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1965: SpaghettiOs Were Invented And Sold For The First Time (History Of Campbell's SpaghettiOs Pasta)

Culture | May 16, 2020

A smiling SpaghettiOs face, with meatball nose, from a vintage label. Source: flickr.com

Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs. It doesn’t seem like this would be the best tagline for a canned pasta-and-tomato-sauce meal that was meant to be a simple and easy way for busy moms to feed their kids, but it worked. Since its introduction by Campbell's Franco-American brand in 1965 this simple and (allegedly) “less messy” pasta dish has been a part of meal time for decades. The perfect combination of marketing and culinary innovation, SpaghettiOs sell to the tune of hundreds of millions of cans a year. They’re a pantry staple, a much loved item, simple to eat and essentially nostalgia in a can. You don’t have to love SpagettiOs but you’ve got to respect them.

SpaghettiOs Came About When Campbell’s Wanted To Spice Up Their Product Line

source: pinterest

The Campbell’s soup company started producing basic products in 1869 - soups, beans, just the essentials, but by the 1960s they were ready to make a change and kick things up a notch. Donald Goerke had been working with the company since the 1950s under their Franco-American brand, and he was challenged with the prospect of creating a pasta dish that was easy to eat.

Moms were going to work and it was a hassle to make a full meal every night, so Goerke and his team got the idea to make a can of spaghetti that could be heated up quickly, providing a hot dinner in a snap. Goerke thought that kids would be bored with a standard noodle and he put his team to the task of figuring out something exciting.

There Were A Number Of Rejected Shapes

source: pinterest

Even though the Os in SpaghettiOs seem like an obvious shape, the braintrust at Campbell’s tried out a series of different shapes in order to appeal to young people before going live. According to Goerke his team went through hundreds of shapes including cowboys, Native Americans, astronauts, stars, and sports-themed shapes but most of them just looked like noodle blobs.

Goerke says that he grew tired of his team throwing around a bunch of ridiculous shapes and put a stop to the endless merry-go-round of ideas. He told the Seattle Times:

I was the one who finally said, `Enough already! We're gonna do something that's simple.' I told everyone I thought there was enough excitement just in the idea of turning spaghetti strands into Os. So we went with that. It was a combination of the appeal of the O shapes to kids, plus the convenience to mothers.

The circle ended up perfect for marketing as well as for production. The O shape allowed for a thin pasta to be used, keeping the product from being too gummy when it was reheated and the Os are easier to fit in a can and a bowl.

SpaghettiOs Were An Instant Hit

source: campbell's

It didn’t take much to turn SpaghettiOs into a meal time hit. Introduced nationally to grocery stores without any test marketing, parents only knew that they existed because one day the cans were on shelves accompanied by an unforgettable ad campaign. Not only were they marketed as "the neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon" and the jingle "Uh-Oh! SpaghettiOs" sung by Jimmie Rodgers, the voice behind “Oh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again.”

Aside from the great marketing it’s likely that the year played a major factor in their popularity. Released at the height of the baby boom, there were something like 20 million children under the age of 5 in 1965. Not only were SpaghettiOs easy to heat up and serve, but kids were excited to eat them, this made the canned meal basically jump off the shelves into grocery baskets.

Very Little Has Changed About SpaghettiOs Since Their Release

source: mashed

The “less messy” take on spaghetti has sold hundreds of millions of cans a year, bringing in $121 million in revenue in 2004. The canned meal is so popular that a whole slate of the ready made meals have been put on the market since their release in 1965. There have been SpaghettiOs with meatballs, hot dog slices, and ravioli. Faithful SpaghettiOs fans can make a a week’s worth of meals out of different version of this Campbell’s treat.

Since SpaghettiOs were rolled out there have also been changes made to the nutritional value of the meal. The meal’s sodium was reduced by at least 25 percent since 2002 and while each can contains 11 grams of sugar per 1-cup serving -- that’s three less than what you’ll find in Newman’s Own Organic Tomato Basil sauce.

SpaghettiOs Continue To Sell, Especially When Times Are Tough

source: living rich with coupons

This meal from Campbell’s hasn’t always had a stellar track record, they’ve run into competition from other faux Italian easy to prepare canned food creators and some times they just sell as well as they did when they were first released. There have been nadirs in their sales and booms, however when things were going south for the company in the 2010s an absolutely horrific pandemic caused another jump in sales.

In 2020 the Campbell Soup Company cranked up their production during the outbreak of COVID-19 in order to meet the demand for pre-made food. During the first part of the year their sales numbers increased 59 percent from the previous year. Rather than freak out, Campbell's says that they're treating the whole thing like a natural disaster and making sure that they have extra supplies on hand and plenty of extra lead time to ship out their stock.

SpaghettiOs Will Always Be Here For Us

source: campbell's

If you never had SpaghettiOs in your life then you may not understand why they're so beloved by people from different walks of life. No matter the class or the tax bracket this canned favorite has always been around to make sure that there's something to eat on the table.

The sales of SpaghettiOs may go up and down depending on all manner of external factors but people are never going to stop needing something quick to make for dinner and we’re never going to stop chasing a quick bite of nostalgia. We take SpaghettiOs with us on road trips, we use them to stock our pantry in case we hit hard times, and we keep them around because they taste great. SpaghettiOs may be a groovy-era invention but no matter when we were born they'll always remind us of our childhood.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Food In the 1960s | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Spaghettios

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.