October 11, 2019

The Marketing Genius of H. J. Heinz
Michael Burgan, History Author and playwright

 

 

 

 During the last few years of the 1890s, H. J. Heinz repeatedly showed his genius for promoting his company. While visiting New York City in 1896, he saw a sign advertising “21 styles of shoes.” He thought of the many different foods he sold. He knew there were more than sixty. But for some reason, he thought the number fifty-seven sounded right. Instantly, Henry knew he had a new slogan for his company: “Heinz 57 Varieties.” He later wrote, “Within a week, the sign of the green pickle with the ‘57 Varieties’ was appearing in newspapers, on billboards, signboards, and everywhere else I could find a place to stick it.” The phrase “Heinz 57” was even spelled out in concrete blocks on several hills across the country. 

Heinz, though, didn’t want people to merely see his company name and slogan. He wanted them to learn just how special his foods were and give people a fun way to sample and buy them. In 1898, he bought a pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The seaside resort drew visitors to its beach and the famous wooden boardwalk built on top of it. Henry’s pier jutted out almost 900 feet from the boardwalk into the ocean. At the near end of the pier was a building where tourists could sit and read magazines or newspapers, while surrounded by samples of Heinz products. The rooms were also decorated with art. 

At the far end of the pier sat a larger building with huge windows that looked over the ocean. It had a hall where visitors listened to talks about the Heinz company and its many operations. Tourists could even place orders for Heinz foods that would be delivered to their homes. During the summer, 15,000 people might visit the Heinz Pier each day. Even people who didn’t walk out onto the pier couldn’t miss the huge electric sign that sat on top of the larger building. It said simply “57.” 

Tourists who came to Pittsburgh could see the Heinz factory in operation for themselves. Among U.S. industrialists, Henry was the first to open up his plant to visitors. He wanted people to see how clean and modern the factory was, so they would know they were getting the best food possible. Visitors got to taste samples and received a Heinz pickle pin. By 1900, 20,000 visitors took the factory tour each year.

That year, Henry continued his flair for advertising and his interest in the latest technology when he erected the first electric sign in New York City. More than 1,000 lights flashed an ad for his Atlantic City pier, along with his famous “57 Varieties” slogan. Henry was also the first person to use electric vehicles in the city of Pittsburgh. And like the horse-drawn wagons and railroad cars his company used, they proudly displayed the Heinz name.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the H. J. Heinz Company was the largest food processing company in the United States. It sold more than 200 products, and people across the company knew and trusted the Heinz brand name. 

 

Michael Burgan studied history at the University of Connecticut before embarking on his career of writing about history, current events, geography, science, and more for children. He worked at Weekly Reader for six years before becoming a freelance author. He is a member of Biographers International Organization and edits its monthly newsletter, The Biographer's Craft. A produced playwright, he is also a member of the Dramatists Guild.


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