The son of Josip Vlašić, a Croatian immigrant, made his fortune in the pickle industry in America. He was the owner of ‘Vlasic Pickles’, one of the largest American pickle brands. Vlasic was also remembered as part of American pop culture in the 70s, writes Jutarnji.hr.
The ‘Vlasic Pickles logo, a recognizable stork with a butterfly bow, glasses, and a postal hat, holding a pickle like a cigar, was an indispensable part of American television commercials in the 70s and 80s. As the story goes, one 1978 pickles commercial is credited with spreading the myth that “pregnant women crave pickles”. Vlasic is said to have been an entrepreneurial and marketing genius who introduced witty and humorous advertisements to the American advertising industry. He also published the book “101 jokes about Bob Vlasic’s cucumbers”.
“We decided that pickles were fun food,” he once explained to the Detroit Free Press. “That we don’t want to take ourselves or our business too seriously.”
For the Vlašić family, it all began in 1912 when Franjo Vlašić, Robert’s grandfather, arrived in America from his native Livno, on the islet of Ellis Island in New York. Upon his arrival, Grandpa Franjo got a job in the auto industry in Detroit, where he worked for two dollars a day and saved to bring his family, son Josip and wife Marija, to America. He succeeded two years later and soon started a milk delivery business. He also involved his son Josip, who eventually expanded his father’s business.
When Robert Joseph Vlasic was born on March 9, 1926, in Detroit, the Vlašićs already had two companies, one for dairy products (Vlasic Dairy Company) and the other for the distribution of pickles and sauerkraut. After graduating from school, Robert Vlasic joined the Army and Navy, and after graduating from the University of Michigan, he started working for his father’s pickle distribution company. This was not ambitious enough for him, so in addition to transportation, he started his own production. In the early 1950s, he bought a sauerkraut factory in Imlay City, about an hour north of Detroit, and procured machines to produce and package pickles. He signed contracts with cucumber and cabbage growers.
When he took over as director of the company from his father in the 60s, ‘Vlasic Pickles’ was already the strongest brand of pickles in the United States. His acquaintances attributed Robert’s success to his managerial style. He allegedly demanded regular reports from his managers, but those reports had to be summarized on one page of paper. “Give me good news quickly,” he often said, “but bad news even faster.”
By the end of the 1970s, Vlasic Foods outperformed competitors such as H.J. Heinz Co., producers of ketchup and mayonnaise. Vlasic then concluded that to further develop the company, it would have to become part of a larger corporation. The company was then sold by Campbell Soup Co. for about $35 million in 1978 and he joined Campbell’s Board of Directors, of which he was president from 1988 to 1993.
Robert retired in 1993 but remained active in the community. He was known for philanthropy and mostly donated to the Catholic Church and educational institutions such as the Cranbrook Learning Center in Bloomfield Hills.
Vlasic is survived by his five sons, 17 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Vlasic Foods is now part of Conagra Brands Inc., and his son Bill Vlasic is active in the company.
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