The War Between Aunt Cora and Mrs. Olson


As the 1960s drew to a close, U.S. packaged food sales were dominated by two giant conglomerates, General Foods and Procter & Gamble, and their leading coffee brands were more than in competition against each other, they were at war.

General Foods made the brand that dominated coffee sales for decades, Maxwell House, and P & G produced their top competitor, Folgers. As the 1970s began, Maxwell House owned 24% of the market share, followed by Folgers at 20%, which was a steadily increasing percentage. A distant third was another General Foods brand, HIlls Bros., at 8%. Folgers had its strongest sales in the western US, and General Foods was afraid of increased marketing efforts they were commencing to gain a greater share across the rest of the country.

General Foods went so far as to form what was to be known as their "Folgers Defense Team", which was tasked with defeating the evil Folgers' menace. The "team" even came up with a new brand, marketed in a can that copied the well-recognized red color used by Folgers. However, General Foods' "Horizon" brand was a failure, and efforts focused on advertising their biggest seller. Their plan was to create a new character to counter the hugely successful Folgers advertising campaigns featuring kindly old Mrs. Olson.

Mrs. Olson, a neighbor lady who always seemed to be in someone else's kitchen or living room, and who always seemed to have an unopened can of Folgers in her purse, became immensely popular, as she resolved conflict after conflict brought about by bad-tasting coffee. Actress Virginia Christine first portrayed Mrs. Olson in ads broadcast in 1965, and she continued her portrayal until 1986. Here is one of those classic old Folgers' commercials:


Not to be outdone, General Foods' created the character of a kindly, old country storekeeper, Aunt Cora, played by, of all people, the actress best know for her Wizard of Oz portrayal of the WIcked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton. Here is one of Aunt Cora's commercials:


Aunt Cora commercials not only were successful, but General Foods managed to get them into many markets that Folgers was entering before Folgers could introduce Mrs. Olson to prospective new customers. Maxwell House had Folgers on the run, and Folgers' response was to lower its price. Collateral damage in many parts of the country was done to local coffee roasting companies that could not withstand the onslaught of tv advertising or the lowering of prices. Eventually the Federal Trade Commission sued General Foods for restraint of trade. Today, Folgers is owned by one of the world's corporate giants, a company few people would guess is the dominant power that it has become, a company that also owns ever-popular food brands Pillsbury, Knudsen, Laura Scudder's, Crisco, Eagle Brand, and many, many more - with a name like Smucker's, it better be good!

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