Orange Meat, the "Pure Food" Craze and the American Cereal Wars

Michael Peters Orange Meat

In the spring of 1902, the Frontenac Cereal Co. Ltd was formed, with the stated intention of expanding the capacity of the milling operation to include manufactured food-stuffs, in addition to the traditional milling of flour. (Click here to begin at the beginning!)

While this sounds like a simple enough proposition, it was quite a novel and audacious plan in 1902. The best way to understand that is to explore the state of breakfast cereal at the turn of the century.

At the outset, I'd like to note that this story has been extensively researched and told elsewhere. In particular, the 1957 book Cornflake Crusade was so thorough and compelling that it was selected for inclusion in the US Library of Congress.

The author, Gerald Carsom, chronicles how the small city of Battle Creek, Michigan first hosted a famous sanitarium run by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

Initially sponsored by the Seventh-Day Adventists, it promoted "pure" living: water cures, vegetarianism, exercise, and sexual abstinence. His sanitarium encouraged other experimental medical enterprises, transforming Battle Creek into a place where entrepreneurs began to produce "healthy" foods such as crackers, coffee substitutes, and, especially, cereals.

Grape Nuts PackagingSome of the ideas about pure food, to say nothing about the convenience of the products, resonated outside of conservative religious circles. These sorts of foods found an eager market. Another famous breakfast name, Charles W. Post, was a disgruntled former Kellogg patient who achieved early success manufacturing and marketing products like Postum and Grape Nuts. 

Elsewhere, across the midwest, small mills were consolidating into larger concerns such as the American Cereal Company, expanding behind their popular Quaker Oats brand. As the Frontenac Cereal Company was launching in Kingston, the American Cereal Company was preparing to open a Canadian plant not far away in Peterborough to produce Quaker Oats for the Canadian market, and for export to the British Empire. 

By 1906, when W.K. Kellogg perfected and began to market the "corn flakes" developed originally by his brother John at the Sanitarium as "Granose Flakes" the American cereal market was already flush with cereal charlatans and entrepreneurs - many former Sanitarium employees, looking to cash in on the "pure food" craze. 

Granose FlakesSo, in this context, one begins to understand some of the motivations of the group behind the Frontenac Cereal Company. 

In 1902 Kingston was very well connected to Detroit Michigan via passenger steamer. The Frontenac brain trust included experience in the grocery world (Harty), grain buying (Richardson), milling (the Mooers), and Great Lakes merchant shipping (Donnelly). What was happening in Battle Creek would not have escaped their attention, especially as these sorts of products began to make their way to Canadian shelves. 

By hitting store shelves in 1903, Kingston's Orange Meat managed to beat Corn Flakes to market by three years, thanks in no small part to several American veterans of the Battle Creek cereal wars who were recruited to join Frontenac and set up the new factory, including a former bakery foreman at Kellogg's Sanitarium Food Company in Battle Creek.

We will start to tell that part of the story in the next post. Stay tuned.

Additional Reading:

Book/Printed Material: Cornflake crusade. (Library of Congress)

Drop that spoon! The truth about breakfast cereals (The Guardian)

How Cereal Marketers Invented the Modern Version of Breakfast (The Atlantic)

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