Robert J. Vlasic died at the age of 96; He amassed wealth by making pickles fun.


Robert J. Vlasic, who combines a keen business flair with a sharper sense of humor to turn the family business into the nation’s largest supplier of pickles, gherkins, sauerkraut and other sauerkraut, opened May 8th. Died at work home. He was 96 years old.

His son, Bill, a former Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times, has been confirmed dead.

People have been pickling vegetables for thousands of years, and the preservation method has long been popular in North America. It is said to have been collected by George Washington. 476 kinds of pickles.

Nonetheless, when Vlasic grew up in Detroit, the son of Croatian immigrants who run a dairy distributor, Americans consumed 1.8 pounds of pickles per capita per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

If that sounds like a lot, the number more than quadrupled by the time Vlasic sold his company, Vlasic Pickles, to the Campbell Soup Company in 1978. 8 pounds per person. Vlasic controlled about a quarter of the market, far outpacing its closest and much larger competitor, HJ Heinz.

The company’s success is largely attributed to Mr. It was attributed to Vlasic’s management acumen. A trained engineer, he argued that it’s better for his managers to keep their reports on one page and focus their attention on what’s important.

But he combined that stiff conference room behavior with a laid-back, light-hearted approach to his products. He loved pickle jokes and eventually collected them into his pamphlet, “101 Pickle Jokes from Bob Vlasic.” The book’s cover featured a gunslinger, a gherkin in a cowboy hat, and this salty slapper. “Who is the toughest pickle in Dodge City? Marshall Deal.”

Vlasic Pickles entered the American pop culture pantheon in 1974 with the debut of its mascot, the Vlasic Stork. Wearing perhaps a bow tie, Pinsenez glasses, and a postman’s hat, he picks up a pickle like a cigar and breaks wisely with a voice borrowed from Groucho Marx.

“This is the best pickle I have ever had!” Went on one of his taglines and rocked a friendly leer and pickle. “Raise the ham! Make your toy poiki!” went another

If the bird’s costume details were odd, at least the spokesperson’s choice made sense. As the baby boom began to blow in the mid-1970s and fertility declined, storks might have to find new jobs. And the company has already advertised in the belief that pregnant women like pickles.

In one early Vlasic print ad, a husband told his wife: It is Mr. It was Vlasic’s humor.

“We decided that pickles were fun food,” Vlasic told The New York Times in 1974. “We decided not to take ourselves or our business too seriously.”

Robert Joseph Vlasic was born March 9, 1926 in Detroit. His grandfather Frank was a Croatian who came to Michigan with his family in 1912 from the village of Rivno in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Frank Vlasic opened a cream shop with the money he raised while working in an auto body shop. Bob’s father, his son Joseph, expanded the company into distribution and soon had the largest dairy distributor in the state. Bob’s mother, Marie (Messinger) Vlasic, was a housewife.

Vlasic received his engineering degree from the University of Michigan in 1949. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to Michigan to join his family business.

In the early 1940s, the company began expanding its business into fruits and vegetables, and the idea was to put pickles in jars to make them easier to transport and store. They have become popular. Pickles were the perfect food for wartime America, where every piece of food was stored.

As Vlasic was promoted from the company, he decided to move the company from distribution to production. He bought a sauerkraut factory in Imray City, about an hour north of Detroit, and added a pickle-making machine. He signed contracts with cucumber and cabbage farmers and expanded his business into neighboring states and eventually the rest of the country.

Vlasic initially sold pickles in three different styles: plain, polish and kosher, with the last being the hottest. In its heyday, it was selling almost 100 items, from classic spears and stackers to haute cuisine.

When Vlasic sold the company to Campbell Soup, he claimed a seat on the Campbell Board. He not only got one; He served as Chairman of the Board from 1989 to 1993. (The Vlasic label is now owned by Conagra Brands.)

Mr. Vlasic married Nancy Reuter in 1950. She died in 2016. Along with his son Bill, he has four other sons: Jim, Rick, Mike and Paul. 17 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

After selling off the family business, Vlasic founded and ran a technology company, O/E Automation. However, he has increasingly devoted his time to serving on nonprofit and charitable committees around Michigan. He served as financial adviser to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit and was the first outside the Ford family to head the board of the Henry Ford Hospital.

His son said it was the kind of thing he enjoyed.

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