little Oscar soon assumed piloting duties for the Wienermobile, waving to crowds and dispensing wiener whistles that kids could use to alert other children to the presence of the car in their neighborhood. Performer George Malchan portrayed the character from 1951 to 1987.

3. The Wienermobile disappeared for decades.

While novelty automobiles were all the rage circa World War II, Oscar Mayer saw interest wane in the 1960s and 1970s, as kitsch gave way to more contemporary advertising campaigns. But when the company put a Wiener back on the road for its 50th anniversary in 1986, they discovered a whole generation of consumers who were nostalgic for the car. The company ordered six new models in 1988.

4. Wienermobile drivers train at Hot Dog High.

Since resurrecting the marketing campaign, Oscar Mayer has trained aspiring Wienermobile drivers at Hot Dog High in Madison, Wisconsin. The company receives 1000 to 1500 applications for the 12 available positions annually, typically from college graduates looking for a road trip experience. Those selected for duty are given 40 hours of instruction and assigned a different region of the country. The company tracks their routes with a GPS.

5. Wienermobile passengers ride "shotbun."

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Wienermobile motorists—a.k.a. Hotdoggers—typically ride in pairs, with the driver keeping an eye on the road and the passenger acknowledging and waving to passersby who want to interact with the vehicle. This is known as riding “shotbun,” and the greetings are mandatory. Some occupants have reported that even after going off-duty, they’ll keep waving to other drivers out of habit.

6. The Wienermobile interior is just as delicious.

Wienermobile fans who are invited to board—and promise to fasten their “meat belts” before rolling—are treated to a rare peek inside the vehicle’s interior. Ketchup- and mustard-colored upholstery surround the six seats, with condiment "stains" dotting the floor; for parades, occupants can wave from the “bunroof.” Two accent hot dogs are parked on the dashboard.

7. The Wienermobile once crashed into a house.

Though it can be challenging to pilot an enormous hot dog, most Wienermobiles log mileage without incident. A rare exception: a 2009 accident near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when a driver attempted to back the vehicle out of a residential driveway, thought she was in reverse, but shot forward and bored into an unoccupied home.

8. Al Unser Jr. drove the Wienermobile for laps at the Indy 500.

While one might expect the Wienermobile to have the handling of a tube-shaped camper, some models were surprisingly nimble. Race car driver Al Unser Jr. took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1988 and drove it for laps. The dog reached an impressive 110 miles per hour.

9. There's a version of the Wienermobile called a "Wienie-Bago."

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile WIENIE-BAGO
Oscar Mayer

Super Bowl attendees who couldn’t snag a hotel room in San Francisco for the 2016 showdown between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos had a pork-based solution: Oscar Mayer auctioned off two nights in their Wienie-Bago, an RV that sleeps four. Missed it? If you're in Chicago, you can rent a Wienermobile that sleeps two for $136 a night. A bed, outdoor dining area, and a fridge stocked with hot dogs are all included.

10. You can buy a miniature Wienermobile.

For the 2015 gift-giving season, Oscar Mayer issued a limited-edition, remote-controlled version of the Wienermobile. The 22.5-inch-long mini-dog sent collectors scrambling on Cyber Monday, when the company released just 20 for purchase at a time. The Rover is able to hold two hot dogs for transport across picnic tables. You can still find them on eBay.

Autumnal Dessert Spices and Cubed Meat Collide: Pumpkin Spice SPAM Now Exists

David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

Does sipping on a pumpkin spice latte ever make you think: “Man, I wish this were cubed meat”? Soon, it will be. According to NBC News, Hormel will start selling Pumpkin Spice SPAM on September 23.

It all started back in October of 2017, when Hormel announced via its Facebook page that pumpkin spice SPAM was coming—as a joke. The post clearly stated that it wasn’t real, but that didn’t stop scores of people from making comments about how it would probably taste delicious and asking where they could purchase a can.

Now, a Hormel publicist has confirmed to NBC News that the limited-edition, fall-themed flavor will soon be available to order online from Walmart or Spam.com.

"True to the brand’s roots, SPAM Pumpkin Spice combines deliciousness with creativity, allowing the latest variety to be incorporated into a number of dishes, from on-trend brunch recipes to an easy, pick-me-up snack,” Hormel told NBC News.

While Pumpkin Spice SPAM might not yet be accepted into pumpkin spice canon alongside lattes and muffins, it’s far from the strangest product that has been imbued with the mysterious, cinnamon-y spice blend to date; we’ll leave automotive exhaust spray and light bulbs to duke it out for that designation. And the Facebook commenters might have actually been onto something when they dared to suggest that Pumpkin Spice SPAM had palatal potential. After all, ham recipes often include sweet ingredients like maple syrup, brown sugar, and honey. And, according to TIME, the word spam was invented as a portmanteau of spiced ham.

Wondering what other SPAM innovations you might be missing out on? Check out these recipes from around the world.

[h/t NBC News]

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