A Chip Off Xavier's Block
By Felix Winternitz
With news breaking that the cereal giant Kellogg is acquiring the Pringles chip brand from Procter & Gamble for a crispy $2.7 billion, it’s worth noting the Xavier links to the iconic snack food—as well as some trivia about the Cincinnati-born chip, just for fun.
The Eureka! Moment: Organic chemist Fredric Baur, who was credited with inventing Pringles' unique tubular canister and credited in some circles with inventing the Pringles chips themselves, was also an adjunct professor of chemistry at Xavier. It was another Procter inventor, Alexander Liepa, who followed through with work on improving the taste of the chip (taste, apparently, wasn’t part of the original recipe). Company nay-sayers originally labeled Pringles the “P&G Edsel.” But sales finally took off; consumers loved ‘em.
Tales From The Front Aisle: Dunnhumby USA executive Bob Fullarton, the Xavier basketball hoop hero who previously ran overseas operations for P&G, remembers having to spot-check supermarket aisles in Europe and Asia. “It was amazing what flavors did well in other countries,” he says. Top-sellers were oddities such as Garlic Seafood, Blueberry & Hazelnut, Braised Pork, Curry Flavour Savoury, Screamin’ Dill Pickle, Torchin’ Tamale, Spicy Wonton, and (in Asia) the ever popular Seaweed and Soft-Shell Crab. Special overseas editions of Pringles have also included Winter Salt (whatever that may be), Western Barbecue, Wild Consumme, Funky Soy Sauce, Prawn Cocktail, Smokey Bacon, Paprika, Onion Blossom, and Mexican Layered Dip (a corn, not potato, chip). P&G also experimented with a Broccoli flavor, but that never made it to the shelves. Go figure.
Big Chip On Campus: “Late Night Republic” TV host Jake Sasseville was tapped to promote Pringles to the college crowd, which included a visit to Xavier’s campus in 2010. The P&G sponsored Pringles XTreme Campus Tour featured Sasseville’s favorite flav: Screamin’ Dill Pickle.
Bury My Chip At Wounded Knee: Baur died in 1998, and his last will and testament stipulated his ashes be buried in a Pringles tube. Son Larry and his siblings stopped at a Walgreen’s on the way to the funeral home to pick up a can for the sacred rite. “My siblings and I briefly debated what flavor to use,” he told Time magazine about the impromptu urn. “But, I said, ‘Look we need to use the Original.’”
What’s In A Name: The saddled-shaped chips were reportedly named after Pringle Drive in Finneytown, Ohio, where two P&G execs lived. Another version has execs picking the name at random out of a Cincinnati phone book. A third is that one Mark Pringle filed U.S. Patent 2,286,644 way back in 1937 for a “method and apparatus for processing potatoes.” That version was cited in P&G’s own patent on improving the taste of dehydrated spuds.
Sci-Fi Surprise: Gene Wolfe developed the machine that cooks Pringles. Wolfe later went onto to fame as a science fiction writer, winning the Nebula Prize, eight Hugo Award nominations and the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
A Chip By Any Other Name: The foodstuff was originally marketed as “Pringles Newfangled Potato Chips,” that is, until that government rascal, the FDA, interceded. The agency ruled in 1975 that the company must use the term “potato crisp” instead of “potato chip” because the government definition of “potato chip” required, well, that it be made of potato. Details, details.