Spam and Hormel Foods: a story of the military and IT
I want to tell you a story that involves the success of a food product, with a long tradition, and its relationship with the world of information technology. With more than eight decades on the market, the Hormel Foods (NYSE: HRL) brand of canned meat Spam posted record sales in 2021 for the seventh consecutive year.
What’s impressive about Spam is its history. Once it was launched in 1937, it became prevalent among its customers for being relatively inexpensive and having a long shelf life in its can packaging. During World War II, Spam was distributed by the ton and used to feed both American troops and European civilians of the Allied nations. Thousands upon thousands of combatants ate from Spam food not only during World War II but also in the post-conflict era when many countries were trying to rebuild, and food was in short supply. At the time, Hormel Foods was a company with a high-volume product that was successful because of its low price and durability due to the type of canned packaging. It took advantage of the opportunities of the context of that time – the need to feed military forces quickly and conveniently without losing the taste of American food in such far-flung places.
It is hard to believe that a food product with a name synonymous with what we refer to as the spam tray in the computer world has been consistent in its sales over time. The use of the word ‘spam’ started as a joke among internet users from the 90s onwards. I can’t imagine in the future eating a byte of salad or a meat-microchip. However, in this technological evolution of mankind, we don’t know that someday we will start associating the technological world with food more frequently. Originally, the word Spam came about as an abbreviation for spiced ham. The British comedy group Monty Python made fun of Spam in a famous comedy scene, which helped make the term famous. It is associated with a hearty meal that no one wants as it is, the junk that arrives in e-mails in our inboxes.
To the point, as time went by, this product became an inexpensive food in the West and was of practical use for those who needed to eat a quick and tasty meal. In my opinion, Spam helped, in a significant way, to give a practical sense to the concept of fast food. Military personnel, who returned from the war, continued to consume it and spread it among their families.
On the other hand, one of the aspects that impresses me the most is how Spam was spreading in the Eastern world. Spam was brought to South Korea by the American army during the war in that country, in the 1950s, as a way to alleviate the lack of food during the conflict. The food had such an interesting appeal in that culture that it became one of Korea’s favorite dishes. The dish is typically called military stew, and its name is Budae Jigae. Budae means military base, and Chigae means Korean stew. This dish is prepared from leftover processed foods such as sausages and ground meat mixed with water, ramen, vegetables, and spices. It is relished as an exquisite Korean soup.
It has always struck me when different types of cultures, in this case, Western and Eastern cultures, are drawn to each other by life’s challenges, such as war, exchanging traditions that result in synergies that help humanity. The case of Spam is a tremendous example.
Finally, Spam has expanded into more than eighty countries. Hormel Foods Corp, a company founded in 1891 by George Hormel, plans to expand its Spam product portfolio even more aggressively in the years to come. The company’s mission has been to connect people to their needs by taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the context of the environment.
In my opinion, feeding the military during wars, expanding into the Eastern world as a culinary tradition, plus its connection to a concept so popular in the IT world results in an explosive combination that keeps this tradition-rich company on the crest of the wave in the food sector. Will Hormel Foods continue to stay on this wave by connecting people to their needs and traditions? It remains to be seen. At least the name spam in the tech world already has a name and culture.