Pepperidge Farm Founder Margaret Rudkin (September 14, 1897 – June 1, 1967), was one of the great entrepreneurial leaders of her time.
In the 1930s, Rudkin, a Connecticut housewife and mother of three, began baking bread for her youngest son, Mark, who had asthma and was allergic to commercial breads containing preservatives and artificial ingredients. In 1937, she began experimenting with baking preservative-free bread with all-natural ingredients.
Apparently, Rudkin had never baked bread prior to this, therefore her early progress was slow. “My first loaf should have been sent to the Smithsonian Institution as a sample of Stone Age bread, for it was hard as a rock and about one inch high,” Margaret admitted. “So I started over again, and after a few more efforts by trial and error, we achieved what seemed like good bread.”
An Entrepreneur Is Created
With encouragement from her family and her son’s doctor, Rudkin began a small business out of her kitchen selling her “Pepperidge Farm” bread to local grocers.
Rudkin approached Frederick Marschall, owner of Marschall’s grocery stores based in Stamford, CT, to see if he would sell her bread; however, Marschall was skeptical. Rudkin was not only new to the grocery trade, but she had the audacity to insist that her premium bread be sold for 25 cents a loaf to cover her costs. At that time, the going price for bread was 10 cents.
Rudkin earned Marschall’s sale giving him a sample of her savory bread. Marschall took all the loaves she had brought, and, by the time Rudkin arrived home, he had left a phone message asking for more.
“Although I knew nothing of manufacturing, of marketing, of pricing, or of making bread in quantities, with that phone call, Pepperidge Farm bread was born,” Rudkin later said.
The brand is named after the Rudkin’s property in Fairfield, CT, which was named for the Pepperidge tree, Nyssa sylvatica.
Business Growth and Development
Rudkin’s husband Henry, who was a Wall Street broker, began taking loaves of Pepperidge Farm bread with him to New York City to sell in specialty stores. Soon, Rudkin moved the growing business out of her kitchen, into her garage, and then into a factory in 1940.
In 1947, she opened a large commercial bakery in Norwalk, CT, where new products including dinner rolls, stuffing, and oatmeal breads were developed and tested. World War II caused problems due to rationing; however, in 1948 the bakery was producing 50,000 loaves a week.
A Timeline of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
In the 1950s Pepperidge Farm’s first television commercial aired with founder Margaret Rudkin as spokesperson. Eventually, the Pepperidge Farm’s country gentleman in the horse and wagon replaced her in an ad campaign that spanned five decades.
On a trip to Europe in the 1950s, Rudkin discovered fancy chocolate cookies she believed would be popular in the United States. She bought the rights to produce and sell them, and created the Distinctive line of European-style cookies.
During this decade, Pepperidge Farm acquired the Black Horse Pastry Company, manufacturers of homemade frozen pastries.
Throughout the 1960s, under Rudkin’s management, Pepperidge Farm continued to expand into other products, including frozen pastry.
In 1961, Rudkin sold the business to the Campbell Soup Company and became a director of that company.
The infamous Goldfish crackers were introduced in 1962. Rudkin discovered the snack cracker on a trip to Switzerland and returned to the United States with the recipe.
Continuing her entrepreneurial journey, Rudkin wrote The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, which became the first cookbook to chart on The New York Times Bestseller List in 1963.
Rudkin officially retired from Pepperidge Farm in 1966. She died of breast cancer in 1967 at the age of 69.
The Pepperidge Farm company has continued to innovate throughout the decades. In the 1970s, Pepperidge Farm bread traveled aboard the Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 space flights. In 1977, Goldfish crackers advertising made their television debut. And, in 1988, the snack crackers were onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Pepperidge Farm exceeded $1 billion in sales in 2001 and ranks in the top 2% of brands worldwide in brand equity.
The Life of An Entrepreneur
Rudkin liked to refer to Pepperidge Farm as the “fairy tale,” one which became her life’s passion. A true entrepreneur, she turned one loaf of bread into a multi-category enterprise.