A history of cubes, consommés and creativity
Julius Maggi, the founder of the brand that still bears his name, was a man obsessed. He dreamt, in the last decades of the 19th Century, of creating food products that would become as ubiquitous as salt and pepper, foods that would nourish workers for a fair price and a brand that no-one would ever forget.
Today, the Maggi brand of seasonings, soups and stocks is one of Nestlé’s billion dollar brands. With the same distinctive red and gold in its packaging and his name known the world over, Julius succeeded even beyond his wildest dreams.
The son of an Italian-born mill owner, Julius Maggi’s company was based in the Swiss village of Kemptthal, near Zurich, and produced wheat flours. Not many know that Mr Maggi was also fascinated by clairvoyancy and reportedly believed that he too could see into the future.
He was certainly a perceptive and visionary businessman who could already see the impact of the transformation of the working world on food habits. Women, who traditionally prepared food for their families, were increasingly spending more time in workplaces like factories and less time in their kitchens. Julius realised they would need food that was nutritious, filling and fast. It was in 1882 that he met a doctor as forward-thinking as he. It was an encounter that would transform his company’s future and the way millions cook.
Dr Fridolin Schuler believed there was a link between malnutrition and high levels of disease and infant mortality. He was part of the Swiss Public Welfare Society whose goal was to improve the lives of the country’s working population. Nutritious meat was beyond their meagre budgets but Dr Schuler was convinced that pulses – rich in nutrients and easy to digest – were the solution.
Inspired by these principles, and seeing a vast potential future market, Julius Maggi set about creating a new type of flour, made from pulses. After two years of research he launched powdered pea and bean flours. These were followed, in 1885, by some of the world’s very first instant soups. Then, in 1886, he launched Maggi seasoning, a concentrated liquid bouillon to form the basis for consommés, soups and sauces. It was among the first of its kind, enhancing and improving the flavour of foods.
Mr Maggi was an endless innovator, with curry and mock-turtle flavoured instant soups as well as a truffle-flavoured Maggi seasoning, all designed to appeal to the increasingly sophisticated Victorian palate, offered alongside the more traditional vegetable broths.
These products were an immediate success and Maggi began to expand internationally. By 1888, Julius had opened branches or affiliates in Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the US.
Crosses and colours
Mr Maggi also predicted the importance of a bold brand identity to capture consumers’ loyalty. He went to great lengths to both protect and publicise his Maggi brand.
By 1900, Julius had registered his signature and variations of his name in various type faces in multiple countries. In Switzerland, he protected no less than 18 different variations of his name – everything from Magi to Magique – to ward off would-be imitators.
From the very beginning, Maggi products and publicity material was instantly identifiable through its deep red, golden yellow and black colours. Even today, many Maggi products sold across Africa carry the cross-star symbol that he designed.
Julius invested in advertising too, and was among the first to use enamel placards which were hung outside grocers’ shops. He employed young copywriters and painters, like Leonetto Cappiello - often called "the father of advertising". Many would go on to become famous playwrights, authors and artists.
Julius also recognised the advertising opportunity available on public transport – and so began poster campaigns on trams, railway carriages and, in Paris, even the bateaux-mouches that sailed along the Seine.
Maggi vans gave out free samples of hot soups and bouillons from silver urns on street corners and operated one of the first loyalty schemes for customers, who could earn anything from a coffee machine to a Japanese lacquered cabinet.
The classic Kub
The most iconic of Julius Maggi’s products remains his bouillon cube. He shaped his instant stock into a perfect cube, wrapping it in the brand’s distinctive colours and christening it the Bouillon Kub. The whole echoed a child’s plaything. He encouraged consumers to “Demand the K!”. It was such a stroke of brilliance it was furiously copied by competitors. Within a few years of its launch it had become such an icon of its time that the Bouillon Kub even appeared in a painting by cubist artist Pablo Picasso.
When the brand was acquired by Nestlé in 1947 it was a natural match. Both Swiss, the two companies shared a pioneering and visionary approach to food.
Just as Mr Maggi envisioned, his products are now ubiquitous across the continents. And, just as the original dehydrated vegetable soups nourished Europe’s working classes, modern Maggi products for middle- and low-income countries are now fortified with micronutrients such as iron.
Julius Maggi was determined that his products should remain affordable. He would no doubt approve of the way they are packaged in Africa, Asia and Latin America today - in small, accessible individual sizes.
Mr Maggi’s creative spirit also lives on in the brand’s Cooking Lesson Programme currently running in 30 countries. Consumers are encouraged to use Maggi products to increase the vegetables and wholegrains in their daily diets.