Swiss Miss is a brand name for cocoa powder and pudding products sold by American food company, ConAgra Foods, Inc. Created with a blend of "dark European cocoa", Swiss Miss is a well-established brand of instant hot chocolate in America. It is available in regular and "no sugar added", with or without small marshmallows, Great Start Cocoa (fortified with 15 essential vitamins and minerals) and Pick-Me-Up (with 67 mg of caffeine/packet).
Born in Sciacca, Sicily, on May 21, 1883, Anthony Raphael Sanna was the first of his immediate family to come to America. At thirteen years of age, he boarded a ship in Naples and headed for New York to live with his aunt (Ellis Island Passenger Record). Though he had only a third-grade education, he eventually became an eloquent spokesman and national authority in the dairy industry.
As a teenager, A.R. Sanna worked in small cheese plants in New York State and also undertook unusual jobs such as auctioning boatloads of bananas in Savanna. On December 25, 1907—his only day off from work— Anthony Raphael Sanna married Anna Romano (formerly of Sorrento, Italy). They had five children: • Filippo Leon (Leon), born January 5, 1910, New York, NY (would marry twice and have six children and eleven grandchildren). • Bartelemeo Julio (Bartel), born January 12, 1913, New York, NY (would marry and have three children and six grandchildren). • Giovanna Violet (Jeannette), born May 23, 1915, Brooklyn, NY (would marry and have three children and five grandchildren). • Charles Albert, born November 9, 1917, Philadelphia, PA (would marry and have five children and five grandchildren). • Anthony Quentin, born September 15, 1920, Chevy Chase, MD (would marry twice and have six children and nine grandchildren).
By 1917, A.R. Sanna was managing a dairy company in Philadelphia—Lifter Company. When the owner, Mr. Lifter, died, Sanna arranged for the sale of the company to Abbott Alderny Dairies, a larger dairy firm. At the time, Abbot was delivering milk via horse and buggy along the woodblock streets of Philadelphia.
The following year Sanna was offered a job in Washington, DC, as manager of Chapin & Sax, an ice cream company. Sanna built a house in Chevy Chase, MD, and moved his family there in 1919. Son Charles recalled growing up with a variety of animals including dogs, chickens, and a mean pony. Pop, as they called their father, was a hobbyist gardener who loved working in his garden of roses and dahlias.
Soon after Sanna joined the company, Chapin & Sax was sold to Southern Dairies. Sanna was later involved in the eventual merger of Southern Dairies with a number of others to form the National Dairy Products Corporation (which included Rieck McJunkin Dairy of Pittsburgh and Hydrox Corporation of Chicago). National Dairies continued to purchase ice cream and dairy companies, and by 1926, it was operating in 1600 cities and towns. Eventually the corporation added Kraft Cheese (Kraft Foods), glass companies, and other food and associated businesses.
In the late 1920s, Sanna accepted the position of general manager of the gelatin division of Wilson & Company, a meat packing business located in Chicago. During this time he was on the road for two to three weeks at a time. With the Great Depression, Wilson & Company, along with so many other businesses, cut employment, and Sanna’s position was eliminated. According to Charles, “As kids we never knew he was having any problems. He never let it show.”
In 1929 A.R. Sanna moved his family to Minneapolis, MN, to establish a cream brokerage company with partner Aaron Gould. The two men obtained cream from dairy plants (primarily cooperatives) and brokered it to ice cream manufacturers. They soon established an ice cream company in Hutchinson, MN, which they named Crest Ice Cream Company. One of the many Crest products was specially molded ice cream figures such as Santa Clauses angels. Son Charles recalls tagging along as a little kid to watch his dad make the figures. During that time, the family lived in Minnetonka Beach on Lake Minnetonka, about twenty miles west of Minneapolis. They later moved to Minneapolis where the Gould office was located.
With a request from the Missouri Farmers Association (MFA) in 1931, Sanna again moved his family, this time to Springfield, MO, where he became involved with the production of a variety of farm products. In 1934 Henry Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, drafted Sanna into the government’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) to distribute surplus (price support) farm products to the needy.
In the ongoing depression, milk prices crashed—butter went down to ten cents per pound—and hard times led to a dairy farmer upheaval in Wisconsin, with strikes and the dumping of milk. Wallace sent Sanna to Madison to quell the disturbance. Accompanied by his son, Bartel, A.R. Sanna traveled throughout the state talking with farmers at cooperatives. The farmers liked what they heard and asked Sanna to manage their cooperative association, the Wisconsin Milk Pool. Sanna moved his family to the neighborhood of Shorewood on Madison’s west side. Within a year, Sanna built up the organization to incorporate volume purchase of tools and machinery needed by dairy operators so farmers would receive bargain prices. Eventually, the organization encompassed the upper floors of a building at One West Main Street on the capitol square.
Sanna had a life-long desire to go into business with his four sons, so in 1935, when he knew he had developed the Wisconsin Milk Pool to the extent that the farmers could manage it without him, he left to establish Sanna Dairy Engineers with his oldest son, Leon. Based in Superior, Wisconsin, the firm patented Sanalac, an all-dairy stabilizer to replace the use of gelatin (a meat by-product) in ice cream to prolong the shelf life of ice cream and keep it from shrinking or going “sandy” in the freezer. Bartel soon joined the company to manage sales.
The company thrived. With the onset of World War II, however, the ingredients for Sanalac became more difficult to obtain. In 1944 the company designed and built a milk receiving plant in Ridgeland, Wisconsin where Grade A milk (bottling quality) was assembled for shipment to Chicago. In order to maintain Chicago Grade A status, each participating farm, as well as the Ridgeland plant, had to be certified by the Chicago Board of Health. Because Sanna refused to take bribes, routine inspections were rigorous, and getting approval for new producer farms was difficult.
During that time, son Bartel maintained the Sanna Dairy Engineers cream brokerage business. In the shipment of cream in ten-gallon milk cans to southern points in the southeast, large quantities of ice were required. In view of the large quantity of cream being shipped daily, Sanna had to buy ice in ice house quantities. Prior to the availability of manufactured ice, lake ice was ut and stored in ice houses for human consumption throughout the summer. Sanna arranged for four to five cars of iced-down cream to be hooked onto passenger trains for rapid transfer to southern points daily.
In the meantime the company management expanded to include son-in-law Roland Eissfeldt, CPA, and son Charles, a mechanical engineer who was returning from a four-year war-time tour in the U.S. Navy. Son Tony, a chemical engineer, also returning from U.S. Navy war duty, soon followed, thus fulfilling A.R. Sanna’s dream of having all of his boys together in a family business.
In April 1946 the company purchased a condensed milk plant in Menomonie, WI from the Nestles Company. The plant had some 350 supplying dairy farms delivering approximately 300,000 pounds of milk daily. Sanna Dairies soon converted the plant into a cream and sweetened condensed milk operation, with the cream going to such places as the Campbell Soup Company, Hersey Chocolate Company, and the sweetened condense (nonfat solids) to a variety of ice cream companies. Excess product went to fill CARE packages.
After the war, the market for sweetened condensed milk dwindled, and Sanna Dairies sought to use the nonfat portion in some other profitable manner. Son Charles was called upon to design a world-class milk drier. Charles designed the world’s largest spray-drying facility of its day—a 60’ high by 15’ in diameter stainless steel drier in a ten-story building. Instead of importing the needed ceramics to line the drier, Charles provided specifications to a local brickworks in Menomonie and invigorated the town’s business. The drier allowed Sanna Dairies to produce and patent a nonfat milk product having the quality of bottled milk, which gave them a lead in grocery outlets. This product was also called Sanalac, but it was entirely different from the earlier product of that name meant for ice cream stabilization.
In 1947, to procure additional milk for the growing needs of consumer products, Sanna Dairies purchased a milk condenser in Vesper, WI, with an approximate intake of 200,000 pounds of milk per day from the Whitehouse Milk Company. Charles would later design and build a nine-story-high, sophisticated stainless steel spray drying facility at this location.
During the Korean War, using their growing knowledge in spray drying, Sanna Dairies began to take on orders for military subsistence products, primarily individual creamers and was soon packaging them by the millions. Because of its butterfat content, the base product was perishable and required gas packaging to hold a shelf life beyond a few months; at the time, only one other company in country was able to use gas packaging. The military contracts had a stipulation providing a monetary penalty for under filling; as a consequence, more base product was made for each contract than was packaged. Because excess product could not be used in subsequent contract, it began to fill the company’s warehouse.
Realizing the value of the warehoused product, Charles looked for the solution. Because of the sugar content, the product couldn’t be used for animal feed, but because of its excellent flavor, it could be used as a base for a tasty consumer product. He came up with the idea of hot chocolate. In the lab, he mixed the ingredients with cocoa, tested a variety of recipes with his own five children, then broadened testing to schools. He patented the end product, which Tony (who managed advertising) named Brown Swiss after a popular breed of Swiss dairy cow. It was the first powdered hot cocoa product that could be made with water rather than milk. (All Sanna Dairies products were made from milk from Holsteins, a breed of cows that produces a larger volume of milk and a lower butterfat content than other breeds.)
In the hands of the company’s institutional products sales department, Brown Swiss sales developed rapidly with product going primarily to airlines. Sanna Dairies was soon producing base product for Brown Swiss itself. In time, however, because the high level of butterfat made it highly perishable, and because of pilferage by airline personnel (the product was not available in stores or through other channels), sales dwindled. Charles reformulated the product, replacing the whole milk (high butter fat) with nonfat milk solids (powdered skim milk). The initial taste-testers were Charles’s five children, Charlene, Lucy, Mary, (James) Michael, and John Kevin. The new product had a long shelf life at a significantly reduced cost. Tony named the new product Swiss Miss.
Swiss Miss was readily embraced by the consumer grocery market, establishing a new grocery category—Cocoa Mix. The Sanna Dairies product was promptly followed by other cocoa marketers—Carnation, Nestles, Hersey and others—but their product required the addition of milk. Swiss Miss was the only formula that required the addition of only water. Swiss Miss sales grew rapidly. In spite of major brand competition, Swiss Miss sales remained at about 40% of national cocoa mix sales for many years.
At the same time, under the supervision of Bartel, Sanna Dairies engaged in contract packaging of government surplus nonfat milk powder. The packaged product was provided by the United States to hungry people throughout the world.
The company also experimented in a variety of ventures. To make use of the butterfat by-product, Sanna Dairies manufactured ice cream and experimented with ice cream stores. It also tested a number of dairy and non-dairy spray-dried products.
Butterfat was a valuable commodity. Son Charles built machinery to concentrate the fat, which Campbell Soup Company purchased to cream their soups. He also developed ice cream and opened an ice cream store behind the town movie house on Broadway. Son Bartel arranged for baggage cars to carry the ten-gallon milk cans filled with butterfat. To keep the cans cold, the company purchased ice houses—this was before the manufacturing of ice. They would cut ice and surround it with straw for shipping throughout the country, primarily for ice cream production. It was a profitable business which allowed Sanna Dairies to expand.
Sanna Dairies produced food products for the military, primarily dehydrated coffee creamer packaged in individual serving envelopes. The Army Quartermaster specified the recipe for a product called Sweetened Modified Dried Milk, basically, whole milk powder with sugar. The product—whole milk with sugar—had an excellent flavor but had a short shelf life because butterfat goes rancid at room temperature within several months. Because the oxygen content of ambient air is 21%, the oxygen content had to be reduced to 2.2%. Charles Sanna developed a procedure for filling envelopes with the required air content to extend product life for months and even years, depending on storage temperature.
Anthony Raphael Sanna died at his home in Madison in 1963 at the age of 79.
Over the years the company progressed in size, and also in name: from Sanna Dairy Engineers, to Sanna Dairies, to Sanna Inc. In June 1967, the company agreed to become part of Beatrice Foods, at which time it became Sanna Division of Beatrice Foods. Continuing in innovation, the Division developed additional successful products, such as Swiss Miss Puddings.
At the same time, Sanna Division developed an Industrial Products Division for the production and sale of spray-dried products to other companies. They developed a and produced dehydrated egg whites for such major brands as Pillsbury, Duncan Hines, and General Mills. As Charles remembered, “The test for cake-raising quality involved a special rotating oven in which angel food cakes were baked constantly, one every fifteen minutes. While drying egg whites, Sanna kept the village of Vesper supplied with angel food cakes.” Another customer was Tata Industries of India, who looked to Sanna to dry its instant teas. Companies asked Sanna to dry a number of test products, including tomatoes, coffee creamers, powered orange drink.
The Sanna brands have changed hands over the years. Today the Sanalac and Swiss Miss brands are owned by ConAgra Foods.