Thursday, December 2, 2004
British Owners of French’s Mustard Wrap Themselves in American Flag
By ROGER M. GRACE
Anti-French sentiment last year approached fury on the part of many Americans. France, liberated by U.S. troops in World War II, refused to join in the war on terrorism, a war sparked by the 9-11 attacks on us. There were calls for boycotts of French goods, and CNN reported that French’s mustard would be one of the targets.
Hold on!, the makers of that condiment protested; it has no ties to France. A press release was isssued setting the record straight on that score—but twisting the truth as to the ownership and history of the product.
Here’s how the press release started:
THE ONLY THING FRENCH ABOUT FRENCH’S® MUSTARD IS THE NAME!
ROBERT T. FRENCH’S ALL AMERICAN DREAM LIVES ON
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Recently there has been some confusion as to the origin of French’s mustard. For the record, French’s would like to say, there is nothing more American than French’s mustard.
Born in New York by the R. T. French company, French’s Cream Salad Mustard made it’s debut in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair along with it’s side kick, the hot dog. Both were an instant success! By 1915 the French’s pennant became the brand’s official logo, symbolizing French’s affiliation with baseball and American celebration.
Throughout the years consumers have professed their lifelong love of America’s number one mustard. “For many Americans, French’s mustard IS Americana. It’s all about baseball, hot dogs, family and fun,” says Elliot Penner, president of French’s mustard.
Some journalists who reported on the proclamation made note of who it is that produces French’s mustard. A columnist for Great Britain’s New Statesman paraphrased the release by saying: “R T French introduced its ‘cream salad mustard’ to accompany hot dogs at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis and it has been as robustly American as apple pie ever since,” adding:
“Or has it? The reason the press release was issued from a New Jersey office was actually a disingenuous one: French’s Mustard is now owned by a British conglomerate, Reckitt Benckiser plc, based in Slough.”
It was, indeed, disingenuous—a polite term for dishonest—to portray French’s mustard as an all-American product when it is British-owned. The blatant untruism that French’s “IS Americana” was also declared by Penner in a 2001 press release in response to businesswoman Martha Stewart’s utterance on national TV (in days prior to her prosecution) that she “can’t stand” French’s mustard.
What was also disingenuous was the reference to “Elliot Penner, president of French’s mustard.” Penner is also identified on occasion as “president of French’s food products division.” Well, Penner can give himself any title he wants to in connection with the French’s product line. His principal title, however, is “president of Reckitt Benckiser, Inc.” (a Delaware corporation wholly owned by the British company). As top dog of the U.S. subsidiary, he could call himself supervisor of the secretarial staff or chief of the janitorial section if he wanted to, though there would seem little point to that.
The obvious purpose of billing himself as head of French’s is to create the illusion that Penner is a successor to Robert T. French in heading this red-white-and-blue enterprise which French founded in 1884 in New York.
In truth, Robert French never had any connection with French’s Cream Salad mustard. He died in 1893. The yellow prepared mustard, made from powdered innards of mild white seeds, was introduced in 1904 by sons George and Francis French. (The mustard was the creation of George Dunn, plant superintendent for the company.)
French’s products have not been American-owned since 1926 when Reckitt & Colman (now Reckitt Benckiser) purchased the R.T. French company for $3.8 million.
So, the major point Reckitt Benckiser wanted to get across about French’s mustard—that it isn’t French—is valid. Portraying it as American as Uncle Sam was pure deception.
That’s not all the deception in which Reckitt Benckiser has engaged.
It sought to create the impression in the 2003 press release—as it regularly does—that French’s Cream Salad mustard and hot dogs were introduced and paired at the 1904 world fair in St. Louis and have been inseperable since then.
That representation is, to utilize the name of a close relative of the hot dog, baloney. Hot dogs did not make their debut at that fair, and while French’s mustard (now dubbed “Classic Yellow”) is today a frequent accompaniment of the frank, such was not so in 1904.
More about that next week.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company