James Lewis Kraft was born in 1874 on a farm near Stevensville, Ontario, Canada, to a German Mennonite farming family. In 1902, he immigrated to Buffalo, New York, to become secretary and treasurer of the Shefford Cheese Company. The next year 1903, he became part owner. However his partners abruptly dissolved his contract while he was away on a business trip for the company. Stranded in Chicago, the young Kraft had only $65 to his name. Out of necessity, he used that money to rent a horse named “Paddy” and a wagon and immediately began to try to sell cheese. 1,2

“After one very unsuccessful day Kraft had a conversation with Paddy. He remarked to his horse that he needed a business partner. Being raised in a faithful Christian family Kraft realized that he needed to reorganize his priorities. He needed to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33) and then all that he needed would be provided. So he decided to give 25 percent of his personal profits to the Lord in his offerings.”3

Kraft studied the cheese market thoroughly and knew if he was to have an edge, he needed to be early to the game. He began purchasing cheese at Chicago’s Water Street wholesale market and then reselling it to local merchants.2  “[He] was the first in line at the South Water Street market to be sure that he got the best cheese for the day.” His trips to the market gained him success because he served local grocers who then did not have to go to market for their daily sales.4  This saved the merchants the trip and they began buying from him.

“As more grocers bought from Kraft, he began to use the Kraft name on the packages that he delivered to the grocers, to gain a reputation.”4  This was in an era where packaging, logos, and brands were not defined as today and a fairly new concept, Kraft showed ingenuity by branding his protect, building consumer trust, and creating a niche.

Within a short time, four of Kraft’s brothers joined him in the cheese business, and, in

1909, they officially incorporated as J.L. Kraft and Bros. Co.  By 1914, he and his brothers purchased their own cheese factory in Stockton, Illinois. By 1915, they had begun producing processed cheese but in a different way. The placed cheese in three-and-a-half and seven-and-three-fourth ounce tins. The cheese tins were a success in the industry with shopkeepers and consumers because cheese was now able to be kept and stored for longer periods of time. Kraft’s method of producing processed cheese proved revolutionary and so by 1916, he obtained a patent for this process. What became a game changer in the cheese industry was then needed to feed American troops abroad in World War I and the U.S. government sought a contract from him in 1917 supplying cheese in tins to feed the U.S. armed forces in World War I. 2

Throughout his life, Kraft faithfully tithed not ten percent, but 25 percent and more of his profits. Later in life, he made this statement: ‘The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord.’” 3

But Kraft’s cheese tins were not an end all. He followed up on his success with processed cheese in tins by introducing many additional products, including processed cheese in loaves, Velveeta Process Cheese, Philadelphia Cream Cheese. He added condiments to his line like Miracle Whip Salad Dressing and then the now famous Kraft Dinner Macaroni and Cheese. He used innovative advertising to promote his products and was a pioneer in the sponsorship of television and radio shows. “The company’s ‘hands’ commercials, showing a pair of hands preparing recipes using Kraft products, became a symbol of the company’s advertising success. Aggressive sales merchandising techniques contributed further to the company’s growing market share in an increasingly diverse line of products.” 2

“In January 1995, Kraft General Foods became Kraft Foods, Inc. and was reorganized into a single operating company. Kraft Foods continues to grow and change to meet changing consumer needs, in part by building on its history—the legacy of its well-known brands, the character of its founders and the dedication of its employees. The company has continued to build on the innovative spirit of its past, with new products such as low-fat and fat-free products in a variety of categories. It has also grown through acquisitions, including  Boca Burger and Balance Bar in early 2000, and the family of Nabisco brands in December of 2000. Kraft Foods Inc.’s product portfolio is one of the finest in the world, including more than 70 major brands such as Kraft Cheeses, Maxwell House and Nabob Coffees, Post ready-to-eat Cereals, Oreo Cookies, Ritz Crackers, Lifesavers Candies, Planters Nuts and Snacks, JELL-O Desserts, Kool-Aid and many more items….”2

Kraft once said, “When I have a problem I pray about it, and what comes to mind and stays there I assume to be my answer. And this has been right so often that I know it is God's answer.” Kraft remained a faithful Christian until his death in 1953 and his namesake products remain staples on grocery shelves today.

#  #  #

Cited:

1  Unknown. “James L. Kraft.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 May 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James L. Kraft.

2  a^b^c^d^e Unknown. The History of Kraft Foods. web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/kraftfoods.pdf.

3  a^ b^ LaMattina, Chuck. “Kraft Cheese and Tithing.” Kraft Cheese and Tithing, 1 Jan. 1970, essentialmatters.blogspot.com/2011/11/kraft-cheese-and-tithing.html.

4  a^ b^ Unknown. “Kraft Foods.” Kraft Foods, www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1836.html.

 

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