|Parent organization General Mills|
Pet, Inc., was an American company that was the first to commercially produce evaporated milk as a shelf-stable consumer product and later became a multi-brand food products conglomerate. Its signature product, PET Evaporated Milk, is now a product of The J.M. Smucker Company. PET Dairy is a regional brand of fresh and processed dairy products in the Southeastern United States made by the Land-O-Sun division of Dean Foods. Many of the remaining brands once owned by Pet, Inc. are currently part of General Mills.
Evaporated milk was a popular product before refrigerators were common in homes, but is now a niche product mainly used in baking and other recipes. PET anticipated the change, and transformed into a food products conglomerate through a series of acquisitions. It was also the subject of acquisitions, primarily due to its Old El Paso line, Progresso line, and other brands, and not because of the evaporated milk. Progresso soup cans presently maintain the copyright notice of Pet, Inc.
John Baptist Meÿenberg
John Baptist Meÿenberg (1847-1914) was an operator at the Anglo-Swiss milk condensery at Cham, Switzerland. Anglo-Swiss made sweetened condensed milk. From 1866 through 1883, Meÿenberg experimented with preservation of milk without the use of sugar. He discovered that condensed milk would last longer if heated to 120°C (248°F) in a sealed container, and hence could be preserved without adding sugar. When Anglo-Swiss declined to implement Meÿenberg's work, he resigned from the company and emigrated to the United States. John Meÿenberg first moved to St. Louis, but soon transferred to Highland, Illinois, due to its large Swiss population. On 25 November 1884, U.S. Patents 308,421 (Apparatus for Preserving Milk) and 308,422 (Process for Preserving Milk) were issued to Meÿenberg. Meÿenberg associated with various local merchants, including John Wildi, Louis Latzer, Dr. Knoebel, George Roth and Fred Kaeser and, on February 14, 1885, organized the Helvetia Milk Condensing Company.
The company commenced operations in a closed wool factory. Helvetia started processing 300 gallons of raw milk a day. On 8 July 1885, the steam-powered sterilizer exploded and Helvetia Milk Condensing Company closed operations for repairs. Milk canned in early 1886 spoiled. Although John Meÿenberg believed that cans were inadequately sealed, others claimed that Meÿenberg's sterilization process was the cause. Due to this criticism, Meÿenberg left in August 1886.
In 1899, Meÿenberg assisted Elbridge Amos Stuart in producing Carnation Evaporated Milk.
Louis Latzer assumed the role of technical director. He determined that the spoilage was caused by bacteria and resolved the problem. John Wildi was instrumental in marketing the product nationally and internationally, especially in areas where fresh milk or refrigeration were scarce. In 1895, the company registered the Pet trademark. In 1907, John Wildi separated from the company and organized the John Wildi Evaporated Milk Company in Columbus, Ohio. During World War I, American troops referred to a Helvetia milk can as a "Tin Cow". In 1923, the Helvetia Milk Condensing was renamed the Pet Milk Company after its signature product "Our Pet Evaporated Cream". In 1929, Pet established the PET Dairy division by acquiring a fluid milk processing plant in Johnson City, Tennessee.