Four Nebraska flour mills joined forces in the early part of the last century, then went on to grow into a Fortune 500 company, now known as Conagra Brands, that sells some of the country’s biggest food brands.
Some key dates in history:
1905 and before: Several brands that will one day be owned by Conagra Brands make their debut, including Hunt’s tomatoes (1890), Wesson cooking oil (1899) and Hebrew National hot dogs (1905).
1919: Four Nebraska flour mills — Henry Glade Milling, Ravenna Mills, Hastings Mills and Blackburn-Furry Mill — consolidate and incorporate as Nebraska Consolidated Mills, headquartered in Grand Island.
1920s: A number of brands that later become part of Conagra are founded, including Peter Pan peanut butter and Chef Boyardee canned pasta.
1922: Nebraska Consolidated Mills reports its first profit — $175,000 — and makes its first acquisition, the Updike Mill in Omaha. NCM headquarters moves to Omaha for better access to Omaha’s grain market and extensive rail network.
1941: In the first company expansion outside Nebraska, NCM builds a new flour mill in Decatur, Alabama.
1950s: TV dinners take off; Banquet Foods is founded and would later become a unit of Conagra. In 1957, NCM completes its first foreign expansion with the construction of a mill in Puerto Rico.
1960s: The company expands to Europe with a mill in Spain. And with the purchase of Montana Flour Mills, NCM comes to own flour-milling operations that span the United States.
1969: In NCM’s 50th year, flour provides 40% of its total sales.
1971: Nebraska Consolidated Mills changes its name to ConAgra Inc. The company employs 4,105 people in 13 states, Puerto Rico and Spain.
1973: ConAgra common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
1976: Mike Harper is named chief executive and transforms the company from a flour processor into a consumer packaged foods giant by acquiring firms such as Banquet and Armour Foods. Harper is named chairman in 1981.
1981: Sales reach $1 billion.
1982: Grain is still a big part of ConAgra. The acquisition of Peavey Co. makes it the largest publicly traded grain merchandiser.
1985: Fiscal 1985 sales pass the $5 billion mark.
1986: CEO Harper threatens to move ConAgra to another state if substantial business and tax incentives aren’t offered from state and local authorities.
1987: The Nebraska Legislature passes a suite of incentives that offer tax credits and other aid to companies meeting certain employment and capital expenditure requirements. Corporate jets are among the equipment qualifying for tax credits. Other parts of the legislation are seen as executive-friendly, such as lowering the state income tax for the wealthy and exempting profits from the sale of stock issued by a taxpayer’s employer from state income tax.
1988: ConAgra joins with a partner to acquire Lamb Weston, a leading potato processor. ConAgra later comes to own the entire Lamb Weston operation, and it is the centerpiece of its commercial foods division serving restaurants and institutions. The first Healthy Choice frozen dinners are introduced.
1990: The new company headquarters in downtown Omaha opens, built on the site of the historic Jobbers Canyon warehouse district, where more than 20 buildings were demolished to make way for the new campus.
1990: ConAgra makes its largest acquisition to date, buying Beatrice Foods. The deal adds well-known brands such as Hunt’s tomatoes, La Choy Asian dinners and sauces, Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, Wesson oil and Swiss Miss cocoa.
1992: Phil Fletcher is named chairman and chief executive officer, replacing Harper.
1997: Bruce Rohde is named chief executive officer and becomes chairman in 1998.
1998: ConAgra acquires more brands — Fleischmann’s, Parkay, Blue Bonnet, Egg Beaters, Slim Jim and Pemmican.
2000: ConAgra Inc. becomes ConAgra Foods Inc.
2002: ConAgra sells off meat, seafood and cheese businesses such as Butterball, Armour, Eckrich, Swissrose and Louis Kemp.
2004: ConAgra’s sales mix, 51% of which came from fresh meat and other commodities in 1998, continues to change, with more than 80% coming from branded packaged foods.
2005: Gary Rodkin is named CEO.
2012: The company acquires Bertolli, which makes Italian sauces and frozen dinners. Also joining the brand roster that year was P.F. Chang’s, a maker of frozen Chinese dinners.
2013: The $6.7 billion purchase of St. Louis-based Ralcorp makes ConAgra North America’s biggest manufacturer of store-brand packaged foods.
2015: Sean Connolly, 49, is named president and CEO.
2015: The company puts its private-label unit — the former Ralcorp — up for sale. Connolly says he’ll undergo a top-to-bottom review of the company.
2015: ConAgra announces that its headquarters will move to Chicago and that 1,000 salaried jobs will be cut in Omaha.
2015: Blakes All Natural, maker of natural and organic frozen pot pies, casseroles and pasta dishes, is acquired.
2016: ConAgra Foods become Conagra Brands, returning its focus to a branded foods porfolio.
2016: The company spins off its Lamb Weston business; divests itself of JM Swank and Spicetec ingredients distributor and flavors and seasoning blends company; and completes the sale of its private label operations to TreeHouse Foods.
2017: Conagra Brands acquires maker of Angie’s Boomchickapop ready-to-eat popcorn and, to bring protein-based snacks to the portfolio, Thanasi Foods, maker of Dukes meat snacks and Bigs seeds.
2018: Conagra Brands completes acquisition of Pinnacle Foods, strengthening the portfolio of iconic brands.
2018: The company acquires a frozen breakfast and flatbread pocket sandwiches company, Sandwich Bros of Wisconsin.
2018: Conagra Brands divests Canadian Del Monte business.
2019: Conagra Brands announces a focus on innovation by offering contemporary flavors, new products, modern health attributes and convenience. The company adds to its plant-based lineup using pea and wheat protein; adds grain-free Healthy Choice power bowls with riced cauliflower; introduces Birds Eye Oven Roasters; expands Reddi-wip into a barista series; and launches Orville Redenbacher’s Microwave Popcorn made with only real ingredients.
2019: The company completes sale of Wesson Oil Brand to Richardson International.
2019: The company celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Sources: World-Herald archives, the company