From Cereal to CPG Empress: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Journey to Success in the CPG Space
Marjorie Merriweather Post, one of America’s earliest and most noteworthy heiresses and food manufacturing entrepreneurs, defined the CPG industry during a time when women were not even able to vote. She was born on March 15th, 1887 in Springfield, Illinois into a family who was, at the time, an average, middle-class family. In 1894, her father, C.W. Post, came up with an alternative coffee product called ‘Postum’ that was a combination of wheatberries, molasses, and bran. When Marjorie was a young girl, she would help her father sell ‘Postum’ at local retailers, but their efforts were never rewarded. Her father realized and understood the need to market his product well, so he launched an advertising campaign to help popularize ‘Postum.’ By the time Marjorie was a teenager, ‘Postum’ had become a success and subsequently the family became quite wealthy. It was clear that this was a product people wanted!
In 1914, at the age of just 27, Marjorie inherited the entire family business following the tragic death of her father. At this time, the company was generating revenues of almost $20 million per year, making her one of the wealthiest women in the world. Marjorie was now running and operating one of the fastest growing companies in the nation during a time when women were unjustly subject to discrimination, especially in the workplace. Despite the trials and tribulations, Marjorie became an expert in her field and never made excuses along her way to success.
Marjorie could have easily sold the company and lived off of her inherited wealth, but she instead chose to build what her father had started. Her lack of expertise in the packaged good industry didn’t get in the way of building one of the largest CPG empires in the states.
In the 1920s, Marjorie led Postum to buy several brands including Calumet Baking Powder, Swan’s Down Cake Flour, Minute Tapioca, Jell-O, and Baker’s Chocolate, which had built the first chocolate mill in America. Their most influential acquisition was Cheek-Neal as they developed a system for vacuum packaging pre-ground coffee. This coffee soon became the single most important aspect of the company; an ironic twist given C.W. Post’s highly successful opposition to coffee.
Marjorie was also a trailblazer in the frozen food space. One night at dinner, she noticed how fresh and delicious her goose was. After inquiring about where the bird had come from, she was astonished to learn that the goose had been frozen for about three months. Following this experience, Marjorie was determined to buy out the food freezing company responsible for the goose. She believed freezing was going to be the future of food manufacturing. She continuously sought to convince her husband and stockbroker, EF Hutton, to acquire the company, but he was concerned it would be too difficult to sell as consumers, grocery stores, and delivery trucks all lacked freezers at this time. Finally, years later, Hutton was convinced, and Postum bought the freezing process from Clarence Birdseye, for about ten times the earlier price. This story reflects Marjorie’s growing expertise in the field as she was able to identify a business opportunity before anyone else could. By expanding on her father’s single food product to buying and investing in other products, she had formed what is now more popularly known as General Foods Corporation.
Marjorie’s story highlights the idea that no one starts as an expert. She was suddenly thrusted into a highly influential position and instead of backing away from the challenge, she chose a growth mindset. Marjorie asked questions, dared to take risks, and overcame systemic barriers that led her to become one of the most successful people of her time.