Archive for the ‘Wattie’s junior food’ Category

Man’s Best Trend: Commercialising Our Critters

In Aulsebrook's, Aulsebrook's biscuits, Biscats cat food, Bob Kurtz cartoonist, Bonzo dog food, Buffalo Puppy Cakes, Butland Industries, Champ pet food, Chef Jellimeat pet food, Chums pet food, Felix cat food, Fido Crunchies dog food, Fido dog food, Greg "Cat" Springer art director, Holmes pet food, J. Murray & Co pet food, Kitty cat food, Lucky pet food, Meat Packers NZ Ltd, Mellox Marvels, New England Fish Company (NEFCO), Pal pet food, Pet food, Pussy Puffs cat food, Thompson & Hill, Tux dog food, VIPets pet food, Wattie's baby food, Wattie's junior food, Whiskas pet food on March 10, 2013 at 10.46

Kitty Cat Food card pos poster 400 dpi 29 cm W copy watermarked copy

Kitty tinned cat food point-of-sale cardboard poster for a supermarket, late 1960s-early 1970s.



I’ve recreated this point-of-sale board from an auction that came up some time ago (but I didn’t win). I liked the simple, clean-cut (not to mention kischy) graphics and thought it would be another project to add to the “remake” list – “It’s an easy one” I said to myself, “not too much detail…”. Well, famous last words. It took a lot longer to recreate than I thought it would.

A couple of people seemed to remember it on supermarket shelves from the late 1960s to early 1970s, but only vaguely; and were unsure of whether it was actually a New Zealand brand or not, when it had first appeared – or even how long it was around.

J MURRAY & CO dog food ads copy

Buffalo Puppy Cakes – Evening Post, July 1926, and  Melox – Evening Post,  February 1927. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.


So while I was redrawing it, I looked around to see what I could find out about it – which was not much, until I stumbled across the online CV of an American company executive who listed having worked on Kitty cat food during his tenure developing the pet food division of an American company.

I think that Kitty was likely the creation of a long-standing US outfit named New England Fish Company (NEFCO), who were frantically building their pet food market and division in the 1960s, and by the early 1970s – had set-ups internationally including Asia. So I don’t think it was a domestic New Zealand manufacture or even a license – it was likely imported.

Kitty salmon tin dustincropsboy Flickr early 1970s

Kitty salmon tin, early 1970s. Image courtesy of  dustincropsboy on Flickr. 


Although J. Murray and Co were making both Mellox Marvels and Buffalo Puppy Cakes by the late 1920s in Wellington, Aulsebrook’s were making and selling food for dogs by the late 1930s at least, and Chums was available in stores by the mid 1940s – all appear to have been biscuits or at the most pellets of some form – specific food for pets was likely still seen as a bit silly as well as a superficial expenditure.

Pets generally got the meals scraps from the table and whatever else was handy at the time to supplement it. I’m not really sure when or why people got the idea that their non-human companions needed “special” food, but it seemed to have started to build just before WWI. Certainly it existed in Britain and the US a bit earlier than that but I don’t think the general idea of wet, canned pet food as a convenience was a thing until nearly the 1950s.

The Milwaukee Journal - Jan 27 1975 pg 10 Kitty cat food ad

Kitty Salmon advert, The Milwaukee Journal, USA, Jan 1975.


What the reasons are behind the advent of this industry is not something I’m really sure about and I can’t say that I’ve come up with what I think is a solid reason. The obvious one is simply advertising agencies suggesting it was an untapped market that could be built on to extract yet more money from unsuspecting customers. The increase in marketing of branded products could be a significant contributor, although that really started to build steam in the 1950s. I also thought about the juxtaposition between domestic animals as a practical requirement (think of the usefulness of cats and dogs to keep rodents and other pests under control, particularly in rural areas) and then – the trend turning to pampered pedigree luxury. I certainly think the enduring hardships of the Depression and then WWII rationing had an impact on the change of outlook when it came to all products.

I thought that probably the most plausible explanation for the explosion in the 1950s of pet food brands is the fact that the NZ government cut imports of some products by fifty percent in the mid-late 1950s. I have little knowledge the politics of import trade at the time. The obvious answer is it was put in place to foster the growth of domestic industries. Regardless, companies quickly responded to this; Wattie’s first launched their infant food line in 1958 in direct reaction – but already by 1955 they had established two brands of pet food – so this may or may not be the answer either.

Kitty Salmon ad still 1970s

A still of a Bob Kurtz cartoon from an early-mid 1970s Kitty cat food TV ad.


First were Felix for cats and Fido for dogs – those two brands are acknowledged to be the first domestically produced canned pet food. Then came Bonzo which was launched the following year. Fido Crunchies was introduced in 1967 and Chef Jellimeat and the ludicrously-named Pussy Puffs in 1969 (the latter quickly flopped, and was put on ice until the mid 1980s when it was re-introduced into the market as Biscats and was a roaring success second time around). The idea of the pet food line apparently had its roots in using up waste fish product; no import politics involved seemingly – however a salesperson who was involved in that industry at the time told me that “in the mid 1970s, we were only allowed to bring in about five hundred dollars worth of Whiskas and Pal pet foods a year – the import licence covered just a hundred cases of each per annum, from memory – which we sold in one lump to Woolworths, who had it in one or two flagship supermarkets.”
At this time both of those brands still came in from overseas. Also by 1959 –  major foodstuffs company of the time, Butland’s, had joined the market with the Champ range for both cats and dogs. By the 1960s there was Lucky by Meat Packers NZ Ltd, and in the 1970s, Holmes, and VIPets by Thompson & Hills Ltd joined them. Tux had been around for a while by then. So I’m not sure why imports were needed at that point – However this piece of information proves there were restrictions – and there may have been for some time. It seems that by around 1979 import restrictions were lifted across several categories.

Kitty canned salmon cats like salmon

A still from an early-mid 1970s Kitty cat food TV ad showing the range.


NEFCO was founded way back in 1868 – and by 1901 had changed from a co-op to an incorporated company. Kitty was probably launched sometime in the 1960s – quite late in the piece.The well-known cartoonist Bob Kurtz did a series of fun TV ads for them in the early 1970s that North Americans seem to remember well. You can see some of them here, here, and here.

However the short-lived brand was likely gone by the late 1970s. An art director who was around that time says – ” I heard the creator of these spots (Greg “Cat” Springer, who earned his nickname from this campaign ) speak at a meeting. He told us that, although the ads were wildly successful, and the product became an overnight sensation, Kitty failed quickly because cats wouldn’t eat it. “It made them gag,” he said. A caveat for all advertisers: Good ads don’t make good products.”

Although records show Kitty was still on the North  American market until at least 1977 –  through the decade the company went into decline due to various events including several serious law suits, and then eventually bankruptcy – filing for complete liquidation in 1980. In reality, Kitty probably only ever had a moment in Aotearoa.

CHUMS DOG BISCUITS Auckland Star  9 November 1944 Page 8

One of the earlier dog foods available in New Zealand on a commercial scale -Chums dog biscuits, Auckland Star, November 1944. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.


I think this item was likely just a board done by some local sign artist for a supermarket in the Invercargill area in the very early 1970s. Like many of these Kiwi items the dated graphics make it appear to be much older than it really is, which can be misleading when it comes to researching. It clearly had little to do with the brand’s official imagery. They probably simply said – “Right, we have this new shipment of cat food coming in to get rid of. Do a sign – we don’t care much what it looks like – just put a cute kitten on it, anything will do”. While seemingly not a product unique to the Antipodes – the graphics likely are.


Above and below: Champ canned dog and cat foods, from  Butland Industries, aka the Champ Pet Food Co (later sold to Wattie’s). In retrospect I now know the label below was designed by Bernard Roundhill – the Champ mascot “Skippy” was designed by him. I have also come to believe the label above with frolicking kitties is also a Roundhill Studios design. However I don’t think he actually designed the label himself, it’s not his style and he wasn’t really versatile enough to step out of his particular way of doing things, unlike other commercial artists of the time  such as Nobby Clark – who could range across several different looks depending on what suited a client or job – and still remain unique in every one.  If he did do this from scratch, I’d be pretty surprised. These labels circa 1959, private collection.a

CHAMP - CHAMP PET FOOD COMPANY - J R BUTLAND (dog food and cat food) 1950s EDIT copy




All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.


Addendum, mid Jan 2014: Two recent enamel advertising signs spotted that I thought suitable to add here. The Melox sign came up for auction on Ebay Australia. I mention Melox, made by J. Murray & Co of Wellington, above and there’s an advert posted. Seemingly it was an international brand being made under license, as now I have looked around I see references to it in other countries such as England. I was kind of interested to see this turn up in Oz but now I know the brand did not originate in New Zealand, it’s no surprise at all.  

MELOX DOG FOOD SIGN - poss by MELOX DOG FOOD - J MURRAY & CO Wellington edit smaller

Below that, a Tux enamel sign, courtesy of Mike Davidson collection. It probably dates from the 1950s. I have no earlier reference to Tux dog biscuits than the 1970s, however I am pretty sure it was around a lot longer than that. I don’t know if it originated with the Nestlé company (unlikely) but it seems to have been manufactured by them by the Seventies and then moved under a subsidiary of theirs – the “Animal Health Food Company” from 1992. As far as I am aware it’s still on supermarket shelves today. The same can’t be said of Melox (which maybe lives on in the animal pain med Meloxicam), or the cutesy Buffalo Puppy Cakes for that matter. Or Wattie’s freakily-named 1960s failure “Pussy Puffs.” Nope, that name was never going to work.

Tux Dog Biscuits (sign) ADD TO PET FOOD ARTICLE - prob 1950s Mike Davidson - smaller


The Packaging of Progeny: Wattie’s Baby Foods

In Defiance, Farex cereals, Glaxo Laboratories (NZ) Ltd, Heinz, Joseph Nathan and Sons, Robinson's, Sir Frederic Truby King, The New Zealand Plunket Society, Wattie Cannery Ltd, Wattie's, Wattie's baby food, Wattie's junior food, Wattie's-Plunket Society baby food on October 2, 2012 at 10.46

Wattie’s baby foods can labels over a number of years, from top: 1968-69/1972-73, 1966, 1968-69/1972-73, 1968-69/1972-73, 1958, 1966, and 1968-69/1972-73.


I realise that I have done probably ten or more posts on Wattie’s over the last couple of years, and I still haven’t gotten around to a “definitive” one. Well, it’s on the list, with quite a few other things – believe me. There is a lot of ground to cover on that brand but today I am just going to focus on the ranges of baby foods that they did.
There were various Brands of what was considered “infant foods” in New Zealand in the early days which usually went in hand-in-hand with what was dubbed “invalid food”.
From at least the 1860s onwards the popular and long-lasting Robinson’s brand, most famous for their lemon barley water – produced barley, groats, and also a mixture of both.

A still from one of the early Wattie’s baby foods ads, late 1950s.


It wasn’t until the 1890s-1900s that the concept of baby food and infant dietary supplements became a trend and brands like Mellin’s, Benger’s, Neave’s, Nestlé and Virol cropped up and hung around for a few decades into the 1930s-1940s. By the 1910s- 1920s, baked rusks for teething were becoming a popular idea specifically marketed to infants.
Probably the most popular and long lasting brand of all was Glaxo by Glaxo Laboratories (NZ) Ltd, which was created and made in Bunnythorpe in the Manawatu-Wanganui region when Joseph Nathan and Sons founded the factory in 1904 (starting out as Defiance brand dried milk powder and butter).

Wattie’s first launched their infant food line in 1958 in direct response to the government cutting imports of this product by half. The company immediately responded to this opening in the market with apple, prune and meat-based meals. By the following year, the baby line had nine varieties and the junior line seven.
So this was not a new concept in new Zealand; food specifically for babies. I don’t know what other brands were being brought in previously- I am taking a guess at Heinz for one.However Wattie’s can claim the first domestically produced line.

Wattie’s baby foods advertisement from a magazine, 1966.


Recently I was lucky enough to get hold of a rare booklet that was issued to introduce it to consumers, well – the mothers of consumers really. It doesn’t seem that it’s early days of this product going in store because the range is quite expansive – yet it appears to be around time that the product was first being produced in glass jars in addition to the two sizes of cans – so I would date it between 1960 and 1965.

You can see a page from the booklet shows the entire list in the first range which was actually fairly large, and comprised of two lines: baby foods (strained) and junior foods (chopped, for more mature infants).
The New Zealand Plunket Society was founded in 1907 in Dunedin by child health visionary, Sir Frederic Truby King – to help mothers improve infant malnutrition rates and prevent disease. Wattie’s worked with them and gained their official approval for the product – which of course was an immediate success as a result.

The line was regularly revised, changed and added to over the years with the products being introduced in jars in the mid 1960s, shown here in the advert I recently purchased. I’ve recreated both the labels from it. I’m pretty sure I remember the labels and in other colours as well, such as pink and orange, from the early-mid seventies. But I haven’t come across any yet, or maybe I’m remembering it wrong. It took ages just to get hold of the artwork for the baby’s head and I was able to revise my earlier attempt at recreating it here in May 2011


which was probably one of the first things that I actually made when I started this project. Looking back on it now I guess it is pretty bad – but I did the best that I could of the time with little material available and the couple of collectors I approached about it – being difficult about even answering whether they had any baby food labels, like it was some kind of state secret. Anyway finally the problem resolved itself.

Wattie’s relaunched the range as “Wattie’s-Plunket Society” in 1990. Over fifty years strong, the range continues to be produced today and comprises of over eighty varieties in the Baby and Organics ranges as well as additional lines of Heinz Simply and Little Kids, and also Nurture formulas and Farex cereals. Wattie’s continue to work closely with the society and and have created the ForBaby project and website resource.

Wattie’s “Lullaby” advert for their baby food line, early 1960s


A still from one of the early Wattie’s baby foods ads, late 1950s.