Postum, once a popular coffee substitute in many Adventist homes, was discontinued more than a decade ago. A new company was formed to bring it back, and a full-page ad will appear next month in the Adventist Review as senior vice president Peter Hwang works to regain the Adventist market.
Question: Postum, the roasted-grain beverage once popular as a coffee substitute, was discontinued in 2007. But it was reintroduced five years ago, and you are working to get the word out to more potential Postum-drinkers. Please tell us a little bit about the history of Postum and how it came back to the market.
Answer: The history of Postum dates back to over 120 years. It was the first product of the Postum Company that was started back in 1895 by CW Post.
This company went on to become the Postum Cereal Company, which eventually grew to be General Foods. It merged with Kraft Foods, becoming Kraft General Foods. It eventually merged with Heinz and became known as Kraft Heinz.
The Post Cereal division was sold to RalCorp. This is when some products were dissolved. They weren’t sure how to position Postum. Was it a breakfast cereal? Was it to be sold in the coffee aisle?
Can you tell us more about CW Post? How did he come to create Postum?
CW Post had numerous health related issues during his adulthood. In 1891 his wife Ella, along with their four-year-old daughter Marjorie, went to Battle Creek, Michigan, to check him into the Kellogg sanitarium to see if they could help him. He actually arrived on a stretcher.
Upper-class Americans in the midwest would go to the sanitarium to relax and live a healthy lifestyle. CW did not improve, and he moved into a boarding house owned by a Seventh-day Adventist in town. She taught CW all about healthy eating, keeping a healthy mind, and the dangers of caffeine. He was “cured,” and after he left, he started to experiment on how to create a product to replace coffee.
After numerous attempts, on January 1, 1895, he came up with what he felt was the right blend of ingredients and named the product Postum. His first attempts at trying to market it to local grocers failed. He didn’t give up and aggressively began advertising it in local publications.
Orders started to come in and the company grew rapidly. Not satisfied with the success of Postum, in 1897 CW Post invented Grape-Nuts. He gave the cereal that name because of the grape smell the product has when in the hoppers in the plant. He advertised Grape-Nuts as a wholesome way to provide a family with a good nutritious breakfast without all the work.
In 1904 he created Post Toasties, which is a corn flake. Toasties was sold for over 100 years in the southern and western states, but the plant could not keep up with production of Honey Bunches of Oats (which uses Toasties flakes), so the company stopped making Toasties as a stand-alone product. Now Toasties are just made in-house to be used in Honey Bunches of Oats.
CW was most happy when inventing things. It kept his brain active. His passion was to create and sell products that were not only tasty but also healthy and nutritious for everyone to enjoy.
At its most popular, how much Postum was being sold? And was that during World War II when coffee was harder to obtain?
In 1949, Postum sales reached $500 million. By 1956, Postum was sold in 71 countries.
Do you know what the sales of Postum was at the time it was discontinued?
Around $14 million per year.
And what are sales like now?
We did a little over $750,000 last year and are on track to do close to $1 million this year. Hopefully, we are just getting started.
The Postum name and the secret recipe are now owned by Eliza's Quest Food. What else does Eliza's sell? How did Eliza's come to acquire Postum?
Eliza's Quest Foods only manufactures and sells Postum. It acquired the trade secret and trademark from a small company that convinced Kraft to release them after years of protests from Postum lovers when the product was discontinued.
Eliza's Quest Foods was started by June and Dayle Rust who were teachers in North Carolina. They noticed blogs and petitions asking Kraft to bring Postum back and were surprised that hundreds of thousands of Postum customers were just as disappointed as they were that it was taken off the market. Research and development actually began in their home kitchen before they officially acquired the trade secret.
How many employees does Eliza's have?
Five in-house employees. We outsource most of our services, including manufacturing, for the time being.
How much Postum are people buying now? Is the Original flavor the most popular, or is it the newer cocoa or coffee-flavored versions?
Our sales have increased each year by 20%. The Original Flavor is still the most popular, but the Coffee Flavor and Cocoa Blend products are starting to grow. Many of our loyal customers enjoy mixing their Postum with cocoa to drink as a warm beverage or enjoy it as a cold, blended drink to have during the summer months.
Original Postum accounts for roughly 60% of sales while the Coffee Flavor is around 25% of sales, and Postum Cocoa Blend is 15% of sales.
Who are Postum drinkers? Who is your market? People who don't believe in caffeine? Who can't tolerate caffeine? I believe Mormons and Adventists (both of whom traditionally didn't drink coffee) were previously the biggest consumers?
Our customer base ranges from long-time devoted Postum drinkers who have fond memories of drinking Postum with their parents or grandparents to the younger generation who were introduced to Postum by family members. Postum was a staple in many homes.
Postum drinkers are people who are health conscious. A good portion of our customers are people who do not or cannot drink caffeine or who want to cut caffeine from their diet. Many vegans and vegetarians do not drink coffee because the acid irritates their stomachs. Postum is pH balanced and actually soothes the stomach.
Even coffee drinkers who enjoy a non-caffeinated drink in the afternoons or evenings are choosing Postum over the other coffee-alternative products sold on the market today.
While Seventh-day Adventists and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are very loyal Postum drinkers, they are not the only people who drink Postum. The largest group of customers are those who are health conscious and want a delicious beverage that contains no caffeine and does not irritate their stomachs.
How are you marketing to Adventists and Mormons?
We are very grateful for the long-term love and support we have received from the Mormons and Adventists. The Mountain West has been our largest market for the past few years due to the large LDS population in that area. We were live on Studio 5 with Brooke Walker and Good Things, Utah, two popular morning shows in Salt Lake City, Utah.
We currently have six Adventist distributors throughout the U.S. that distribute our products to the local Adventist businesses, including ABC Stores, Village Market, Loma Linda Market, and other local health food stores. We have a full-page ad coming out in the May and June 2018 issues of the Adventist Review, plus 100,000 web impressions. We continually work very closely with the Adventist distributors in offering promotions to pass along to customers, such as regional campmeeting specials and other quarterly specials throughout the year.
Coffee has continued to rise in popularity — does this actually benefit Postum?
Just like coffee will always be around, there will always be a market for Postum. Many customers want a hot or cold coffee alternative product. Postum was and always will be considered a healthy beverage and will be sought after by those seeking to reduce caffeine intake or remove it completely from their diet. Postum is the Original Coffee Substitute since 1895, and unlike other substitutes, our product does not contain barley or chicory. It has a smoother taste that is created from roasted wheat, bran, and molasses.
What other products are in development? Will you make a version of Postum that people can make in their Nespresso machines or other fancy coffee makers?
We currently have the 8 oz. retail jars, 42 oz. wholesale/food service jars, and a 5g single-serving packet that comes 50 per pack. We have tossed around the idea of a Keurig Cup possibly for the future.
Where is Postum being manufactured? How has the original recipe or method of making it changed?
Postum is manufactured in Indiana in a modern facility that still has access to similar equipment that was used in the original Postum plant. The trade secret is still used. The only change is that Eliza’s Quest Foods took out maltodextrin from corn because this ingredient is potentially a GMO product. Maltodextrin has no flavor and only contributed to darkening the roast. It has been replaced by a non-GMO wheat starch. We feel this is a healthier option. The Postum sold today continues to have the same aroma and flavor as the original product created by CW Post.
Postum was known decades ago for its clever advertising campaigns. Can you describe some of your favorite ads?
The old Postum ads were priceless. We still use some of them in our current advertising because customers continue to love seeing them. Our favorite ad was an article CW Post ran in Life Magazine titled "Why Real Men Crack," focusing on the adverse side effects of coffee consumption. Other favorites include “The Woman Who Cares." This one shows a wife serving Postum to her husband with a scientific explanation why coffee is so bad for your health. There are many more.
What kind of advertising are you utilizing now? How are you getting the word out?
We are focusing on all forms of advertising from television lifestyle morning shows, television commercials, radio, magazines and newspapers to online impressions, online marketing, and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
How did you come to work at Eliza's Quest Foods? Are you the only Adventist employee?
I met June and Dayle Rust at a Food & Beverage Show. I was there exhibiting another product of mine, and they had a Postum booth. I remembered the brand from growing up in an Adventist home, and I had confidence I could help them grow the business and the brand by leveraging my background in the food and beverage industry over the past 15 years. They brought me on to join the team, and I am currently the Senior Vice President of Eliza’s Quest Foods, LLC.
I have been involved in sales my entire career. I have had a strong desire to do sales for as long as I can remember. My first job out of college was for a technology services company where I was an information technology (IT) recruiter or headhunter. Though I had zero experience in technology, they saw potential in me and were willing to train me.
In the late 1990s, dot com companies were appearing everywhere. Investors were lining up to throw money at ideas. There were too many jobs and not enough talent. It was a very good time to be in IT.
However, once the IT bubble started to nosedive in the early 2000s, I wanted to try something new. So I decided to go to South Korea in 2003. I leveraged my bilingual skills along with my love of sales and approached U.S. and international manufacturers in the food and beverage industry, and that’s when my career in international trading began. This then eventually led me to manufacturing and branding products of my own, focusing mainly on natural foods and beverages. All products that I manufacture, sell, or distribute are either non-GMO or organic.
I am currently the only Adventist at Eliza’s Quest Foods. June and Dayle are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons. They are both very good people. I am thoroughly enjoying partnering with them and playing a key role in bringing Postum back to all of our loyal customers.
What products have you manufactured and branded yourself? Are you still selling them?
I specialize in organic and non-GMO products from fruit and vegetable juice/purees, concentrates, fruit and vegetable powders, natural peanut butter/almond butter, instant breakfast “real oat” oatmeals, and natural seasonings/ingredients. I have an all-natural liquid meat tenderizer that is derived from the enzyme, found in the papaya fruit, called papain. This product helps break down the protein molecules. Most papain found on the market comes in a powder and has a very strong odor. However, our product is a liquid, and it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.
You are head elder at the Atlanta-Korean Seventh-day Adventist Church in Duluth, Georgia. Do church members that you know drink coffee? Are they interested in Postum?
I was the head elder for the past four years at the Atlanta-Korean SDA Church. I am aware some Adventists these days are drinking coffee. However, I have been doing my best to introduce or reintroduce them to Postum. Many did not even know Postum was still available.
More and more younger people who never heard of it before are becoming interested in Postum. People wanting to reduce their caffeine intake or completely cut out caffeine are amazed at the smooth taste of Postum. Some who are sensitive to caffeine and can only drink it in the mornings can now enjoy a warm and tasty beverage in the afternoons or evenings and not have to worry about being unable to fall asleep at their normal hours.
Peter Hwang is senior vice president of Eliza's Quest Foods. Hwang graduated from Georgia-Cumberland Academy in 1993 then attended Southern Adventist University and graduated in 1997 with a BA in public relations and a minor in business.
See Postum.com for more information about its history and where to buy it. Photos courtesy of Postum.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
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