Media Excavations: Chun King

I’d never seen the canned and frozen food magnate Jeno Paulucci until I found this ad in the Media History Digital Library.

According to Wikipedia:

Paulucci started more than 70 companies, according to Wikipedia.

During the 1940s, Paulucci developed the Chun King line of canned Chinese food products. In the 1972 book The Very, Very Rich and How They Got That Way, by Max Gunther, Paulucci was quoted as stating his motivation that, while he loved Chinese food, he found it too bland and thought it would benefit from a little Italian spicing. After making a batch and canning it, he took some samples to a supermarket executive to convince him to try it out, and to persuade him to stock it. On opening the can, Paulucci found, to his horror, that the top of the can’s contents included a whole, cooked grasshopper. Fortunately, the can had been opened in such a way that the lid was facing the executive, so that only Paulucci could see the contents. Thinking quickly, Paulucci told the executive, “This looks so good, I’m going to taste it myself.” He then took one of two spoons that were lying on the table, reached into the can, quickly dug out a heaping spoonful (which included the grasshopper) and ate it. (According to Paulucci, “It didn’t taste bad.” Roasted or deep-fried grasshoppers are a popular street snack in Mexico City.) He then offered the can to the executive, who sampled a separate spoonful, liked it, and placed a large order.

His version of Chinese food was heavily modified to better cater to the food preferences of European immigrants and some Americans of similar ethnic origins by the addition of Italian spices. Paulucci’s company became so successful selling canned chow mein and chop suey that President Gerald Ford quipped, “What could be more American than a business built on a good Italian recipe for chop suey?” when praising Paulucci accomplishments with Chun King.

By 1962, Chun King was bringing in $30 million in annual revenue and accounted for half of all U.S. sales of prepared Chinese food.

The Paulucci Space Theater, a planetarium in Hibbing named in Jeno’s honor, opened in 1980.

1 Comment


about 1 year ago

Jeno got his start selling canned rations to the army. Legend has it that another vendor had a bulk lot of canned goods fail inspection, so they were just buried. Jeno heard about it and dug them up under the cover of darkness. The cans were washed and relabeled and managed to pass inspection the second time around. He also sold a '59 Buick station wagon to my mom.

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