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Fabulous Food

SLIM JIMS

• Adolph Levis was only 16 when he dropped out of school and started selling spices and condiments to stores in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the Great Depression. In the 1940s he started a business in his garage, selling pickled cucumbers, cabbage, and pigs feet to delicatessens and taverns. Pickled pigs feet were a popular item at bars, but they were messy. Pepperoni was a top-selling item in taverns, but it too was messy to eat while also taking a long time to produce. One barkeep asked Adolph if he could invent a snack that was easier to eat and made less of a mess.

• Adolph considered the popularity of pepperoni. Working with a local meat packer, he developed a beef jerky stick that was smaller than a sausage. Unlike pepperoni, it could be cured within days rather than weeks through a process of fermentation and smoking. The meat was spiked with spices, fermented with lactic acid for 17 hours, and cooked for 20 hours.

• Because it was long and skinny, Adolph designed a logo depicting a tall thin man wearing a top hat and tails, which he hoped would impart an air of elegance to the product. The tall man was given a fictional name: “Slim Jim” which was also the name of the product. Its slogan was, “Make your next drink taste better.”

• The product was sold mainly in taverns, and barkeeps loved it because it was salty and increased sales of drinks. The meat sticks were stored in jars of vinegar, but later they were packaged individually in cellophane and sold in convenience stores.

• Most people think if them as a form of beef jerky, but the packaging calls them a "smoked snack stick." They are made from a concoction of beef, chicken, and pork meats, along with 30 different spices.

•  In addition to the predictably high dose of salt (one sixth of your daily amount), Slim Jims contain soy, wheat and corn.  The sausages, looped in 7,600-foot coils, are delivered by trolley to a set of 22 smoker ovens. Each oven is the size of a two-car garage. They are smoked for 20 hours, and then spritzed with an aerosol form of liquid smoke. The product is naturally grey in color, so sodium nitrite is added to maintain a brownish-red appearance.

•  In 1989 market research showed that teenage boys were a top consumer of Slim Jims, resulting in the snacks being moved into convenience stores, which now account for over half of Slim Jim sales.

•  From 1993 to 2000, advertising for the product included outrageous commercials that featured professional wrestler "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who served as spokesperson. Each commercial would feature Savage bursting in on some dull situation and livening it up with the power of Slim Jims. The ads would close with Savage bellowing "Need a little excitement? Snap into a Slim Jim!"

• In 2005, Slim Jim advertising featured the Fairy Snapmother, described in a ConAgra press release as "a character resembling a tattooed rocker with wings - and a familiar MTV-type of humor young males enjoy."

•  Adolph sold his company to General Mills for $20 million in 1967, and lived to the age of 89, dying in 2001.

•  Now owned by ConAgra, over 500 million Slim Jims are distributed worldwide annually. That’s enough to circle the globe twice. Annual revenues top $575 million.

•  Today there are 21 different flavors of sticks to enjoy including the original and mild flavors, beef and cheese, bacon, turkey, chili, honey barbecue, and more.