An example of an innovative food product invented during The Great Depression was Fritos. Innovation isn’t always an invention, but could be another way of selling and marketing a product. This is what happened with the innovation of Fritos corn chips.

The Original Recipe

According to the Handbook of Texas, published by the Texas State Historical Association:

“The Frito Company was born in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. The family of Charles Elmer (C. E.) Doolin (1903-1959) owned the Highland Park Confectionary in San Antonio, and Doolin, twenty-eight at the time, wanted to add a salty snack to their repertoire. He responded to an ad in the San Antonio Express. The ad, placed by Gustavo Olguin, listed for sale an original recipe for fried corn chips along with an adapted potato ricer and nineteen retail accounts. Doolin bought the small business venture for $100, and began to manufacture the chips in his mother’s kitchen.”

The family began selling Fritos under the Frito Corporation and operations expanded quickly, from a modest beginning in their garage. Though the Fritos weren’t an invention, Doolin did apply for a patent for a “hammer press” to mass produce the chips and he invented cup-shaped fried tortilla shells, called Ta-cups.

Innovative Marketing

C. E. Doolin came up with many innovations that are standard business practices in retail today. As a manufacturer I learned that stores today don’t service vendor products on the shelves. I sold my product to a retail drug store chain and one day I decided to stop by and check to see how it was selling. The product was on the bottom shelf and the POP display box was turned upside down. Apparently stores used to stock and service the products themselves, but Doolin wanted his reps to do it. Now it’s standard practice that the reps service the product on the shelves.

He started the practice of having sales routes to guarantee salesmen had adequate time for product servicing as well as their usual sales activities.

Doolin also came up with innovative ideas for marketing like clip-strips, which display small items that don’t fit on shelves and helps them stand out from other merchandise. He created signage and tear-sheets printed with Fritos-ingredient recipes, and seasonal displays in the grocery stores.

Companies need to be innovative in their marketing and sales strategies as well as in their research and development. C.E. Doolin recognized that even with the best products he still needed to innovate to create an amazing brand that stood out from the competition.