In 1884, at age seventeen, Conrad Frederick Sauer began work for a retail and wholesale drug business in Richmond, Virginia. As a drug clerk, he dealt directly with customers who usually brought in their own bottles to be refilled with drugstore products. He soon noticed that flavoring extracts formed a large percentage of this business, because the housewives making the purchases were more assured of purity and strength from the drugstore products.
Mr. Sauer, a pharmacist by profession but a businessman by preference, saw an opportunity. Why not provide these housewives with pure flavoring extracts, prepackaged, and make them available in grocery stores as well as drugstores?
On October 13, 1887, his twenty-first birthday, C. F. Sauer founded the company that still bears his name at 17th and Broad Streets in Richmond. It was the first company in the country to provide pure flavoring extracts in 5- and 10-gram cartoned bottles, to be sold for 15 and 25 cents, respectively. The company grew rapidly, as Mr. Sauer made products that had once cost a king’s ransom available to homemakers for a few pennies.
Olga, Mr. Sauer’s wife, became a key asset to the company for her contributions. She assisted in the plant, often coming in at night to help make the extracts and tasting them while they were stirred and mixed to her satisfaction. But perhaps her greatest gift to the company was her preparation of a “little exhibit” for the 1889 Virginia State Fair. This exhibit won first place in its class, and became the basis for international exhibits that would soon win world recognition for Sauer’s quality.
The business grew rapidly, necessitating several relocations. Twenty-four years after its founding, The C. F. Sauer Company moved to 2000 West Broad Street, where its headquarters remain to this day. At the time of this move, the company had grown to more than 250 employees, with 48 salesmen covering many states.
Although The C. F. Sauer Company was his major interest, Mr. Sauer did pursue related businesses. An early venture was the American Glass Works, where the bottles needed for packaging his extracts were made by hand. The factory burned in 1923, at which point Mr. Sauer decided not to rebuild, but to sell his other glass plant in Paden City, West Virginia, and get out of the business. The company has purchased machine-made bottles ever since.
Throughout his life, Mr. Sauer demonstrated strong devotion to his nation and community. One example of his patriotism was a letter dated April 5, 1917, in which he offered President Woodrow Wilson the use of Sauer’s pharmaceuticals for the war effort. His offer was accepted.
In the community, Mr. Sauer was much appreciated for his creation of the Monumental Floral Gardens near Libbie Avenue and Broad Street, and the Japanese Gardens at Monument and Sauer Avenues. The Monumental Floral Gardens featured sunken Italian gardens decorated with imported statues and shrubbery, while the Japanese Gardens included plants, shrubs, and statues from Japan. Mr. Sauer’s many trips abroad allowed him to collect many sculptures, which he enjoyed sharing with the city.
By 1927, The C. F. Sauer Company became the largest producer of extracts and spices in the nation. In his own words, Mr. Sauer described the idea that was the beginning of a business dynasty: “In regard to putting our goods on the market, I felt that by putting out higher quality goods than those being sold and putting them out in a cartoned bottle, which had not been done up to that time in the small packages, that they would find a more ready sale, which proved to be the case.”
Son of the founder, Conrad Frederick Sauer, Jr., was elected president and treasurer of the company in 1927 following the death of his father.
Under Mr. Sauer, Jr., the company began to use a new strategy based on market trends, expansions and advertising. The emphasis was on sales, whether the product was already being produced or might be a future profit maker. During Mr. Sauer, Jr.’s first year, the Interstate Commerce Company was purchased. As a result, the Sauer Company expanded, making a line of household drugs and remedies.
Later, in 1929, the C.F. Sauer Company purchased Duke’s Products Company of Greenville, South Carolina. This company was started by Eugenia Duke in 1917, when she began selling homemade sandwiches to soldiers training at nearby Camp Sevier.
The sandwiches sold well, primarily because of Duke’s own recipe for mayonnaise, with which they were spread. Drugstores sold the sandwiches and, later, a local grocer agreed to take a few bottles of the mayonnaise on consignment. From making and selling several dozen sandwiches a day, Duke’s work increased until she had to start making the mayonnaise in a separate outbuilding. On the day she sold her 11,000th sandwich, she bought herself a delivery truck.
After the war, soldiers who could not forget the wonderful flavor her mayonnaise had lent their sandwiches, wrote or called for recipes. Duke gave up sandwich making to concentrate on the creamy sauce that has become a Southern tradition.
Today, the Duke’s family of products includes mayonnaise, sandwich relish, and tartar sauce, and has remained a best-selling mainstay of The C.F. Sauer Company. The taste of Duke’s original recipe for mayonnaise has never been altered, and it remains the only major mayonnaise brand made without sugar.
C. F. Sauer Jr. had to deal with the extremes of changing world and national markets. The Depression and World War II created declines in markets and business, as well as decreases in the availability of raw materials. His philosophy evolved to meet the changes, becoming one of selling at a close margin of profit while increasing the tonnage of products sold. The company made the necessary adjustments without cutting employee salaries and without layoffs, even though at times products had to be dropped or their production decreased due to shortage of needed materials.
Helen Sauer Will, sister of C. F. Sauer, Jr., became more active in the company during World War II, and by the late 1940s took over the responsibilities of office manager. Mrs. Will served as company treasurer and as a member of the board of directors of The C.F. Sauer Company until her death in 1994.
Her assistance left Mr. Sauer, Jr. free to pursue one of his chief interests – advertising.
One of the major campaigns he undertook was sole sponsorship of “The Joan Brooks Show,” which premiered on a local Richmond radio station in 1948. The production was subsequently fed to CBS and aired throughout the Southeast and South Central states. It became one of the most recognized shows of its time, showcasing The C.F. Sauer Company as one of the most forward-looking, innovative companies of the day.
In 1949, the production was renamed “The Sauer Show” and eventually was carried on seventy-seven stations in thirteen southern states, airing four nights a week until 1951. Following each broadcast and unknown to the radio audience, a game show and drawing were played among the studio audience. Prizes included large items such as refrigerators, fine quality furniture, silver goblets, and fine jewelry.
Mr. Sauer, Jr. and his wife Margret frequently attended the shows to observe audience reaction. Several female employees from the company acted as hostesses while many other employees served as ushers or performed other functions during the production.
By 1951, Mr. Sauer became aware that the show was losing its popularity. He ended the production, but retained two of the show’s regulars as employees of The C. F. Sauer Company. Wilson Angel, whose professional baritone had delighted audiences, worked in the sales department before becoming advertising and sales promotion manager for the company. Hollace Shaw, a vocalist on the radio show, went to work developing recipes in which spices were substituted for salt. She then invited physicians to luncheons featuring these recipes to demonstrate low-salt cooking for patients on restricted diets.
Mr. and Mrs. C. F. Sauer, Jr. had three sons: Conrad Frederick Sauer III (known as Connie), Tremaine E. A. Sauer, and David Sauer.
Connie began working in the plant part time and later full time, eventually becoming executive vice president. Following his father’s death, he was named president on January 30, 1953. Tremaine, who had served the company in many capacities including assistant treasurer, was promoted to executive vice president. The two brothers managed the company as a team, concentrating on sales and promotion, while maintaining the tradition of producing only the finest quality products.
In 1955, they completed a major addition to the modern Duke’s Mayonnaise manufacturing plant in Greenville, South Carolina. Later, in 1956, the company acquired a refinery in Charlotte, North Carolina to produce vegetable oils for the Duke’s family of products.
Other additions to the Sauer’s product line were made from 1957 to 1958. They included packaged Duke’s liquid dressings, Duke’s vegetable oils, Sauer’s Connoisseur spices and Gold Medal brand ground black pepper and salad products. In the early 1960s, Duke’s Corn Oil and bulk Gold Medal Mustard were added. Later a new and exclusive formula for pure mustard was developed and is now sold under the Sauer’s label.
In December of 1964, the company purchased Dean Foods – a margarine manufacturer that produces several private label retail products as well as bulk packaged margarine and liquid butter substitutes for the institutional and foodservice markets.
In 1967, Alford’s Barbecue Sauce was added to the line. After purchasing the company, the product name was changed to Sauer’s Barbecue Sauce and production was moved to the Greenville, South Carolina plant. The modern equipment at this plant allowed increased production to meet the demand for the sauce, which is produced from an old Southern recipe.
More recently, the demand for convenience products caused the Sauer Company to enlarge the Richmond plant and storage facilities to include the special machinery needed to produce dry mixes for the Sauer line of gravy, sauce and seasoning mixes.
In addition to concentrating on producing fine quality foods, the Sauers have always been interested in packaging. That interest was piqued in 1976, when C. F. Sauer III read in the Wall Street Journal of a small plastics company for sale in the Southeast. In a short time, Metrolina Plastics, Inc. of Shelby, North Carolina became a subsidiary of Sauer’s. Metrolina, primarily a custom molder, now manufactures the complete Sauer’s line of spice cans, bottles and tops. Plastic is considered to provide the best protection for this type of product. Sauer’s was the first company to use plastic containers for spices, and still holds the patent. In January of 1982, Metrolina opened its second plant adjacent to the Richmond production facility, increasing both convenience and economy.
C.F. Sauer Foodservice was organized as a separate entity in 1984 to make recipes and flavoring for commercial users. This division deals in bulk quantities of C.F. Sauer spices, spice mixes, oils, mustard, mayonnaise, margarine and liquid butter substitutes. Foodservice also provides custom spice blends under contract to several national food manufacturers and retail food chains.
In 1990, a major expansion of the Greenville manufacturing facility was completed, greatly increasing production capabilities. And a new distribution center was added to the Richmond manufacturing location in 1991.
The passing of leadership to the fourth generation of Sauers began when C. F. Sauer IV was elected president of the company in 1993. Mark A. Sauer is now Executive Vice President of Sales, and Bradford B. Sauer is Vice President of Sauer Properties. R. Tyler Sauer is plant manager at the Richmond spice and extract facility.
The recent years have been filled with noteworthy expansions of existing facilities and markets. In addition, the C.F. Sauer product line has been increased in breadth as well as depth through the acquisition of several related food product companies.
In 1996, the company entered the international trade arena when it purchased BAMA food products from Welch’s. BAMA brands of mayonnaise, light mayonnaise, whipped salad dressing, and sandwich spread are now manufactured in C.F. Sauer production facilities. BAMA is the leading mayonnaise brand in Alabama and Mississippi, and is sold in 20 countries around the world.
The first of two very significant acquisitions in 1999 was the August purchase of The Spice Hunter of San Luis Obispo, California. This niche marketer of exotic spices, spice blends and all-natural foods has over 300 products with a twenty-year track record of growth and innovation.
Within weeks of announcing this purchase, the company also acquired Mrs. Filbert’s Mayonnaise—a competing product for Duke’s Mayonnaise in some markets, and an introduction for The C.F. Sauer Company into new geographic territories.
A recent renovation of the Greenville complex has increased both production and storage capabilities for high volume products, while introducing a new “small batch” line for efficient handling of less active products.
To meet the needs of customers in western U.S. markets, the company built a 250,000 square foot mayonnaise production facility in New Century, Kansas. Operating as C.F. Sauer Foods West LLC, the new plant provides distribution across the U.S.
The C.F. Sauer Company celebrated 130 years in 2017.