The Untold Truth Of McCormick

Spices may just be the seasoning of life, or at the very least, this powerhouse company thinks so. If you love to cook, it's likely you have a whole shelf or drawer dedicated to small jars filled with herbs and spices. And even if you don't spend much time in your kitchen, you probably still have a pepper shaker or maybe a bottle of chili flakes to sprinkle on your pizza.

McCormick and Company began in a room in a Baltimore basement, but the founder didn't start off selling what the company is now famous for– spices (via McCormick and Company).  This wouldn't happen until several years later, even though it's the hallmark of this company (via McCormick and Company).

Today, this leading spice company's products are sold around the globe. The corporation owns numerous brands and sells a variety of food products, including hot sauce, BBQ sauce, condiments, and even pre-made food, allowing the company to stay current with different trends as well as offering different revenue streams. But you may be surprised to learn that while this Baltimore-based company started small, it became a powerhouse in less than a half a century.

The founder didn't start the company selling spices

Only 25 years old, founder Willoughby M. McCormick started this now internationally known company in a cellar and a room in 1889 in Baltimore, Maryland (via McCormick and Company). According to the website of McCormick and Company, the very first products he sold weren't actually spices at all, but rather fruit syrups, juices, and flavoring extracts that he peddled door-to-door. At the time, the company was known as "Bee Brand" (via McCormick and Company).

According to Baltimore Magazine, McCormick also sold other products, such as a balm that he called Uncle Sam's Nerve and Bone Liniment, with the interesting slogan "fit for man or beast," along with a fish-based glue that was referred to as Iron Glue, with the motto "sticks to everything but the buyer."

Spices wouldn't enter the picture until seven years later, in 1896, when McCormick purchased the Philadelphia F.G. Emmett Spice Company (via Baltimore Magazine).

It became a powerhouse when it had operations coast-to-coast

The McCormick brand has expanded their offerings primarily through acquisitions, according to McCormick and Company. The first foray into the world of spices was in 1896, and half a century later, in 1947, they purchased a west coast company based in San Francisco that was dedicated to coffee, extracts, and spices: A. Schilling & Company, according to McCormick and Company. Acquiring this company gave McCormick a broader base throughout the United States, because now they had distribution centers and buildings on both the east and west coasts.

Regarding this purchase, Buzz McCormick, Willoughby's great nephew, told Baltimore Magazine that he considered this "the world's perfect merger." For over 40 years, McCormick continued to sell under the Schilling brand. They only began to make changes and rename Schilling products under the McCormick name in the 1990s (via McCormick and Company). Shoppers may have thought they had more choices at their local supermarket in the spice and seasoning aisle, but really it was just one huge brand selling under two different names.

McCormick owns the beloved Old Bay Seasoning

Old Bay Seasoning may be one of the most iconic spices in the McCormick collection — or for those who live in the Mid-Atlantic region, it's possibly the most beloved seasoning. But it wasn't the McCormick brand that came up with this blend of over 18 spices and herbs. The mixture was created by a German Jew, Gustav Brunn, who had escaped the Nazis and traveled to America, where he started his own spice company in Baltimore in 1939, reports Baltimore Magazine. Old Bay's blend of herbs and spices was originally sold in a bright yellow tin with white lettering over a blue strip. According to McCormick for Chefs, Old Bay Seasoning's "bold, distinct flavor serves as a reliable, versatile seasoning for seafood and everything else. It is the key ingredient that brings dishes to life with an extra kick of unique, bold flavor anchored in salt, celery seed, paprika and mustard."

Old Bay is an essential ingredient for all things seafood. Initially it was marketed for crab, and is treasured by those from or who live in Baltimore. McCormick for Chefs says, "For those in the Mid-Atlantic region, it's a seafood, summertime, social ritual that is a marker for good times to be had, and good times to be remembered." So whether you grew up with this seasoning in your home, or you're wanting to expand your spice blends, consider adding this favorite to your cabinet.  

A product mishap

McCormick's is continually experimenting in the hopes of crafting new products to bring to market. During the 1960s, they were convinced they had a stellar product that would shine by targeting kids and teens. They were inspired by a fellow Baltimore company that was using flavored tablets, like Alka-Seltzer, that you add to water for a sparkling, fruity drink (via Baltimore Magazine). McCormick invested plenty of time and money, including market research with commercials on TV to help create anticipation of this new item, aptly called "Fun." Everything was fabulous until the products arrived at grocery stores and corporate soon realized that the foil packaging often leaked (Baltimore Magazine). No big deal as long as it's in the box, right?

Except there was a major drawback. Any exposure to humidity or water would make the fizzy tablets explode. Buzz McCormick told Baltimore Magazine, "The packets swelled up and burst so loud. I remember a sales call with a [supermarket] broker in Florida one day, and he happened to put a couple packs on the floor in front of his foot and, by mistake, he stepped on one and it blew up like a balloon." So in one sense, they may have been "fun" — not knowing which package may accidentally pop — but that's definitely not the type of "Fun" the product managers were hoping for when they launched this product. This failed as soon as it hit shelves.

McCormick and Company is more than spices and seasonings

McCormick may be known for spices and seasonings, but they also have a number of other brands and products in their portfolio. Love hot sauce? Yup, McCormick's now owns not one but two of these spicy brands, Cholula and Frank's hot sauce. Both hot sauce companies cater to different consumers, so it's a strategic move for McCormick (via CNN Business). According to CNN Business, McCormick reported that "The [Cholula] company's net sales are roughly $96 million per year." McCormick's CEO, Lawrence Kurzius, explained to USA Today why hot sauce is a worthwhile market to tap into: "Hot sauce is an attractive, high-growth category and, as an iconic premium brand, Cholula is outpacing category growth."

Spread yellow mustard on your sandwiches? Yes, they own the classic French's brand, too. They also own Cattlemen's BBQ sauce, Lawry's, Simply Asia, and Thai Kitchen, among others (via McCormick Corporation).

McCormick has been strategic in having their hands — or perhaps fingers — in a variety of different food products. Multiple revenue streams is often talked about as a way to ensure your business stays afloat and can navigate unexpected circumstances. It seems McCormick knows all about this.