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13 Hearty Facts about Quaker Oats

Nothing helps stave off a chilly morning quite like a warm bowl of Quaker oatmeal. The wholesome, hearty favorite seems timeless today, but oats for breakfast were once quite strange to American sensibilities. While the Quaker brand is synonymous with oatmeal, they've consistently branched out (read on for their surprising connection to Willy Wonka). Read on for 13 wholesome facts about the fascinating history of the Quaker Oats Company.

1. AMERICANS WERE RELUCTANT TO EAT "HORSE FOOD."

To many Americans in the 1850s, oats were considered livestock food—not fit for human consumption. Ferdinand Schumacher set out to change that perception in 1856 when he opened the German Mills American Oatmeal Factory in Akron, Ohio. Schumacher found success due to both the cheap nature of oat milling as well as strong support from Irish and German immigrants, who were already accustomed to eating oats. His success led to the memorable nickname "The Oatmeal King," and he quickly began attracting local competitors.

2. THE "QUAKER" BRAND WAS INTRODUCED IN 1877—BUT WITHOUT ANY QUAKER INFLUENCE.

Circa 1900. Getty

One major competitor to Schumacher was Henry Parsons Crowell, who owned the Quaker Oat Mill in nearby Ravenna, Ohio. Crowell was the first marketer to introduce a trademark for a cereal product and registered the "Quaker" brand name and symbol in 1877. Neither Crowell nor the brand had any connection to the Quaker religious sect, but the icon of the traditional figure was intended to represent "good quality and honest value."

3. THE COMPANY WAS BORN FROM A TUMULTUOUS MERGER.

After years of cutthroat competition, 1888 saw Schumacher and Crowell join forces with five other Midwestern grain moguls, including John Stuart and George Douglas, to form the American Cereal Company. Schumacher was the company’s first president and named Crowell vice president. Despite their alliance, the businessmen continued to struggle for control of the organization throughout the 1890s, with Crowell ultimately winning out. The renamed Quaker Oats Company was announced in 1901, with initial sales of $16 million.

4. HENRY CROWELL WAS A MAJOR PHILANTHROPIST.

While not a literal Quaker, Crowell was a prominent Christian philanthropist. Along with his wife, Susan Coleman Crowell, he established a major charitable trust which helped support over 100 evangelical organizations. In addition to his work with Quaker, he was also the Chairman of the Moody Bible Institute, a Christian university, for 40 years. Crowell ultimately donated over 70 percent of his lifetime earnings to various charities.

5. QUAKER OATS WAS THE FIRST TO GIVE OUT TRIAL-SIZE SAMPLES.

In the early 1890s, Quaker Oats pioneered several clever marketing techniques which would later become commonplace. In 1890, they introduced "trial size" samples of oatmeal, which were placed in every single mailbox in Portland, Oregon. The following year saw two additional innovations: they began including a small chinaware piece as a "free prize" in every box, and also became the first food company to include recipes on the packaging (the original recipe was for oatmeal bread).

6. THE MASCOT'S NAME IS LARRY.

Although often rumored to be William Penn, prominent Quaker and founder of the state of Pennsylvania, the company maintains that their genial mascot does not represent any particular historical person. Reminiscent of Crowell’s earlier statements about the brand association, Quaker now says their logo represents "honesty, integrity, purity, and strength." Within the company, however, he is affectionately known as Larry.

7. THEY DIVERSIFIED FAIRLY QUICKLY.

In 1922, Quaker released "Quaker Quick Oats," which reduced the cooking time from 20 minutes to just five. Along with Jell-O and other prepackaged options, "Quick Oats" were one of the very first convenience products on the American market. As Quaker continued to grow, they began offering a wider variety of products and incorporating other well-known name brands. One major acquisition was Aunt Jemima’s pancake flour in 1926. In 1942, they became a leader in the pet-food market when they purchased Ken-L Ration. The company saw a post-war boom, and by the late 1940s, Quaker boasted over 200 different products and sales of $277 million.

8. QUAKER JUMPED ON THE BREAKFAST CEREAL BOOM EARLY.

The trend towards convenience during the 1950s and 1960s sparked demand for quick-and-easy options, and Quaker was a leader in providing popular breakfast choices. The company introduced Life cereal in 1961—11 years before their memorable TV advertisement featuring a reticent young eater named Mikey, and the catchphrase "Mikey likes it!" Another kid-friendly cereal, Cap'n Crunch, was created in 1963 as a direct response to a survey which showed that children disliked soggy cereal. Yet another 1960s innovation was Quaker Instant Oats, which further reduced the cooking time from five minutes down to one.

9. QUAKER OWNED FISHER-PRICE FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS.

As cereal sales started to slow in the late 1960s, Quaker began to diversify outside of the food market. Many such acquisitions were short-lived, but in 1969 they took over the Fisher-Price Toy Company, which at one point comprised 25 percent of Quaker’s total profits. Fisher-Price mainstays during the '60s and '70s included toy xylophones, animal "pull toys," and the popular "Little People" playsets. Quaker spun off Fisher-Price in 1991.

10. QUAKER OATS FINANCED WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

Surprisingly, the Quaker Oats Company was instrumental in the creation of the classic 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The early 1970s brought a major decline in revenue for the movie industry, and film studios began looking for unconventional ways to finance new projects. David Wolpert, a production executive, pitched a creative tie-in: Quaker would finance the production of the film, and also obtain exclusive rights to create Willy Wonka-themed products. The Gene Wilder-helmed film wasn’t an immediate hit, but candy products that were featured in the film, including Everlasting Gobstoppers, proved profitable. (Runts and Laffy Taffy were also born of this collaboration.) Quaker sold the Willy Wonka candy line to Nestle in 1988.

11. QUAKER WAS A MAJOR BEVERAGE PLAYER TOO.

As Quaker continued to branch out, one of their savviest business moves was the 1983 acquisition of Stokely-Van Camp, the makers of the Gatorade line of sports drinks. By 1987, Gatorade was Quaker’s biggest seller, and the company attempted to corner more of the beverage market with the 1994 purchase of the Snapple Corporation. By 1995, Quaker was the nation’s third-largest producer of non-alcoholic beverages, with sales over $2 billion annually. Ultimately, the Snapple decision proved to be a mistake; the brand was sold at a loss in 1997. Four years later, Quaker was bought out by PepsiCo, although the Quaker line remains popular to this day.

12. OATMEAL FOR A HEALTHY HEART—IT’S OFFICIAL!

As consumers became increasingly health-conscious throughout the 1990s, Quaker used that trend to notch another first: Following a petition from Quaker, the FDA issued the first official food-specific health claim for oatmeal in 1997, which read "Soluble fiber from oatmeal as part of a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet, may reduce the risk of heart disease." So go ahead and have that second bowl.

13. LARRY GOT A MAKEOVER.

In 2012, Larry, the smiling Quaker mascot, received a minor makeover as part of a broader marketing initiative among the PepsiCo corporation. Intending to subtly reinforce the perception of oatmeal as a healthy choice, the cheerful Quaker was given a trimmer haircut, and was slightly slimmed down—he "lost about five pounds," according to the art team who led the redesign.

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The Top Excuses Employees Give for Being Late to Work
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Expecting staff to just get out of bed and show up on time seems like a low bar for an employer to set, but some workers have trouble meeting this bare-minimum obligation. Their stated reasons can almost sound believable.

Job placement site CareerBuilder.com recently conducted a survey and asked 800 respondents in various age brackets how often they were late for work, as well as over 1000 human resource managers for data on missing workers. Overall, one in four employees admitted to being tardy at least once a month. Those aged 18 to 34 were the most frequently late, with 38 percent clocking in past their expected arrival. Only 14 percent of workers 45 and older were less-than-punctual.

As for excuses: 51 percent said traffic was the most common reason they straggled in. Around 31 percent said oversleeping was an issue, while bad weather (28 percent) and forgetting something and having to return home (13 percent) plagued others.

According to human resources managers, some workers claimed that they were late because their coffee was too hot; that they fell asleep in the parking lot; that it was too cold outside to travel; or that their false eyelashes were stuck together.

Not surprisingly, CareerBuilder also found that 88 percent of workers were in favor of a flexible work schedule.

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14 Secrets of Costco Employees
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Costco has become something of a unicorn in the brick-and-mortar industry. While employees at other chains express concerns over low wages and questionable management choices, the 200,000-plus ground troops at Costco’s massive shopping centers rave about generous pay ($13 to $22.50 hourly, depending on seniority), comprehensive benefits, and pension plans. After one year of employment, the turnover rate is only 6 percent, compared to an average of 16 percent across the retail industry. Not having to incur costs of training replacements is just one reason the company keeps prices low.

It’s no secret that Costco employees are a relatively happy bunch. But we wanted a little more information, so we’ve asked several current Costco workers about everything from pet peeves to nail polish bans to revoking memberships. (All requested we use only their first names to preserve anonymity.) Here’s what they had to tell us about life in the pallets.

1. WORKING THERE IS BETTER THAN GOING TO THE GYM.

Turns out that navigating a warehouse full of goods stacked to the ceiling is kind of like getting an all-day gym pass. “I walk about five to eight miles a day on average, and that's all within the confines of the store,” says Rachael, a Costco employee in Colorado. “When you see pallets stacked with 50-pound bags of flour or sugar or dog food or cat litter, a lot of that stuff had to be stacked by hand by employees before the store opens. Ditto for those giant stacks of shoes and bottles of salsa or five-gallon jugs of cooking oil. It's a lot of hard work.”

2. THEY CAN DO THEIR SHOPPING AFTER HOURS.

Costco shopping carts are arranged together
Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images

While employees typically don’t get shopping discounts, they have something that’s arguably better: the opportunity to shop in a near-empty store. “You can shop after hours, and a lot of employees do that,” says Kathleen, a Costco employee in Washington state. “You just bring your cart to the front register.” The store will keep the member service counter open so workers can check out after other registers have closed.

3. THE GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN GET MESSY.

Costco infamously places very few restrictions on returns. Most anything purchased there can be brought back for a refund as part of the company’s overall emphasis on exceptional customer service. Naturally, some members are willing to abuse the privilege. “Members return couches that are over five years old, and interestingly enough, they still have the receipt,” Rachael says. “My guess is that they buy that couch with the intention of returning it someday, so they tape the receipt to the bottom of the couch so they don't lose it. Then, when they've worn it out and want something new, they bring it back and get a full refund.”

Rachael has also seen a member return a freezer that was allegedly no longer working. The store refunded both the cost of the appliance and the spoiled meat inside. “The meat smelled like death,” she says.

4. THEY CAN ALSO TELL WHEN YOU’RE A SERIAL RETURNER.

A shopper at Costco looks at the computer display
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Costco purchase records typically date back 10 years or so, but employees working the return counter don’t always need to reference your account to know that you're making a habit of getting refunds. “When someone comes in to return something without a receipt and they go, ‘Oh, you can look it up on my account,’ that’s a tell,” says Thomas, an employee in California. “It tells me you return so much stuff that you know what we can find on the computer.”

5. THERE’S A CONVENIENCE STORE-WITHIN-A-STORE.

While employees are generally allowed to eat their lunch or dinner meals in the food court, not all of them are crazy about pizza and hot dogs as part of their daily diet. Many opt for the employee break room, which—in some warehouse locations—looks more like a highway rest stop. Rows of vending machines offer fresh meals, snacks, and sodas, along with a complete kitchen for preparing food brought from home. “[It’s a] relatively new addition that is being implemented at more warehouses,” says Steve, an employee in California. “It's basically like a gas station's convenience store, with both frozen and fresh meals and snacks. The only difference is the prices are more reasonable.”

6. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THERE ISN’T AN EXPRESS CHECKOUT LANE.

A Costco shopper goes through the checkout lane
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Walk into a Costco and you’ll probably notice an employee with a click counter taking inventory of incoming members. According to Rachael, that head count gets relayed to the supervisor in charge of opening registers. “They know that for a certain amount of people entering the store, within a certain amount of time, there should be a certain amount of registers open to accommodate those shoppers who are ready to check out,” she says. If there aren’t enough cashiers on hand, the supervisor can pull from other departments: Most employees are “cross-trained” to help out when areas are understaffed.

7. THERE’S A METHOD TO THE RECEIPT CHECK.

Customers sometimes feel offended when they’re met at the exit by an employee scanning their receipt, but it’s all in an effort to mitigate loss prevention and keep prices low. “We’re looking for items on the bottom of the cart, big items like TVs, or alcohol,” Thomas says. Typically, the value of these items might make it worth the risk for a customer who's trying to shoplift—and they're worth the double-check.

8. THEY TAKE SAFE FOOD HANDLING TO A NEW LEVEL ...

A Costco employee works in food preparation
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

At Costco, employees are expected to exercise extreme caution when preparing and serving hot dogs, pizza, chicken and other food to members. “If an employee forgets to remove their apron before exiting the department, they must remove that apron, toss it into the hamper, and put on a fresh apron because now it's contaminated,” Rachael says. “Or, let's say a member asks for a slice of cheese pizza. We place that piece onto a plate, with tongs, of course, then place the plate onto the counter. If the member says, ‘Oh darn, I've changed my mind, I'd rather have pepperoni pizza,’ then we have to toss the pizza that they didn't want into the trash. Once it hits the counter, it can't come back.” Some store protocols even prohibit employees from wearing nail polish in food prep areas—it could chip and get into the food.

9. ... BUT WORKING AT THE FOOD COURT CAN PREPARE THEM FOR ANYTHING.

Costco employees who find themselves behind the counter at the chain’s food court say it's one of the few less-than-pleasant experiences of working there. For some members, the dynamic of waiting on food and peering over a service counter can make them forget their manners. “Usually members are rude when they are waiting on their pizza during a busy time,” Steve says. “If an employee can excel in the food court, any other position in the warehouse is pretty easy by comparison.”

10. THEY GET FREE TURKEYS.

Costco’s generous wages and benefits keep employment applications stacked high. What people don’t realize, Kathleen says, is that the company’s attention to employee satisfaction can result in getting gifted a giant bird. “We get free turkeys for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I didn’t even know that before I started working there. It’s a nice perk.”

11. THEY CAN REVOKE YOUR MEMBERSHIP.

Shoppers go down an aisle at Costco
Gabriel Buoys, AFP/Getty Images

But it’s got to be a pretty extreme situation. According to Thomas, memberships can be terminated if a member is caught stealing or having a physical altercation inside the store. For less severe infractions, employees can make notes under a “comments” section of your membership. They’ll do that for frequent returns, if you’re verbally aggressive, or if you like to rummage through pre-packaged produce looking for the best apples. (Don’t do that.)

12. MANAGERS GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY.

During peak business times on weekends and around holidays, the influx of customer traffic can get so formidable that managers jump in with employees to make sure everything gets taken care of. “Most people would be surprised if they realized that the person who just put all of their groceries into their cart at the registers or who helped load that huge mattress into their car was actually the store's general manager,” Rachael says.

13. EVERY DAILY STORE OPENING IS CONTROLLED CHAOS …

Shoppers appear in front of a Costco store
Scott Olsen, Getty Images

Like most any retail store, Costco prides itself on presenting a clean, efficient, and organized layout that holds little trace of the labor that went into overnight stocking or display preparation. But if a customer ever happened to see the store in the last hour before opening each day, they’d witness a flurry of activity. “It's controlled chaos with loud music along with the blaring of the forklift sirens,” Steve says. “Employees are rushing to finish and clean up, drivers are rushing to put merchandising in the steel [shelving], and the floor scrubber slowly but surely makes its way around the warehouse. It truly is a remarkable choreography that happens seven days a week.”

14. … AND EVERY CLOSING IS A SLOW MARCH.

To avoid stragglers, Costco employees form a line and walk down aisles to encourage customers to move toward the front of the store so they can check out before closing. Once the doors are locked, overnight stocking begins in anticipation of another day at the world’s coziest warehouse. “Our store has over 250 employees altogether,” Rachael says. “If all of us do our little bit, then it's a well-oiled machine that runs without a hitch.”

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