Unwrapping Surprises: 10 Facts About Kraft Foods

Kraft Foods, a household name, has a history full of unexpected twists and fun facts. Here are ten tidbits that might give you a fresh perspective on this familiar brand.

Advertisement billboard displaying logo of The Kraft Foods Group, an American food manufacturing and processing conglomerate
Advertisement billboard displaying logo of The Kraft Foods Group, an American food manufacturing and processing conglomerate
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1. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, a family favorite, made its debut during the Great Depression in 1937. With the promise of serving a family of four for a mere 19 cents, it flew off the shelves. In the first year alone, 8 million boxes were sold.

2. The brand’s boxed mac and cheese gained even more popularity during World War II. Thanks to a surplus of cheese, rationing rules allowed people to purchase two boxes for a single ration point.

3. The term “American Cheese” originally referred to a type of cheddar cheese, aptly named American or Yankee Cheddar, that was exported back to England by 1790. However, when James L. Kraft patented a method for manufacturing processed cheese in 1916, the term “American Cheese” was co-opted for Kraft’s processed version.

4. Grey Poupon mustard, a Kraft product in the U.S., owes its moniker to Maurice Grey and Auguste Poupon, the French partners who began producing the condiment in 1866.

5. Canadians hold a particular fondness for Kraft Dinner (Mac and Cheese). It has the distinction of being the most popular grocery item in the country and is considered a national dish.

6. Kraft Foods has ingeniously repurposed old mines in Springfield, MO, creating an expansive underground truck warehouse known as Kraft Caves.

7. Kraft Singles, often considered a staple for sandwiches, are not technically classified as “cheese.” Instead, they must be marketed as a “cheese product.”

8. A crucial factor in James L. Kraft‘s success in building his empire was his innovative approach to cheese packaging, making it easy to slice.

9. Kraft Foods was a subsidiary of Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris, the cigarette company, from 1988 to 2007.

10. In the UK, Kraft’s famous Mac & Cheese carries a warning label regarding possible effects on children’s behavior. This warning is due to the so-called “Southampton Six,” a group of food colorants associated with hyperactivity in children. Parents are alerted to the possible behavioral impacts, which is an important consideration for many families.

Government Cheese: A Controversial Chapter in US History

In the 1980s, the US government found itself with a massive surplus of cheese due to volatile milk production and federal support for the dairy industry. With over 500 million pounds of processed American cheese stored in warehouses across 35 states, the government struggled to find a use for it. When the public discovered the surplus, they criticized President Ronald Reagan for not distributing the cheese to struggling families.

In response, Reagan authorized the release of 30 million pounds of cheese through the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program, targeting the elderly and low-income individuals. Dubbed “government cheese,” it became a symbol of hard times, with some grateful for the assistance, while others felt it stigmatized their socioeconomic status. The cheese distribution continued until the 1990s when dairy prices stabilized.

After the cheese distribution ended in the 1990s, the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), the government-owned corporation responsible for the surplus, faded from the headlines. However, it resurfaced during the Trump administration when it was announced that the CCC would provide significant subsidies to offset the impact of trade wars with China, Canada, and the European Union.

In retrospect, the “government cheese” program remains a controversial and memorable chapter in US history. Some people remember the cheese fondly for the assistance it provided during difficult times, while others still associate it with the humiliation of revealing their economic hardships. The cheese itself, with its unique flavor and texture, has become a cultural touchstone, evoking memories of a challenging period in American history.

For those who have experienced the taste of “government cheese,” it leaves a lasting impression. The cheese’s flavor is often characterized as a mix between Velveeta and American cheese, evoking feelings of either humiliation or appreciation for those who relied on it for sustenance. Its distinctive pale orange hue and iconic five-pound blocks quickly set it apart from common cheddar or Camembert.