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How Edible Crisco Evolved From Ivory Soap and Helped Create Modern Consumerism

by: Geoff Ficke

In 1911, the Procter & Gamble Company was already a highly successful marketer of consumer products. Its original Ivory Soap was the top selling bar soap in the world. One of the key components of Ivory Soap is cottonseed oil. The Company purchased huge quantities of cottonseed oil from agricultural product brokers. As sales continued to explode, and the need for cottonseed oil expanded, P&G began to have designs on controlling the market in cottonseed oil.

By controlling this market, the Company could enjoy economies of scale and drive down raw material costs for making Ivory and other products. However, with total market control over cottonseed oil, there would be added inventories of the oil that P&G would need to utilize in some other product. The Company put their scientists to work to discover a new product use for their excess cottonseed oil stock.

The result was a scientifically designed, laboratory produced, white, fluffy substance that resembled lard. Technically it was a foodstuff. In reality it was not. It had no smell or taste. And yet P&G began to ask consumers to bake and fry with the new product, Crisco. This was a mass marketing milestone. Crisco was one of the earliest products sold by utilizing modern mass market consumerism strategies.

P&G positioned Crisco as a scientific breakthrough. The Company’s real genius, then as now, was in creating a consumer demand for a product that people did not know they even needed. Stores across the country were given free samples of Crisco. Recipes and cookbooks were given away for free to teach homemakers the features and benefits of cooking with miraculous Crisco. The product was positioned as a healthy food (we did not yet know about trans-fats). My mother, until the day she died, would not think of baking a pie without using Crisco for her crust. Crisco became a staple in the cupboards of generations of cooks and homemakers.

This is a classic example of a consumer product that has its root in another completely different product classification. Bar soap is not consumed or ingested. That Ivory Soap would be the progenitor of Crisco, a non-food baking and cooking ingredient, is a classic example of an enterprise taking a component and engineering or adapting to create a completely new category or brand.

Many consumers have discovered alternative or multiple uses for common household products or ingredients. Heloise has made a wonderful career for herself by advising housewives in this type of crossover product usage in her daily syndicated newspaper column. Consumers are amazingly adaptable and creative in discovering new ways to utilize products that were originally marketed for other purposes.

Look around your environment and you might find a new product or business idea sitting on a shelf, right under your nose. By remarketing, repositioning, reengineering or reinventing something that is old, you can create something new. Who knew that a basic raw material, simple cottonseed oil, could evolve from a bar soap to a consumable foodstuff before Procter & Gamble saw and marketed the need.