The Rise And Fall Of Jell-O


Narrator: Jell-O has
starred in some of the 1950s most infamous recipes. Sarah Wassberg Johnson:
It was being served at tea parties and card parties. Narrator: It’s beloved in what’s known as the “Jell-O belt”… and continues to be slurped down by college students across the country. But despite its brand recognition sales have been slipping for decades, dropping more than $371 million between 2009 and 2018. So, what happened? Before the pre-packaged boxes
and colorful jIggling cups we’ve come to recognize as Jell-O, gelatin was served in the Middle Ages. Gelatin is made of collagen and early recipes involved melting and filtering pigs’ ears and feet. It eventually became a status symbol because you needed to have
access to a lot of meat, to have enough bones to boil. You also needed a large staff to do it and some were cool to store the gelatin so it could set properly. The jiggling dish was served to European royalty and it eventually made its way across the Atlantic to the United States. Soon people were looking
for an easier and faster way to make gelatin, but early attempts just didn’t taste that great. However one instant gelatin product, would quickly become a staple
in American households. [Tape] J-E-L-L-O! Narrator: Invented in the
tiny town of Le Roy, New York by struggling cough
syrup maker, Pearle Wait and his wife, May. Jell-O combined gelatin with sugary fruit syrups,
which made it sweeter than other instant gelatin products. But the small town couple didn’t
know how to market Jell-O. So in 1899 they sold the patent for $450, the equivalent of almost $14,000 today to orator Frank Woodward of
the Genesee Pure Food Company. Just three years later, Jell-O sales rose to $250,000
or $7.4 million today. Jell-O found its success in a series of highly strategic and
successful advertising campaigns. It printed its own recipes
showing and teaching consumers all the different ways they
could serve Jell-O in a meal, which generated demand for the product. The company commissioned
cookbooks and advertisements from American artist Norman Rockwell, who created colorful drawings of Jell-O in family friendly settings. This helped to establish the
company’s wholesome reputation. In 1923, the Genesee Pure Food Company changed its name to the Jell-O Company. Two years later, The Jell-O Company became part of a larger food empire, which would eventually become
General Foods Corporation. When the great depression hit, recipe books promoted Jell-O
as an affordable food option, highlighting its ability to
preserve foods and transform just a few ingredients
into a satisfying meal. And during World War II, Jell-O salads became a creative way to put meals together with rationed goods. Convenience also began to play a bigger role in the
meals people prepared. Johnson: In World War II
when you had many more women mobilized in the workforce and people were looking
for something easy, it was probably much easier
to just make some Jell-O and stick it in the
fridge for the next day than to try and bake a cake or make a pie when fat was rationed. Narrator: And in the post war
era, elaborate Jell-O salads became a popular choice for
home events like dinner parties. Johnson: These were sort of public events in a private space. So it was important that
you impressed your guests. Narrator: But the qualities
that once made Jell-O a staple in American homes started to backfire. While Jell-O’s low price
point made it accessible during hard times like
the great depression, it’s cheapness also degraded gelatin’s once glamorous reputation, not to mention Jell-O’s
association with wartime rations made it less than appealing to consumers who no longer had to
stretch out ingredients. So by the 50s, gelatin
was seen as something to stick leftovers in or serve to kids, and by the 70s, Jell-O
sales began to decline. In response to its slipping sales, Jell-O hired comedian and actor Bill Cosby as a spokesperson in 1974. The partnership is one of the
longest celebrity endorsements in American advertising
history, lasting 29 years. At the time, Cosby’s
endorsement helped boost sales but Jell-O took a hit as
it ramped up production of its pre-packaged single serve cups. It was seen as a snack food for children, something served in a school
cafeteria or in a hospital– not a filling meal for a family. Tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris bought General Foods in 1985, and in 1989 merged it with Kraft Inc., creating Kraft General Foods. When the low fat diet trend
emerged in the 80s and 90s, Kraft tried to market Jell-O as a diet food with
fat-free flavors to keep up. Anna Miller: So in the 80s
there were all of these products where manufacturers were
trying to take away the fat and then add a bunch of
preservatives and other ingredients and sugars to make the food
still palatable without fat. Narrator: But for Jell-O,
doing this wasn’t enough to turn things around. Instead, it now had the added reputation of being a diet food which only increased in the early 2000s as
Jell-O pivoted to promoting it’s sugar free products to take advantage of the Atkins diet craze. When that didn’t help bounce sales back, Jell-O attempted to play up
its family friendly reputation and although consumers had embraced Jell-O during the great depression
as a way to cut costs, the great recession didn’t
seem to have the same effect. From 2009 to 2014, Jell-O sales
declined by double digits, falling from $932.5
million to 692 million. Miller: So Jell-O is
basically the opposite of what consumers are
looking for right now. It looks artificial, its
ingredients are unrecognizable, it has a bunch of added sugar
and even though it’s fat-free, we all know now that that is
not necessarily healthier. Narrator:So is this the end? Miller: If Jell-O wanted
to make a comeback, I think it’s pretty impossible if their aim is to appeal to those looking for more natural foods. It would have to basically turn into something other than Jell-O. Narrator: But despite its
falling sales numbers, Jell-O remains popular in
places like Salt Lake City and the surrounding area, otherwise known as the Jell-O belt. The area has a large Mormon population, and Jell-O’s wholesome family branding aligns with Mormon values. Jell-O even became the official
snack food of Utah in 2001 and the trading pin for
the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics was a
bowl of green Jell-O. And Kraft foods still
believes in the brand. Kraft sent Business Insider
this statement saying, The company also encourages people to get creative with Jell-O
recipes on social media, which feels like a return
to Jell-O’s origins when the company would print recipes to teach confused housewives what to do with the strange new product. It’s also trying to connect
with new generations by selling edible Jell-O slime for kids. So while Jell-O may no longer
be the star of as many meals as it used to be, it’s
still alive and jiggling.

100 Replies to “The Rise And Fall Of Jell-O”

  1. Me – “One more video before going to sleep…What to watch?…”

    YouTube – “How about the rise and fall of Jell-O?”

    Me – “…never thought about Jell-O before but ok”

  2. “Tobacco conglomerate bought General Foods in 1985-“

    HOLD UP, WHAT? damn that’s just a bombshell casually dropped on me. Had no idea that was a thing

  3. Oh my god haga i remember when they went sugar free and that's when my mom stopped buying it because no one liked the new sugar free that was around 14 years ago or around that time haha

  4. LOL at Americans discovering that jell-o has existed for a thousand years for savory meals under the name of aspic…

  5. I swear it used to taste different as a kid, when I get it in the box to make at home it just doesn’t taste as good vs when I get it in like a pack or at my local deli shop that sells it as a treat

  6. I hope Jell-O continues to live on! My grandma mixed hers with cool whip and it makes an awesome consistency!

  7. This video leaves a lot to be desired… especially in the history of Jell-O. [they got this part right] It was originally created as a faster, easier way to create courses that were gelatin based; these had become highly fashionable during the Victorian era as "mid" courses or deserts and had many items suspended in them from fruits, to vegetables and yes (blech) meat. The trend of it started back in the 16th century and yes, the upper class and royalty ate it and served it to guests as a sign of prosperity. Gelatin could easily be molded into any shape, was easy to work with and could produce spectacular results as a centerpiece and/or counter-point in a meal to impress guests.

    This trend was revived in the Victorian era, in the upper-mid class to upper-class (and royalty) of England; wanting to copy everything that Queen Victoria and the royal household did, the trend quickly spread downward through the classes. But gelatin was extremely hard and a lot of work to extract from animal parts; cooks would spend hours boiling animal cartilage to get the required amount to make a gelatin dish; this led to a race to create something that would make life easier for these households and allow them to impress guests. This finally led to the late 1890's/early 20th century and the invention of "Jell-O."

    I won't go further, but this video is right – the marketing plans worked too well with Jell-O, ingraining in generations of minds what it was used for (depression-era, wartime, middle-class budgeting, etc.). The product suffered under it's own success (just type "aspic" into google to see what you find) and has see-sawed ever since. Hopefully, one day this iconic brand will find it's niche and be respected and enjoyed for what it is.

  8. Non sweet/dessert jello dishes have always disturbed me. Like my grandma used to make this dish called tomato aspic, which was like a tomato flavored jello with vegetables suspended in it. I just find certain flavors in jello texture….well, disturbing lol

  9. In germany it is called "Götterspeise", roughly translated to "Food of the gods". I always grew up with a positive view on these funny and delish treats.

  10. 3:07 liberal feminist downplays the upmost importance and respect in the role of house wife as to feed an nurture the family on an extraordinary tight budget while the man/father of children was getting bombs and bullets sent his way on the daily. Owe my existence to you, much love house wives. What strong women they were. Not like this itch captain MARVEL. Winning the war was half the battle. Recovery of population was second. And we owe it all to the strong, smart, enduring, nurturing house wife. If captain MARVEL was your mom youd starve or end up like a Snooki desperate for attention. As with many liberal ideologies, downplaying a role to foster darkness and resentment for no reason. And career woman. Good for you. Now days it takes a two income household to keep the lights on. Thanks obama.

  11. I use half flavored gelatin powder mixed with half unflavored gelatin, then add the waters, that lowers the sugar and calories but helps the joints. Good for cartilage

  12. In Ukraine we have a dish called kholodets', which is basically gelatinized pig broth with some meat, carrots, garlic, and sometimes parsley. It can be found on every holiday table, and is actually a delicious savory application of jello. So they could market it to eastern europeans looking for some taste of home, but unable to find enough pig's feet/bones/cartilage to make their own

  13. Omg I moved to Utah and I remembered seeing so much jello for the first time. Like it being served at parties and desserts 🍮

  14. you know jello isn't always a desert thing? savory jelly salads used to be big as side dishes… if you know any old people who like to entertain guests you've likely encountered jelly salads.

    bad jelly salads and being a plain bland desert served to old people killed jello… generally just being an "kid and old person food".

  15. anyone else thinking "jello slime" just sounds like jello that didn't set right?

    "how would you like to pay more for less jello?! it's fun!"

  16. This was food of the rich people. In my country we make collagen jello that's not sweet, and there the food of the poor people. Funny

  17. Ram (or Kurt idk): YOU NEED A JELLO SHOT!!! We’re having big fun!
    No of course you don’t get it unless you’re a heathers fan

  18. Jello is my family’s specialty and the only thing that we’re asked to bring because of the way that my dad makes it, and it works for all the dietary restrictions and requests in my family (the big one being diabetes, so sugar free, red dye allergies, and “Aunty Tammy’s” jello, which is grape jello and grade vodka)

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