Levis and Kelloggs – consumer icons

Levi Strauss and John Harvey Kellogg were both born on February 26th, the former in 1829, and the latter in 1852. Each created and sold a new product, both of which have become part of modern life and are traded worldwide. Each established a brand image that customers associated with quality and reliability.

The creation of both products is steeped in myth and legend, in claim and counter-claim, but some facts are documented. When on 1853 Levi Strauss, originally from Bavaria, opened a San Francisco branch of his brother's New York business, he numbered Jacob Davis among his customers. Davis thought that copper rivets on work pants would reinforce places likely to tear, and suggested a joint business with Strauss. They patented the idea in 1873 and started making the denim pants we now call jeans. A widespread myth is that they first supplied them to the 49-ers gold miners, but their jeans came later.

John Kellogg was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, and an innovator in health advocacy. He sold vegetarian foods, but is best known for the invention of corn flakes. Instead of discarding a batch of dough left overnight, he put it through rollers and unexpectedly made flakes that could be baked. He filed for a patent for the process in 1895. In doing so he created not only corn flakes, but breakfast cereals and the breakfast habit of millions.

The establishment of brands and brand advertising was the market's response to quality control. In the absence of regulation, customers could choose established brand names that had a reputation for quality. They might often be more expensive than their less fastidious competitors, but many customers sought the security of the big names that had a reputation to protect.

Levis and Kelloggs are both worldwide businesses, advertising their quality and trading on their long-established names for top range products. Both firms have responded to changing customer tastes by extending their product ranges to adapt to changing fashions and tastes, but their basic innovation was a new type of product that found favour with the public because it met their needs. This is how the market works; it rewards those who provide goods that customers want and are prepared to pay for. Levi Strauss and John Kellogg did that spectacularly, each introducing a novel product, ones that have lasted. Today, perhaps, as people try to avoid spilling cereal onto their jeans, some will thank the 19th Century entrepreneurs, born on this day, who gave us such consumer icons.