September 17, 2009

Adventures in vintage advertising: Green Giant Vegetables

Perhaps I was the odd child out, for there was nary a vegetable that I wasn’t a fan of while growing up. While my young relatives and peers found creative ways to mask carrots in crumpled napkins, slip beets to the dog, or feign being too full to possibly consume another bite of squash, I was tucking to my plate of broccoli with almost as much excitement as had it been chocolate cake.

While few things match the culinary experience of freshly harvested veggies, the advent of modern food preservation methods over the past two centuries has helped to ensure that good quality, nutrient rich vegetables are available all year long.

One of the best known and most widely available brands of canned and frozen vegetables is Green Giant, who are perhaps as famous for their hulking verdant mascot the Jolly Green Giant, as they are for the vast assortment of vegetables they package and sell to consumers the world over.

Whenever I buy an item from a brand I know has existed for numerous decades, I find myself joyful over the thought that I’m purchasing something that my grandparents and perhaps even great-grandparents also stocked their home with. I love this sense of a living connection to the past through items that are available to the modern shopper. When picking up a tin of Green Giant sweet peas, I can easily image some distant, beautifully dressed relative from the 1940s doing exactly the same thing on her weekly grocery shopping trip. Such thoughts are entirely nostalgic, I know, but I am of the nostalgic ilk after all.

Green Giant is currently owned by food conglomerate General Mills, but when this brand started out in 1903 it was known as the “Minnesota Valley Canning Company” and specialized in sweet corn. During the 1920s the name Green Giant was introduced to help promote green peas, and by the 50s the brand as a whole had taken on this moniker.

Instantly recognizable as one of North America’s most well known advertising mascots, the Jolly Green Giant appeared on the scene in 1928 (he was named after a variety of large peas called Green Giant). In 1953 this friendly, emerald hued fellow (who, while not the most talkative chap around, is famed for his cheerful “Ho, ho, ho” slogan) made his TV commercial debut and has since stared in a bushel of commercials over the decades, not to mention cardboard standees and vinyl banners in grocery stores, as well as remaining a staple in Green Giant print ads.

In the 1970s the JGG was given a sidekick in the form of a smaller, younger – and rather adorable – green giant named Sprout.

Today Green Giant produces a wide range of vegetable (and fruit) products, from classic canned veggies to frozen side dishes such as mixed vegetable medleys and “steam in the bag” varieties like broccoli with cheese sauce and cut green beans, as well as fresh produce like asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes and kiwi fruit.

In this post however, we’re going to peer back at the older days of Green Giant through some of the companies ads from the mid-twentieth century. Whether you’re a niblet fan or a lover of green peas, there’s sure to be an advertisement below that brings back fond memories or makes you think of the Green Giant commercials and ads that you’ve seen throughout your life.

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{The iconic Jolly Green Giant holds up an equally mammoth ear of corn as rays of sunlight shine around him in this serene and beautiful 1939 advert.}

{This cute ad for peas from 1957 has a sweet hand-drawn quality to it and features a Jolly Green cupid character who strikes me as being something of a precursor for Sprout. Image from}

{An elegantly dressed family sits down to dinner with the Jolly Green Giant – who sports a black bow tie – in this 1953 ad, which showedcased the brand’s range of products at the time.}

{This 1950s ad promotes the fact that each can contained two pounds of fresh-picked peas, which makes me think that it was a larger sized can that the ones on shelves today – at least in my neck of the woods.}

{It’s “summer in a can” according to this wonderfully Normal Rockwell-esque example of a tinned corn ad from 1947.}

{The Jolly Green Giant flashed his pearly whites while totting a hefty sized pea pod in this 1955 ad for sweet peas which ran in Family Circle magazine.}

{Famed TV and radio personality (and fellow Canadian!) Art Linkletter lent his image to this 1951 ad for creamed golden sweet corn and Mexican Niblets (corn with diced red and green peppers).}

{A lovely wreath of pods encircle a tin of peas in this festive holiday themed ad from 1951.}

{A sharply dressed young mother watches over two baby carriages, one containing a can of creamed corn, in this charming 1952 ad.}

{This adorable double page ad for sweet peas invited shoppers to send in $2.50 along with proof of purchase if they wanted to take home a darling “Country Girl” doll clad in an outfit featuring an apron with the Jolly Green Giant splashed across it. I’d imagine that this doll is now quite a collectors item.}

{All images above, except for the one example which was denoted otherwise, are from Flickr. To learn more about a specific image, please click on it to be taken to its respective page.}

For even more fantastic vintage Green Giant, be sure to swing by the Gallery of Graphic Design to the collection featured there.

The Green Giant brand is ensconced in both the past and present history of store bought vegetables and canned goods. Their products are tasty, reliable, and as the company’s classic 1930s slogan chimed, they’re “Picked at the fleeting moment of perfect flavour”, making these veggies the perfect year-round staples to have on hand.

Do you have a favourite – past or present – Green Giant product? I for one have always been a big fan of their creamed corn. I know how to make this dish from scratch and often do, but there is still something comforting and wonderful about opening up a tin and eating it by the spoonful (call me odd, but I like really like room temperature or cold cream corn, especially alongside other piping hot foods).

What do memories of Green Giant products, ads, and the friendly mascot duo of the Jolly Green Giant and Sprout, bring to mind for you?


  1. Wow. These are so cool. I love vintage ads. I remember Green Giant. I can always remember the commercials I would see for it when I was growing up. Fantastic post. Hope you're doing well today. Cheers!

  2. Great post again! I love vintage ads they seem to have more thought and artistry compared to its contemporaries. The 1957 "coloured in" ad is eye catching indeed!

  3. As a child, I used to be afraid of the picture of the "Green Giant". Now that's the only giant I turn to for canned corn and frozen veggies :)

    Thank you for stopping by my blog, I hope to see you again soon :)

  4. It is always such a pleasure to visit with you! Your posts are always so interesting and well written. I have to admit that you just made me feel quite old...I remember some of these ads!

    I adore the simple and wholesome way they used to advertise and the graphics are fabulous!

    I grew up in a Green Giant home and you just brought back many found memories. I used to drop my peas in my milk glass...yucky peas, don't like them to this day!


  5. Wow! Jessica! You did your homework on the Jolly Green Giant ;o)

    Love reading your posts! and learning such great facts and info.

    I was one of the vegetable-in-the-paper crumplers (funny, that I thought my parents wouldn't notice the napkin flowers so prettily placed around my plate like a wreath!), and also slipped them to our pup.

    But somewhere along the picky-eating habits flew out the door! I love food! just about any thing. Love Vegetables!!! ( waistline would probably be better off, if I was a wee bit picky...

    Thanks again for a wonderful post!
    Blessings & Aloha!

  6. You ate your vegetables?! Such a good girl ;) I could never abide lima beans

  7. I seriously want a wreath just like that!!!!

  8. What an odd coincidence!
    Today - well... yesterday, actually, being 00:13 a.m. there - I've been demonstrating, walking between farm tractors and damp straw sheafs (that smelled like crashed daisies) - for an agricultural trade-union: and I've been drawing and painting fruits and vegetables on posters all day, and waving a white, red and green flag with a ladybug on it, and taking photos of a colorful hot air balloon with "agriculture" written on it!

    .... No, I'm not a fanatical environmentalist: it's just that my dad works for the above mentioned ladybug syndicate (that occasionally put me to work, too, but without paying me), and I was recruited as an unskilled laborer!

    So, while I was eating unripe pears (I love pears, they look like they're watercoloured! :D) and sketching beetroots and corncobs, you were writing a funny and lovely post on vegetables! Funny!

    ... Ok, ok, don't worry, that's enough now. I'm through saying incoherent things about corn and hot air balloons. Really.
    I do.

  9. Cute post! Green Giant products are a regular staple in my household! lol!


  10. I love this post Jessica! Reminds me of mom. I was always the weird kid with alfafa sprouts in my sandwich and carrots instead of chips. Everyone would say eew! At the lunch table. She never let me have soda or candy. And you bet I had greens at every dinner! But I love broccoli too. Especially the stems :)

  11. Oh loved the ads, I liked the first best till I saw the third!

    Have a lovely day,

  12. I remember the JGG and I found him rather disturbing, but then I found a lot of things disturbing in the 60s! (Which probably explains my fascination with that era...) Memories of me sitting looking at the canned green (grey) beans on my plate and really being prepared to sit all night, if necessary, in order to avoid eating them!

    I love vegetables now! lol

  13. Corn is always a favorite for us! That one with him sitting at the fancy dinner is too funny!

  14. ooh, thank you for the walk down memory lane! I, too, have always loved vegetables. :)

  15. Great post! As someone from Minnesota, the Jolly Green Giant is all over the place. Very fond memories of it. Thanks for the post!

  16. @ Keith, thank you very much! I remember Green Giant ads from my childhood, too, but they weren't nearly as cool as these vintage ones (being a child of the 80s, I mean, I wasn't around when ads like these terrific ones debuted).

    @ Pink Flower, I agree entirely, ads of yesteryear had a host more appeal than those today due to their thought and artistry, wonderful point, my dear.

    @ Berline Deluxxe, you're very welcome! Thank you in turn for your comment, honey!

    @ Karyn, you are so deeply kind, thank you very much, honey. Don't feel old for a moment, I wish (!!!) I had been around when ads this fantastic came out. I had to deal with the mass marketing scourge of the 80s as my first memories pertaining to commercial advertising ;D

    @ Personalized Sketches, thank you very much, you're so sweet! History and English were my favourite classes growing, so I always relish the opportunity to combine them both in my writing (blog or otherwise) these days.

    How awesome that over time you morphed into a veggie lover! I've had veg on the mind all week for some reason, so I wrote this post and also had a blast photographing all the vegetables I had on hand.

    @ Sher, awww, thank you very much! You know what, limas were one of the few that I actually detested (still do - the texture just does not jive with me for some reason). I've avoided them for so many years now, I forgot about not liking them as a child ;P

    @ Ms. B, that would be wonderful, I agree! Fresh pea pods tend to have a short life span, but I think that one could make such a wreath and use it for a couple of days. It would be gorgeous!

    @ PaperDoll, thank you for sharing that coincidence with me/us, dear soul. I'm sure your hand drawn posters are wonderful and do a lot to help cause you're protesting.

    (I adore pears so much too, they are perpetually one of my favourite fruits.)

    @ Syd, thank you, sugar! GG items are commonplace on this end, too! I always love having creamed corn, French cut and yellow waxed beans on hand :)

    @ Simply Colette, darling, I think we would have been such good friends if we'd gone to the same school. I adored having sprouts in my sandwiches (still do!), and wasn't privy to much in the way of sweet treats, either. I'm actually glad for this point, it really helped me to make wise food choices as I got older. (So cool, I love broccoli stems, too! Salads made from them are warm weather staples at my house.)

    @ Dustjacket Attic, thank you very much, my dear friend. I think the Christmas wreath one if my fave, but I agree, the first one is so gorgeous.

    @ Lidian, I think that most people share your sentiments about having elements of the decade they grew up in scare them a tad, only to later go on and love those same things (great point!).

    Oh dear, I would have come to your rescue, green beans were a childhood fve of mine, especially the French cut ones :)

    @ Maggi, isn't it wild? I love the idea of marketing canned veggies to such a refined target audience.

    @ Rapunzel, you're very welcome, my fellow lifelong veggie fan! :)

    @ Amanda, how cool that you hail from the JGG's home state! Have you ever seen the huge statue of him in person?

    Thank you so very much for your wonderful comments, everyone. It was tons of fun to wander through the Jolly Green Valley of vintage ads with you all :)

    Big hugs & joyful weekend wishes, everybody!
    ♥ Jessica