How does the brand remain a household name for a century?
Betty Crocker has a simple recipe: keep changing.
In October, the icon turned a hundred years old and has now concluded its hundredth baking season. General Mills, the company that owns its shape, intends to maintain its relevance for another century by embracing more diverse chefs and bakers and finding new ways to reach them in their kitchens.
“Betty Crocker remains relevant as she adapts her product lines to changing political, social and economic currents,” culinary anthropologist Pauline Adema writes in Encyclopedia of American Icons. “Her persistence in the American imagination—and in our kitchens—attests to her timelessness as an icon embedded in the company and the local.”
In 1921, Petty’s signature began to appear on letters replying to home bakers for kitchen advice.
She then participated in radio shows, cookbooks, cake mixes, and her own website.
In 2021, thousands of Instagram posts featuring photogenic baked goods were tagged #CallMeBettyCrocker.
“My home has been associated with such pride and achievement in the kitchen,” said Maria Jaramillo, director of the Meals and Baking business unit at General Mills, which includes Betty Crocker. “How can we make sure that future generations have that knowledge of how to bake, how to cook, so that it is truly inclusive of all?”
Marketing food to the widest possible audience, as Betty Crocker does, said Doug Jeske, president of Meyocks, a marketing and marketing agency, is becoming increasingly difficult amid the “commodification” of many popular products.
Increasingly, marketers are using what’s called a “branding of mentors,” Lesky said. It is a way for the company to connect with customers by providing them with more information, inspiration and even defending their interests.
“Of course, Betty Crocker was a mentor even before it became a product brand, so the folks at General Mills have been working on something for a long time,” Lesky said.
twenties of the last century
In 1921, the Washburn-Crosby Company, the predecessor of General Mills, held a competition in the Saturday Evening Post to promote the Gold Medal Flour that inadvertently produced some market research. In addition to completed puzzles, messages poured in to ask for baking advice, and the company devised a character to answer them. “Betty” was chosen for her friendship. “Crocker” is the last name of a retired board member of the company.
And in 1924, Beatty was given a voice—and later a variety of voices—by a daytime radio show. The “Betty Crocker Air Cooking School” first appeared on WCCO (the station’s call sign is named after its then owner, Washburn Crosby Company). The show was chosen by NBC and will run for more than two decades.
Betty was first officially embodied after a voice and signature: the sketch, released in 1936, was the first of eight different faces of the brand over the next 60 years.
During the Great Depression and into the war years, Betty’s advice to bakers and housewives increasingly focused on expanding limited food supplies. A free brochure has proven “a saving grace for many Americans, and its sound advice has won national recognition among nutritionists and social workers,” Susan Marks Kerst wrote for Hennepin History in 1999.
At this point, Betty Crocker’s popularity has inspired a number of other fictional speakers at rival companies, including Anne Pillsbury, Kay Kellogg, and Frances Lee Barton of General Food. Nothing looms large the size of my house. In 1945, Betty Crocker was named the second most famous woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt.
“It thrived in part because General Mills, unlike many other living brand companies, recognized the value of its widely trusted personality and devoted significant resources to its promotion,” culinary historian Laura Shapiro wrote in a 2005 article, “Betty Crocker and The Woman in the Kitchen.” “.
The short-lived “Betty Crocker Show” aired on CBS in 1950, and was one of several shows in which Adelaide Hawley Cumming appeared as the “first lady of foodie” over the next fifteen years.
Also in 1950, the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book aka “Betty Crocker Cookbook” aka “Big Red” was released. Millions of copies have been sold.
“This was the first time a cookbook had step-by-step instructions,” Jaramillo said. “Before that time, the way I learned to cook was from generation to generation.”
Betty Crocker’s first product in the grocery aisles was a pea soup mix released in 1941, followed shortly after by cake mix. In the late 1960s, Betty’s name began a new hot toy box finish that is credited with instilling a love of baking in a new generation: the Easy-Bake oven.
She also received two portrait surgeries during this rapidly changing decade.
Adema, a culinary anthropologist, wrote that “The Changing Faces of Betty Crocker is a measure of changing perceptions of domestic life and the role of women as housewives in the United States in the twentieth century.”
As consumers continue to desire convenience, which has been one of the main selling points of the brand over the years, Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper was launched. Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper will follow, helping to solidify a new category of food: packaged dinners.
General Mills wrote in the history of the brand now known as Helper: “With one skillet, one pound of hamburger and one packet, the Helper Hamburger has revolutionized the diner.”
Although largely associated with baking—especially the classic layer cake—Betty Crocker added some international flair with the 1980’s “Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook.” The following year, Chinese and Mexican cookbooks were released.
Always on the cutting edge of technology, a number of Betty Crocker microwave cookbooks were also released in the decade as residential use of the appliance increased.
Betty expanded her reach to the World Wide Web in 1996 when bettycrocker.com was first registered. Early snapshots of the website from the Internet Archive show that while the images and functionality have been upgraded over the years, the site has always been intended to help people in the kitchen with recipe ideas and ways to call my home.
The final, updated portrait of Betty Crocker was also released in 1996. It was drawn from a computer-generated composite of 75 women “of diverse backgrounds and ages who embody the characteristics of Betty Crocker,” the company said.
Betty continued to embrace digital media, with recipe programs and an early-release electronic cookbook.
The use of Betty Crocker images was eventually phased out as changing demographics were reflected in changing messaging.
“The community of bakers and makers is much more diverse at the moment. It would be impossible to represent that personally,” Jaramillo said. “So we are now using the distinctive red spoon to be more inclusive and attractive.”
Betty has kept pace with the times by adding smartphone apps and a full suite of social media accounts to connect with consumers. Bettycrocker.com has remained one of the most visited food websites in the crowded category of food blogs.
“What Betty Crocker does differently, every time we come up with food ideas, we make it foolproof,” Jaramillo said. “Even if I make a small mistake, things will still be fine.”
The pandemic caused a massive uptick in eating and baking at home, a trend that continues into my home’s 101st year.
With the help of social media influencers and other modern tactics to reach consumers, Jaramillo said she is confident that new generations of chefs and bakers will embrace the brand.
“A lot of people have either rediscovered the joy of baking or started baking,” she said. “As long as we continue to provide inspiration, we should be able to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Betty Crocker.”