In setting the stage for this story, I interject myself, because “I was there.”

Setting the Stage

The year is 1975.  I am two years out of college, a junior securities analyst for institutional investor Citibank in New York.  My veteran analyst boss Pete Wetzel and I are on one of our field trips to Chicago.  We sit in an office at 120 South LaSalle Street, in the heart of Chicago’s financial district.  The office is neither fancy nor large.  Across the desk from us sits William G. Karnes, one of Pete’s favorite Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the hundreds he has studied. 

As Pete asks Bill Karnes about the recent performance of each major part of Karnes’ company, Beatrice Foods, the amiable and patient Karnes flips through the pages of a fat black binder.  Each page tells the story on one of the company’s over 400 “profit centers.”  Bill Karnes replies, “They were doing well but stumbled a bit last month.,” or “That operation set another record last quarter.”  Like other company veterans, Karnes pronounces the company’s name “bee-AT-russ” after the small Nebraska town where it all began in 1894.

Beatrice Foods has acquired hundreds of small companies in the food and other industries, all over the world.  In one day, Karnes bought three small food companies in Indiana as he drove around the state.  Few if any companies in American history were more “acquisitive.”  The company’s 400 plants produce Meadow Gold ice cream and butter, Clark bars, Milk Duds, Eckrich meats, Mario’s olives, La Choy Asian foods, Dannon yogurt, Airstream trailers, and Samsonite luggage, among hundreds of other brands.  Over two hundred new products are introduced each year. 

As of 1975, Beatrice has also racked up one of the most astonishing records in US business history.  Annual revenues reach $4 billion, two years ahead of the company’s own projections.  Fortune magazine rates it not only one of the best-run American companies, but also among the 40 largest US industrial companies, bigger than Boeing, 3M, Coca-Cola, and the rapidly rising Xerox.  Perhaps more telling, Beatrice now generates 14% more revenues and 36% more profits than perennial food giant General Foods.  The company is closing in on the largest food company, Kraft, and will soon enough pass them.

Return on equity is an exceptional 16%.  For the twenty-three years that Bill Karnes has been in charge, the company has reported increased sales, profits, and earnings per share every single quarter, four times a year like clockwork.  Those profits flow from hundreds of small factories employing 64,000 people in every nook and cranny of the world.  Over the last ten years, since 1965, Beatrice’s stock return has been 7th best of the 50 largest companies on the Fortune list, even beating IBM.

The company is a masterpiece, demonstrating the outstanding management of a complex and diverse business.

The next year, Bill Karnes retired.  Within ten years, Beatrice Foods would be no more, torn apart and then virtually forgotten in the dustbin of business history.  Here is the story.

Beginnings

George Haskell, born in Iowa in 1864, was one of five children who grew up in an orphanage after their father died when George was four years old.  By the time he was twenty-five, he had worked his way up from bookkeeper to secretary of Nebraska’s Fremont Butter and Egg Company.  In that year, 1889, he opened a branch of the firm in Beatrice, Nebraska.  After the Fremont Company went bankrupt in the Depression of 1893, in 1894 Haskell and co-worker William Bosworth set up the Haskell & Bosworth Company in the Beatrice branch of their former employer.  The new firm dealt in poultry, eggs, butter, and produce.  They gradually expanded the butter and cream business.  In 1898 they incorporated their small firm as the Beatrice Creamery Company.  Bosworth left the company the next year.

Under George Haskell, the company continued to grow.  Dairy farmers brought milk to the creamery, where the cream was separated and the skimmed milk returned to the farmer.  After this time-consuming process, the milk was often too sour to be useful.  Haskell began to finance cream separators for the farmers so they could do the separation on the farm, and only bring him the cream.  This process also saved the farmers from making two trips to town.  By 1905, Beatrice had financed over 50,000 cream separators for farmers in Nebraska and Kansas.  In 1898, Beatrice had churned 940,000 pounds of cream – by 1904, that figure was over ten million pounds.

In 1905, Beatrice acquired the Continental Creamery of Topeka, Kansas, along with that company’s “Meadow Gold” brand name, one of the first trademarked butters.  This became the primary brand used by Beatrice.  Meadow Gold was the first butter to be sold in a sealed package, the first butter to be advertised in a national magazine, and the first ice cream established as a national brand.

The company headquarters was moved to Chicago in 1913 and continued to be run by George Haskell until his death in 1919.  After two interim leaders, Haskell’s nephew Clinton H. Haskell (“CH”) served as company President from 1928 to 1952. 

Stage Two

By the time forty-year-old CH Haskell took over, Beatrice was a major dairy products company, generating annual sales in excess of $50 million and profits of $1 million.  The year before, in 1927, financiers were putting together a giant national combination of dairy companies, National Dairy Products.  Beatrice’s board of directors almost sold the company to National, but decided the price offered was not high enough.  National soon bought Kraft Cheese, and later the company was renamed Kraft, for many years the nation’s largest food company outside of giant meatpackers Swift and Armour.  But Beatrice remained independent in the shadow of the giant.

In his twenty-four years of leadership, CH Haskell continued to expand Beatrice.  He did this both through growing the existing business and by buying more companies.  Ice cream and milk companies from Denver to Brooklyn were added to the mix.  When Beatrice bought Detroit’s AF Thibideau Company, it became the biggest egg processor in America.  By 1930, the company had 157 plants in operation, making it the third-largest dairy company after National and Borden and number one in butter.  Between 1927 and 1932, Beatrice’s milk production rose from under a million gallons a year to twenty-seven million gallons.  Ice cream grew from a half-million gallons to almost ten million.

CH Haskell also began to diversify Beatrice away from being only a dairy company.  In 1943, he bought the LaChoy Asian foods company, which became a great success and the leader in that field.  Beatrice also began to operate frozen food warehouses and wholesaling, becoming a major distributor of frozen foods, which were booming during this era.  Throughout this early history, Beatrice focused on food quality and purity, as well as innovating in packaging and advertising.  The Meadow Gold brand rose in prominence.  In Haskell’s last year as President, 1952, sales reached $229 million and profits $3.9 million.  In that year, milk and cream were 32% of sales, butter 22%, ice cream 16%, and poultry and eggs 6%.

The Arrival of Bill Karnes

Born in 1911, William Karnes’ mother died when he was five, so Karnes was raised by his two aunts in Chicago.  After graduating from the School of Commerce at the University of Illinois, he earned a law degree at Northwestern University.  Bill Karnes joined Beatrice as a law clerk upon graduation at $110 a month in 1936.  Three years later, he was promoted to head up the company’s new Employee Relations Department, to help the plants deal with wage and labor issues.  The twenty-five-year-old Karnes quickly became adept at settling strikes and other labor problems.  He settled many difficult labor conflicts, including one at which famed teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa was present.  People who met him instantly liked and trusted Bill.

He was also an incredibly hard worker, doing “whatever it took” to get the job done.  When one of his associates was later asked why the company was so successful, the man said, “That’s simple.  We work half days.  6 AM to 6 PM.”

By 1943, the thirty-two-year-old Bill Karnes was made a vice president of Beatrice.  His responsibilities included putting new pension and health insurance plans in place.  Beginning in 1945, he started working on finding good acquisitions to ensure Beatrice’s continued growth.  For nine years, he worked directly with and learned from CH Haskell.  On March 25, 1952, Bill Karnes was named President of Beatrice, largely because of his ability to work with a wide range of people and their personalities.  He would lead the company for the next twenty-four years.

Karnes’ first step was to surround himself with the best managers in the company.  After selecting his senior officers, he began to look for growth opportunities.  Realizing the rapid growth of the western United States, in 1954 he bought Creameries of America, with twenty-five milk and ice cream plants in Texas, the western states, and Hawaii.  This was the biggest acquisition in Beatrice’s history up to that time.  Beatrice continued to buy small dairy products companies across the US, many of them in the rising South.  The company also purchased the premium Louis Sherry ice cream brand in New York City.

Beatrice also expanded its operations in food warehousing and distribution and in non-dairy products.  The frequency of acquisitions accelerated over the years.  Key to the company’s continuing success were Bill Karnes’ management and acquisition philosophies.

The Beatrice Way, as developed by Bill Karnes

Above all else, more important than any high-level strategy or sophisticated management system, Bill Karnes believed in people.  Find the right people, put them in charge of a single plant or division, and let them run it.  This meant that Beatrice was extremely “decentralized.”  While the company developed research, legal, human relations, and other central support teams for the plants, all key business decisions were made at the plant level.  Karnes wanted decisions made as close to the customers as possible.  Plant managers were given responsibility for results, but also the authority that enabled them to achieve those results.  Plant managers received a base salary and two percent of the plant’s profits.  Monthly reports to headquarters were limited to a few simple pages of numbers.  Under Karnes, the company grew to enormous size, but never had as many as two hundred employees at the corporate headquarters in Chicago.

Every year at Christmas, Bill Karnes visited the company’s numerous plants and offices in the Chicago area and shook the hand of every single employee.  He was known to stand up at a divisional sales meeting with two hundred salespeople present, and name each one, name their spouse, and tell something of that person’s accomplishments.  Annual awards and recognition for the best performers at all levels of the company were part of the Beatrice way of life, including a “Hall of Champions” in the hallways of the headquarters.

Those who worked most closely with Karnes said he was “an extremely sensitive person.”  He rarely raised his voice, never swore, and never used fear or intimidation as a management tool.  He suggested his managers ask rather than order, to lead by example.  He would only promote people who had proven their ability to get along with others, those who could tolerate differences of opinion.  Karnes almost always promoted from within, rarely going outside the company for talent.  He liked a broad mix of personality types, education levels, and ages.  His door was always open to any employee.

Bill Karnes often cited a Chinese proverb, “If you want a crop for a year, grow rice.  If you want a crop for ten years, grow trees.  If you want a crop for a hundred years, grow people.”

In reviewing the company’s many acquisitions, it is apparent that sometimes Karnes bought a company mainly to get its excellent management.  Many executives of acquired companies went on to greater responsibility within the Beatrice organization.

While Beatrice made hundreds of acquisitions, under Karnes it never did an “unfriendly” deal.  Never once in its over 400 acquisitions was the company sued by minority stockholders for not making a fair offer. 

When Bill Karnes found a company he thought would be a good fit with Beatrice, he sometimes spent years romancing the owners, convincing them to sell.  Any time he considered buying a company, he first met with the owners and managers and talked business philosophy at length.  He had to make sure that they shared the same ideals – that, in today’s lingo, they shared the same “culture.”  Karnes only bought companies that were profitable and well-run.  He would not buy a company unless the management agreed to stay on or had trained able successors. 

Equally important, under Karnes, Beatrice focused on companies which had good growth opportunities, in the right market niches or fastest growing parts of the country (or later, parts of the world).  Most of the companies Bill Karnes bought were small, generating under twenty million dollars a year in revenue, often just three to six million.  He looked at their future more than their present, then funded expansion into new territories and new products.  Beatrice took regional brands and made them national.  The company introduced over two hundred new products a year.  The company’s growth thus stemmed both from adding new companies and from expanding the ones it had already bought (“Internal” or “organic” growth).  

Karnes had no interest in commodity businesses, like sugar and coffee, and gradually reduced the importance of plain fluid milk at Beatrice.  Studying the incredibly long list of brands and companies owned by Beatrice at one time or another (shown at the end of this article), it can be seen that Beatrice was perhaps “the king of the niches.”  Over time, the company entered more niches, in a staggering array of industries, though food was always at the core, representing at least 75% of Beatrice’s annual revenues.

Throughout his acquisition sprees, Bill Karnes did not take on debt, paying stock for the companies he bought whenever possible.  Those sellers who kept their stock were amply rewarded over the years.  Only when he began to buy overseas companies which would not accept American stock did he begin to allow the company to take on a modest amount of debt.

The Beatrice Way at Work: Food

In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Beatrice expanded its specialty (non-dairy) foods operations, building on the success of what it learned from owning LaChoy since 1943.  (Under Beatrice ownership, LaChoy grew from sales of $1.8 million to $135 million.)  Acquisitions included Clark candy bars, Jolly Rancher candies, Milk Duds, Mario’s olives, Liberty maraschino cherries, Gebhardt’s chili, Fisher nuts, “After Dinner” mints, Mother’s cookies, Vlasic pickles, and Rosarita Mexican foods.  A national market was created for Shedd Spread, a leading margarine.  Bakeries making the franchised Butterkrust and Sunbeam breads were added.  1976 witnessed the addition of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Martha White cake mixes.  Beatrice became a major bottler of RC Cola, Canada Dry, 7-Up, and Dr. Pepper. 

One of the most significant acquisitions was the Peter Eckrich company of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a major regional producer of cold cuts and packaged meats.  Beatrice rapidly expanded Eckrich from four states into most of the rest of the nation.  Sales tripled in the first six years under Beatrice.  Eckrich leader Donald Eckrich went on to become one of Beatrice’s top executives.   

These food acquisitions were supplemented by buying the John Sexton company of Chicago, a major food distributor that served restaurants across the nation. 

By the time Karnes retired in 1976, these many small acquisitions had grown the company’s specialty food operations to $2 billion in annual sales and over $100 million in operating profit.

Beatrice also continued to expand its frozen and cold storage warehousing and distribution operations.  At the peak, the company had over one-hundred-and-fifty million cubic feet of cold storage space around the United States. 

A typical, successful example of Karnes’ foresight and acquisition strategy was a small company owned by Joe Metzger.  Metzger had been born in Switzerland but then moved to Spain, then the US in 1942.  In America, he met an old friend, Daniel Carasso, who had fled wartime Paris.  Carasso’s Greek father had founded a yogurt company in Barcelona and later in Paris, naming it Danone after his son Daniel.  Joe Metzger and Daniel Carasso purchased a small yogurt factory in the Bronx and renamed the product Dannon, an anglicization of Danone.  While Daniel returned to France after the war to take over the family yogurt business there, he remained a partner in the US business run by Joe Metzger and his son Juan.  In 1947, Dannon started adding preserves in the bottom of the yogurt and sales in the New York metropolitan area began to rise, though it took until 1952 to turn a profit. 

The Metzgers were obsessed with product quality.  The yogurt was delivered to stores in their own trucks, and their drivers would pick up any yogurt past its expiration date.  By the time Bill Karnes arrived on the scene in 1959, sales had risen to $3 million a year, all in the Northeastern US.  It took a great deal of convincing to get the Metzgers to join Beatrice.  They were concerned that the company would force them to use its distribution system and use preserves from one of the other Beatrice divisions.  But Bill Karnes promised them that they could still run their company as they always had, just with more capital so they could expand beyond the Northeast.  As part of Beatrice, after 1959 Dannon led the way in introducing yogurt to America and became the dominant US brand.  Juan Metzger also played an important role when Beatrice later began to buy food companies around the world.  

While a few Beatrice divisions exported their products to other countries, the company did not have a factory outside the US until it opened a condensed milk plant in Malaysia in 1961.  As Beatrice gained experience in different nations, the company gradually acquired more and more international businesses.  Not only did Bill Karnes stick to his proven formula of decentralization, but he also required that each operation be managed by local people, not executives imported from America.  

By the 1970s, Beatrice was buying up ice cream companies all over Europe.  A major success was Tayto, the largest potato chip company in Ireland.  Candy and snack food companies in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama were added to the mix.  Holanda ice cream became the number one brand in Mexico.  Beatrice became a powerhouse in the Caribbean and added more companies from Canada and Australia.  By the late 1980s, the International Food division was generating $2.5 billion in annual sales and an operating profit of $147 million.

Beyond Food

Bill Karnes’ appetite for great niche companies with growth potential was not limited to the food industry.  When he found strong brands with good managements and great future potential, he applied his standard process of getting the know the people, romancing them, and then allowing them to keep running their businesses.

The long list of non-food acquisitions included: Melnor, the leader in lawn sprinklers; World, the number one maker of hand dryers for restaurant bathrooms; Taylor, the largest maker of commercial ice cream freezers; Culligan, the water softener market leader; Samsonite, the king of the luggage industry; Vogel-Peterson, the coat rack “giant;” Stiffel, America’s largest maker of high quality decorative lamps; Silex, maker of coffee brewers for restaurants; and Airstream, the famous maker of trailers.  These names just scratch the surface: the list is almost endless (see it at the end of this article).

The company also ventured into highly technical niches, often chemical industries that stemmed from Beatrice’s other activities.  One division developed a system that could turn anything into a powder form – even wine and cheese.  This company provided powders that made food processing easier, making ingredients that went into everything from pizza to cake mixes.  Customers included almost every major American food manufacturer.  Other divisions produced everything from printing inks to tanned leather to reinforced engineering plastic compounds provided to Boeing and others in the aerospace industry.

In virtually every case, Beatrice turned a small or regional company into a national force.  In some cases, Beatrice took a national brand and make it stronger, or made it an international brand.

By the early 1980s, annual sales of these non-food products, from 99 companies operating 350 factories, totaled $2.3 billion with operating profits of $250 million.

In this diverse empire of 9,000 products from 400 food and non-food companies in 27 countries, only a small Canadian dairy operation branded its products as “Beatrice.”  Most customers never heard the company’s name, only dealing with the decentralized operations, each with its own brand and reputation.  Bill Karnes liked it that way.

Following the age-65 retirement rule that he had put in place, William G. Karnes retired as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Beatrice in July, 1976.

The Peak

From March of 1952 when Bill Karnes took over through February of 1982, after he retired, Beatrice posted 120 consecutive quarters in which profits were higher than the year before, a record equaled by few if any other companies in business history.  During the years in which Karnes led the company, annual sales rose from $235 million to $5.7 billion in 1976.  Net income rose from $4 million to $206 million.  The company’s return on equity was over 17%, among the highest of any company that size, and the debt-to-equity ratio only 23%, below most companies.  Throughout his reign, dividends were also consistently increased and the stock rose in value, having split five times.  Business magazines published extensive articles about the miracle of Beatrice and its unusual leader. 

While it took over eighty years for Beatrice to reach its peak, it took less than ten years for it to reach its end as an independent company.

The Demise

In the initial years after Karnes retired, sales and profits continued to rise, perhaps out of momentum as his policies and attitudes remained intact.  But problems soon began to arise in the company’s management.  Upon Karnes’ retirement, William Mitchell became Chairman and Wallace Rasmussen was named President and CEO.  Both were company veterans and should have understood the importance of working with others, but they did not get along.  Within fourteen months, Mitchell was out.  Rasmussen, who was more of a “tough guy” than Karnes, ruffled feathers.  Many veterans left the company or retired, depleting the management ranks.  When it came time for Rasmussen to retire at 65, he tried to change the rules and increase the mandatory retirement age, which the board of directors agreed to, but then changed its mind. 

The dowdy headquarters were moved to a shiny new building, taking up four-and-a-half floors compared to the one-and-a-half floors required by Karnes’ lean team.

At the same time this was taking place, the Beatrice board was restructured to include more “outside directors,” people who were not executives of the company.  The Beatrice board had always consisted primarily of insiders who knew the business.  Experts in corporate governance advocated more outsiders on corporate boards, to ensure that management did not line its own pockets.  The Securities and Exchange Commission endorsed this trend, and Beatrice went along.  The change had the effect of reducing the number of board members imbued with the Beatrice culture.

Wallace Rasmussen refused to name a successor, putting the board in a difficult spot.  A committee composed only of outside directors selected Richard Voell to take the top spot, effective January 1, 1980.  When this was announced internally, several key executives told the board they would quit if Voell got the job, so the board changed its mind and appointed James Dutt as CEO.  Also in 1980, a somewhat discouraged Bill Karnes also left the board of directors.

Dutt brought a new attitude to the leadership of Beatrice.  He kept a cartoon on his wall that said, “All those opposed, signify by saying ‘I quit.’“  Dutt drove the organization hard.  He began to dismantle the decentralized structure of the company, giving more power to central management.  Key decisions were no longer made in the field, as the 430 plants now reported to 28 much larger “business units.”  By 1985, the headquarters staff had swollen to 750 people, about five times the size it had been under Karnes.  Dutt brought in many outside consultants, something Karnes only did for highly specialized or technical tasks.  Dutt’s consultants imagined broad new strategies.  The “old school” ideas of Bill Karnes were replaced by the latest and trendiest ideas for managing a company.  To meet with James Dutt, employees had to submit a written request. 

Dutt declared that Beatrice would become more modern, a “unified marketing company.”  He publicly stated his goal of becoming the world’s premier marketer of food and consumer products, implying that Beatrice would become the marketing equal of Nestle, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble.  The corporation’s name was changed from Beatrice Foods to the Beatrice Companies and a new logo was designed.  For the first time, Beatrice began a $30 million advertising campaign promoting the Beatrice name, a “brand” that few customers had ever heard of. 

Dutt also sold off some of the company’s best operations, including Shedd’s, Krispy Kreme, and Dannon yogurt, in order to buy companies he found more appealing.  More company veterans left the company, including Donald Eckrich, who had risen in the ranks.  Between 1980 and 1985, 39 of the top 58 executives retired, resigned, or were fired.  Over 800 people throughout the company took early retirement.  Morale at the company plunged.  James Dutt aggressively recruited executives from outside the company, people unaware of the Beatrice Way and the company’s traditions. 

At the same time, in the quarter ended in June of 1982, Beatrice reported its first drop in quarterly earnings in thirty years, declining 36% from the year earlier.  Beatrice’s stock was no longer as strong, and rumors began to circulate that the company might be acquired.  To fend off the sale of the company, Dutt decided to buy a very big company, theoretically making Beatrice bigger and harder to buy. 

In 1984, Beatrice ended its long history of avoiding too much debt by borrowing in order to buy Esmark for $2.7 billion.  Esmark, descended from the formerly giant Swift meatpacking company, had become a “conglomerate” of unrelated businesses, including Wesson oil, Max Factor cosmetics, Avis rental cars, and Playtex intimate apparel.    As a result of the transaction and taking on Esmark’s debts, Dutt’s ego may have been satisfied, but Beatrice’s debt stood at $4.5 billion, with interest rates of 12-14%.  By 1985, the company’s debt-to-equity ratio was 199%.  More companies were sold off to reduce the heavy debt load.

The giant company now had 123,000 employees worldwide, but the Beatrice Way was long gone.  In 1985, earnings per share declined 18%.  The business press was now writing severely negative stories about Beatrice, something the writers had not done for over thirty years.

The board of directors finally said, “enough is enough” and fired James Dutt in August of 1985.  He had run Beatrice for six years.  Desperate, the board convinced the seventy-four-year-old Bill Karnes to return to the board of directors and chair an important committee.  He brought with him a new CEO (but longtime Beatrice executive) who understood the company’s heritage, William Granger. 

Karnes and Granger tried to bring the company back to its roots.  A secretary came to Karnes’ office to tell him that the limo was waiting to take him to the company’s Gulfstream jet, which would in turn take him to a board meeting in New York.  (Under Karnes, Beatrice had never owned any company aircraft; now the company had eight airplanes.)  Bill Karnes told her, “No, I am taking the elevator down to the street and walking a few blocks to the transit system, where it will cost me 45 cents to get to O’Hare airport, where I will get a coach seat on a commercial flight.”  He arrived in New York before the other board members.      

But it was too late to save the mess that Beatrice had become.  The company was embattled and again the target of potential buyers.  Private investing firm KKR made an offer for the whole company, which Karnes initially opposed.  But when he and the board studied the alternatives – and KKR raised its offering price – they ultimately decided it was the best thing to do for Beatrice shareholders.

On April 17, 1986, KKR purchased Beatrice for $6.2 billion in the largest leveraged buyout (debt-financed deal) outside the oil industry up to that time.  Major parts of the combined Beatrice-Esmark empire were quickly sold off to reduce the debt that KKR incurred.  Famous brands were cast to the wind, with many diverse buyers.  Samsonite, for example, has had five different owners since 1986.  Continuity of management was lost.  The Beatrice Way was history. 

Lessons?

It is rarely easy to assess the causes of decline at a big corporation.  Often, as in the cases of General Motors, Sears, and IBM, we can point to four or five key factors and management mistakes.  Given its track record and stewardship of top niche brands, the fall of Beatrice is perhaps harder to understand.  No union strikes, technological changes, or major foreign or domestic competitors entered the Beatrice picture.  Beatrice’s troubles were of its own making.

Perhaps Bill Karnes did not embed his “DNA” as deeply in his managers as he hoped and believed.  Obviously, some of them like Warren Rasmussen and James Dutt really did not “get it,” even after having spent years at the company.  Maybe their egos overtook their common sense once they rose to the top.  Or perhaps Bill Karnes, a true “servant leader,” was just an unusual freak in the business world, “irrelevant” to modern corporate practice.  We’d like to think not.

For those of us who love business history, the great story of Beatrice, with such a sad ending, also makes us treasure those companies which have been able to “stay the course” over many decades.  Those companies which, year after year, stay true to their initial vision and which still carry the “DNA” of their founders are worthy of our attention and admiration.  While they may make for less exciting headlines, we would point to such examples as UPS, Target, the Walt Disney Company, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, FedEx, Home Depot, Caterpillar, Deere, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive, and many others.

We at the American Business History Center continue to be entranced by the human saga that is business.  Few things are as fascinating as the rise, fall, and sometimes even rebirth of great businesses.  As they arc through their cycles of life, they affect hundreds of thousands of employees, suppliers, customers, stockholders, and communities.  We hope you continue to enjoy the diverse stories we present.    

Gary Hoover

Executive Director

American Business History Center

List of Beatrice Companies and Brands

The following brands and companies were owned at one time or another by Beatrice.  Some of the larger (and often “less fitting”) ones like Avis were part of the acquisition of Esmark, after Beatrice’s glory days, reflecting a departure from Karnes’ philosophy of finding smaller niches and industry-leading companies.

  • Absopure distilled and spring water
  • Acryon leisure and household products
  • Adams International snack food machinery
  • Adisa snack foods
  • A.H.Schwab children’s play products
  • Ailiram biscuits and confections
  • Airstream
  • Allison leisure apparel
  • All-Pro leisure apparel
  • Almay hypo-allergenic cosmetics
  • Altoids
  • American Hostess ice cream
  • American Pickles
  • Antoine’s food products
  • Aqua Queen garden equipment
  • Argosy recreational vehicles
  • Arist O’ Kraft cabinets
  • Armitage Realty Co.
  • Arrowhead bottle water
  • Artic ice cream
  • Assumption Abbey wine products
  • Aunt Nellie’s food products
  • Avan recreational vehicles
  • Avis car rental
  • Banner painting equipment
  • Barbara Dee cookies
  • Barcrest beverage mixes
  • Barrons table specialty meats
  • Beatreme dairy products and flavorings
  • Beatrice dairy products
  • Becky Kay’s cookies
  • Beefbreak meat specialties
  • Beeforcan meat specialties
  • Beneke bathroom accessories
  • Best Jet painting equipment
  • Bickford food products
  • Bighorn specialty meats
  • Big Pete specialty meats
  • Bireley’s orange drink (Asahi Soft Drinks)
  • Blue Boy ice cream
  • Blue Ribbon condiments
  • Blue Valley Creamery Company
  • Body Shaper plumbing supplies
  • Bogene closet accessories
  • Boizet specialty food products
  • Bonanza mini-motorhomes
  • Bonkers cat treats
  • Bosman barbecue equipment
  • Boquitas Fiestas snack foods
  • Bowers candies
  • Bredan butter
  • Brenner candy
  • Brookside wine products
  • Brown Miller condiments
  • Bubble Stream plumbing equipment
  • Burny Bakers food products
  • Butterball
  • Butterchef Bakery
  • Buttercrust baked goods
  • Buxton leather accessories
  • Byrons barbecue
  • California Products beverage mixes
  • Callard & Bowser confections
  • Camofrio sausage, luncheon and specialty meats
  • Campus Casuals sport clothing
  • Captain Kids food products
  • Cartwheels travel bags
  • CCA Furniture accessories
  • Chapelcord school and religious apparel
  • Charmglow barbecue grills and outdoor products
  • Checkers beverages
  • Chicago red wine products
  • Chicago specialty plumbing tools and supplies
  • Chipy snack foods
  • Choky hot chocolate
  • Churngold condiments
  • Cincinnati Fruit condiments and fountain syrups
  • Citro Crest beverage mixes
  • Clark candy
  • Classic travel bags
  • Classy Crisps
  • Cook n’ Cajun barbecue equipment
  • Colonial cookies
  • Costello’s food products
  • Country Hearth baked goods
  • County Line cheeses
  • Cow Boy Jo’s meat specialties
  • Cremo milk and ice cream
  • Culligan
  • C.W. pickles
  • Dannon yogurt
  • Danskin bodywear
  • David Lau Food products
  • Davy Jones candy
  • Dearborn brass home improvement equipment
  • Decora cabinets
  • Dell condiments
  • Delmar interior design
  • Delta Food products
  • Denyer-Dans specialty meats
  • Derby tamales
  • Dixie Lily food products
  • Doll oriental foods
  • Dopp travel bags
  • Doumak marshmallows
  • Eckrich
  • E.R. Moore school and religious apparel
  • Europe food bars
  • Everain garden equipment
  • Excello painting supplies
  • Farelon school and religious apparel
  • Fashionarir travel bags
  • Fiesta specialty foods
  • Fireside marshmallows
  • Fisher nuts
  • Flavor Ripe specialty food products
  • Flee Bags travel bags
  • Flygon electrical barbecue equipment
  • Fortshimth Folding tables and chairs
  • Food Producers International (FPI) specialty foods
  • Franprix food distribution
  • Gambils food products
  • Gebhardt Mexican foods
  • GFI specialty meats
  • Givenchy hoisery
  • Gladiola food products
  • Gold Medal beverages
  • Good & Plenty
  • Gourmet ice cream
  • Grandmother Joshua specialty products
  • Great Bear bottle water
  • Grove Crest beverage mixes
  • Guangmei snack foods
  • Guasti wine products
  • G & W pizzas
  • Halston Orlane fragrances and skin care products
  • Handee Ram Rod plumbing supplies
  • Handiform closet accessories
  • Happy Daz school and religious apparel
  • Harmon Kardon high-fidelity components
  • Hart skis
  • Hawaii’s Own fruit drinks
  • Heckman furniture
  • Holiday Homes mobile homes
  • Holland dairy products
  • Holanda ice cream and ice cream stores
  • M.J. Holloway’s candy
  • Homemaker leisure and household products
  • Hotel Bar butter
  • Hot Foot leisure and household products
  • Hunt’s
  • Indiana moulding and frame-furniture
  • Irwinware bar accessories
  • Jacobsen mobile homes
  • Jacks snack foods
  • Jax furniture accessories
  • Jetstream garden equipment
  • Jhirmack hair care products
  • John Hancock outdoor furniture
  • Johnston’s yogurt
  • Jolly Rancher
  • Jubilee specialty food products
  • Kalise ice cream
  • Keller’s butter and eggs
  • KeyKo condiments
  • Kleen Stream plumbing products
  • Kneip specialty meats
  • Kobey’s
  • Krispy Kreme
  • La Choy
  • Lady Betty condiments
  • La Menorquina ice cream
  • Lambrecht pizza
  • Lara Lynn food products
  • Latums baked goods
  • Liberty condiments
  • Light ‘n’ Fresh baked goods
  • Lignoflex food products
  • Liken interior design
  • Little Brownie cookies and baked goods
  • Little Pete plumbling supplies
  • Longhorn food products
  • Long Life aseptic dairy
  • Loomcrafted interior design products
  • Lords candy
  • Louis Sherry ice cream, frozen deserts
  • Lowrey’s specialty meats
  • Luxuria leisure and household products
  • Ma Brown jams, jellies, pickles
  • Magnolia bathroom accessories
  • Manhattan mobile homes
  • Marionette condiments
  • Mario olives
  • Mark Force Vatco travel accessories
  • Martha White
  • Max Factor cosmetics
  • Max H. Kahn curtains
  • Meadow Gold
  • Melnor garden equipment
  • Migros food distribution
  • Milk Duds
  • Mills wine products
  • Molly Bushell confections
  • Monticello sport shirts
  • Monzini collection sport shirts
  • Moorewear school and religious apparel
  • Morgan Yacht Company
  • Mother’s Best food products
  • Mountain High yogurt
  • Mt. Ida olives
  • Mug Old Fashioned Root Beer
  • Murray’s food products
  • Nat Nast sportswear
  • New Yorker mobile homes
  • N-Rich non-dairy creamer
  • Now and Later
  • Nuttall’s confections
  • Olive Products condiments
  • Olympian sportswear
  • Omega travel bags
  • Optima & Wonderloom school and religious apparel
  • Orville Redenbacher’s
  • Ovenmates household goods
  • The Ozarka Spring Water Company
  • Palmeto baked goods
  • Pan Free beverage mixes
  • Payco ice cream and novelties
  • Patra fruit juices and drinks
  • Pauly natural cheese
  • Pepi’s meat specialty products
  • Pernigotti confections and snack foods
  • Peter Pan
  • Phoenix candy
  • Pico Grande wine products
  • Pik-Nik
  • Pitegoff painting supplies
  • Playtex
  • Plum De Veal veal products
  • Premier is ice cream
  • Princess House closet accessories
  • Pyramid modular homes
  • Rainbo food products
  • Rainwave garden equipment
  • Reasor modular homes
  • Reber food products
  • Record food distribution
  • Red Tulip candy
  • Reddi wip whipped cream
  • R.F. specialty meats
  • Richardson candy
  • Rid-O-Ray electrical barbecue equipment
  • Robert’s cookies
  • Rosarita
  • Round the Clock hosiery
  • Royal Crest yogurt
  • Rusty Jones
  • Samsonite patio furniture, hand and soft side luggage
  • Sanson ice cream
  • Savoy confections and biscuits
  • Sexton Foods
  • Shedd’s
  • Smith Kendon Confections
  • Stew Starter/Soup Starter
  • Stiffel Lamps
  • Stute jams and fruit juices
  • Swift Ice Cream
  • Switf meats
  • Swiss Miss
  • Switzer licorice
  • Tayto snack foods
  • Termicold storage
  • Treasure Cave blue cheese
  • Tropicana
  • Van Camp confections
  • Viva low fat milk and cottage cheese
  • Waterloo Industries tool boxes and chests
  • Webcraft specialty printing and paper products
  • Wesson
  • Wilson specialty meats
  • World Dryer hand dryers

This story is largely based on the fascinating book Beatrice: From Buildup Through Breakup, by Neil Gazel (1990).

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up for business history stories and news from the American Business History Center.

You have Successfully Subscribed!