On the market for more than 80 years, Spam — a canned product that mixes pork and pork — set record sales in 2021 for the seventh consecutive year.
The performance was announced Thursday (9) by Jim Snee, president of Hormel Foods, the US company that owns the brand, at an investor conference while releasing the group’s results for the quarter ending October.
Canned food was launched in 1937, and it’s a classic. Because it is inexpensive and has a very flexible shelf life, it was distributed by the ton during World War II, and was used to feed both American troops and European civilians from countries allied with the United States.
Its widespread consumption continued in the difficult years following the conflict, when many countries were trying to rebuild and food was not readily available.
Over time, “pork” has become synonymous with a cheap item in the West – but it has ended up becoming a delicacy in the Asia Pacific region, which partly explains the brand’s success in recent years.
Spam was brought to South Korea by the US military during the Korean War in the 1950s as an attempt to address food shortages during the conflict. South Korean culture has so absorbed canned foods that it has become an ingredient in one of the country’s favorite dishes: “bodae jijigae,” or “military soup.”
In the Lunar New Year, it is sold in shops and supermarkets as a luxury good, in special packages, which Koreans use as gifts.
Canned food also has a large market in the US state of Hawaii, where it is on the menu of many restaurants in the archipelago. It is eaten for breakfast with eggs and rice for example, and at other meals mixed with fried rice or as a type of sushi, ‘spam musubi’.
Spam boxes for sale in Seoul: canned goods sold as a luxury in some Asian countries – Photo: Ed Jones via BBC
The popularity that the brand gained after World War II would, years later, transform its name into a synonym for spam, junk mail.
The story, according to etymologist Graeme Donald, refers to a sketch of British humor group Monty Python from the 1970s, in which the couple go to a restaurant where each item on the menu contains spam as an ingredient. Although the woman makes it clear that she does not like canned food, the hostess repeats in a sharp voice: “Spam, spam, spam, spam …” in the scene.
The word was used as a synonym for spam and spam as a joke among Internet users in its infancy, but quickly became global, reports NPR Finn Brunton, author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (“Spam: A Secret History of the Internet”, in free translation).
Sunny said at an investor conference that the brand’s recent success, now in more than 80 countries, has prompted Hormel Foods to consider expanding the Spam family’s catalog of products, which should hit shelves in 2023.
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