Sara Lee has had a rich history, starting with Nathan Cummings' 1939 purchase of the C.D. Kenny Company, a small wholesale distributor of sugar, coffee and tea in Baltimore.
In 1942, Sprague, Warner & Company is purchased, and the corporation moves its headquarters to Chicago and changes its name to Sprague Warner-Kenny Corporation.
1946 saw the company’s common shares admitted to trading on the New York Stock Exchange - and the stock splits three-for-one. Eight years later, stockholders voted to change the corporation’s name to Consolidated Foods Corporation to emphasize its diversified role in food processing, packaging and distribution.
In 1956 the corporation acquires Kitchens of Sara Lee and enters the retail food business by acquiring 34 Piggly Wiggly supermarkets.
1962 saw another acquisition, Jonker Fris, a Dutch producer of canned goods and the corporation’s first full-scale overseas acquisition.
Expansion continued in 1966 with the acquisition of Oxford Chemical Corporation, the corporation’s first non-food company, and E. Kahn's Sons Company, our first meat company. Consolidated Foods’ sales topped the $1 billion mark the next year.
1968 featured the acquisitions of Bryan Foods, Inc., entrance into the direct sales market through the purchase of Electrolux, the apparel industry with the acquisition of Gant and Country Set and the women’s intimate apparel market with the purchase of Canadelle.
Acquisitions continued with the purchases of Aris Gloves (later renamed Aris Isotoner) in 1969, Hillshire Farm and Rudy’s Farm in 1971 and Erdal, a Dutch company later re-named Intradal, the corporation’s entrance into the personal care business
John Bryan was named chief executive officer in 1975 and chairman of the board in 1976.
In 1978, the corporation acquired Chef Pierre, a manufacturer and distributor of frozen prepared desserts, and made an initial investment in Douwe Egberts, a Dutch coffee and grocery company. This was followed the next year with several acquisitions, including Hanes, a manufacturer and marketer of women's hosiery, foundation garments and swimwear, men's and boys' underwear and cosmetics (brands included L'eggs, Bali, Hanes, L'erin); Superior Tea and Coffee Company, nationwide distributor of coffee, tea and related products for the foodservice industry; and Gallo Salame, Inc., manufacturer of Italian dry sausage products.
The 1980s began with the purchase of Spanish household products company, Productos Cruz Verde. Consolidated Foods’ annual sales reached $5 billion. 1984 saw the acquisition of Jimmy Dean Meats, manufacturer of various meat, food and leather products, as well as Nicholas Kiwi Limited, an Australian-based manufacturer and marketer of personal, household, shoe and car care products and home medicines.
In 1985, the corporation changed its name to Sara Lee Corporation to reflect the consumer marketing orientation of the company and the high-quality, well-known branded products it marketed throughout the world.
The rest of the decade featured more acquisitions, including Bil Mar Foods, a major producer of turkey products; Champion Products, a manufacturer of professional-quality knit athleticwear; Van Nelle, a Dutch company active in coffee and tea; and Hygrade Food Products, manufacturer of hot dogs, luncheon meats, bacon and ham (including the Ball Park hot dog brand). In 1988 the corporation reached the $10 billion sales mark.
The 1990s were ushered in with the acquisitions of Playtex Apparel, Inc., an international manufacturer and marketer of intimate apparel products, and Rinbros, a manufacturer and marketer of men's and boys' underwear in Mexico, in 1991.
In 1994 annual sales reached $15 billion, and in 1997 the corporation purchased French meats company Aoste, Italian intimate apparel manufacturer Lovable Italiana S.p.A., and French manufacturer of bakery products Brossard France S.A.
Net sales reached $20 billion in 1998, and the next year the corporation acquired Wechsler Coffee, Chock full o'Nuts and Continental Coffee. Two years later, Sara Lee acquired Hills Bros., MJB and Chase & Sanborn, the retail coffee brands from Nestlé USA and Café Pilão, the No. 1 coffee company in Brazil.
Also in 2000, Sara Lee started to narrow the company’s focus on a smaller number of global branded consumer packaged goods segments - Food and Beverage, Intimates and Underwear, and Household Products. As a result, the corporation divests PYA/Monarch, Champion Europe, Coach, the International Fabrics division of Courtaulds and its international bakery businesses in France, India, China and the U.K.
In 2001, Sara Lee acquired St. Louis-based The Earthgrains Company, the No. 2 player in the U.S. bakery market, and a major European bakery company. C. Steven McMillan succeeded John H. Bryan as chairman and CEO of Sara Lee Corporation.
2002 featured the debut of the Senseo coffeemaker by Douwe Egberts and Philips Electronics in the Netherlands. In the same year, Douwe Egberts introduced the Cafitesse line of liquid coffee systems, Sara Lee’s proprietary liquid coffee concentrate system.
In 2003, Douwe Egberts coffee celebrated its 250th anniversary.
Brenda C. Barnes was named president and chief operating officer of Sara Lee Corporation in 2004. The Senseo coffee system is launched in the United States, the United Kingdom and Denmark.
In February 2005, the company began executing a bold and ambitious multi-year plan to transform Sara Lee into a company focused on its food, beverage, and household and body care businesses around the world. To support that focus, Sara Lee announced plans to dispose of approximately 40 percent of the company’s revenues, including its apparel, European packaged meats, U.S. retail coffee and direct selling businesses.
In addition, as part of the transformation, Sara Lee organized its operation around its customers, consumers and geographies to better serve the ever-changing global marketplace.
Brenda C. Barnes was named president and chief executive officer of Sara Lee Corporation in 2005, and the corporation announced it selected a Downers Grove, Ill., location as the new company headquarters, which will house the company’s North American operating businesses and the majority of Sara Lee’s corporate staff.
2005 also saw the debut of Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain White Bread, which continues to deliver white-bread taste with whole-grain nutrition. In October, Brenda C. Barnes succeeded C. Steven McMillan as chairman of Sara Lee Corporation. The year ended with the sale of Sara Lee’s direct selling business to Tupperware.
2006 featured the divestiture of Sara Lee’s European meats and European branded apparel businesses. In addition, the corporation spun-off to its shareholders the Branded Apparel, Americas/Asia, business, into a separate, publicly traded company called Hanesbrands Inc.
Including the spin-off, Sara Lee raises more than $3.7 billion in proceeds as part of the company’s transformation plan. In addition to the monetary benefits, the company is now tightly focused on its core businesses -- food, beverage, and household and body care.
In 2008, Sara Lee Corporation acquired Café Moka, a family-owned coffee business located in the São Paulo metropolitan area in Brazil.
In April 2009, Sara Lee opened its new North American research and development center of excellence, The Kitchens of Sara Lee, at the campus of the company’s Downers Grove, Ill. headquarters. The 120,000-square-foot facility houses more than 100 research and development professionals, including chefs, scientists, engineers and packaging designers. This marks the first time the company has had all of its North American food and beverage research and development capabilities under one roof.
In 2010, Sara Lee Corporation acquired Café Damasco, a coffee business based in the southern region of Brazil.
In 2010, the company divested its International Household and Body Care businesses in order to focus on its core categories of food and beverage.
In January 2011, Sara Lee Corporation announced its intent to split the company into two pure-play, publicly-traded companies. The company also named Marcel Smits as chief executive officer.