Remembering "Beatrice" (1995)

     When I was about thirteen years old, I became fascinated by a television advertising campaign. Dozens of commercials appeared for products ranging from Tropicana orange juice to Maxi Pads. At the end of each, a woman's voice would say, "We're Beatrice", and a red and white "Beatrice" logo would appear in the bottom right hand corner.

     The woman's voice was friendly and seductive, yet surreptitious. Her message seemed to be part boast, part threat. I imagined a pretty, smiling, blonde, mom-like woman in her thirties looking at me, calmly stating "we own everything." The message was clear. They were Beatrice. And it freaked me out.

     Beatrice bombarded the air waves for several months and all I could think about was "Who the hell is Beatrice and from which depth of hell did it spawn?"

     Moreover, I couldn't understand why Beatrice was so intent on telling every consumer in TV land how many brands it owned. Personally, I found it to be unnerving. I worried that most of my family's food purchases were filling the purse of "Beatrice." My fears were allayed somewhat when I spied a supermarket circular with a picture of all the brands associated with this elusive entity. I say "somewhat" because there weren't quite as many brands as I had imagined, but it was clear that they did own a lot of shit. Beatrice was a cornucopia, full up and loaded with food and consumer products.

     Then one day, I noticed I hadn't seen any Beatrice commercials for awhile. The TV ads were gone, and Beatrice disappeared from public view. In whatever language I spoke in my mid teens, my thoughts on the subject could be translated today as "Did Beatrice simply decide to can the brand awareness campaign, or did they go under or get bought out?" I never found out, and eventually I forgot all about this strange time. That is until ten or twelve years later.

     While reading Alvin Toffler's Powershift, I came across this passage in a chapter about Michael Milken's junk-bond success of the 1980s:


Every Milken-funded [corporate] takeover resulted in the sell-off of divisions or units ... A striking case in point was the breakup of the Beatrice Companies, an ungainly agglomeration that combined, with little logic, Avis car rentals, Coca-Cola bottling, Playtex brassieres, the manufacture of tampons, along with the food processineg that had once formed its core business. After its parts were sold to other companies, Beatrice was a much smaller firm operating more sensibly in the food, cheese and meat business (Toffler pp. 52-53).


     So, a decade or so after the fact, I finally know what happened to Beatrice. Still, I wonder how such a strange conglomerate formed in the first place and who's idea it was to publicize like they did. There have been so many mergers and acquisitions since the 80s (indeed too many for me to keep track of in this first half of the 90s!) that it's hard to keep track of who owns who. Around 1992, I found a correspondence written by someone at Hasbro.  The letterhead contained the logos Hasbro's major subsidiaries: Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Playskool, Kenner (I think), Lego or something. Gone was my childhood assumption that Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers were fierce competitors. Of course, then again maybe they were back in the 70s.

     More recently there has been some kind of partnership struck between Pepsico and R.J. Reynolds/Nabisco in the form of the KFC Oreo Brownie. KFC (Pepsico) has introduced the "You'd be crazy to: cook meal" which includes a "Family Size Oreo Brownie". If you get a chance to see this wonder (without actually having to buy the $151 meal) please do. The package has the Nabisco and KFC logos along with the graphic icon of The Colonel and is, in my opinion, an amazing relic. (I had a full color ad for this laminated. It now resides in my personal collection.)

[Editor's notes: Decades later, my concern that Beatrice owned a lot of stuff seems quaint — in 2000 R.J Reynolds sold Nabisco to fellow tobacco maker Philip Morris, which merged it into its Kraft Foods division to create the world's second largest food company. Philip Morris owns a lot more than Beatrice ever did, from Nabisco, Kraft, Oscar Meyer, and Miller Beer, to Gevalia, Altoids, and Boca Burger (or as I like to call them, Marlburgers)]