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Why the canned meat that gave rise to the term “spam” breaks sales records

GETTY IMAGES This product became popular after World War II, when countries were trying to rebuild and food was scarce.

With more than eight decades in the market, canned meat brand Spam posted record sales in 2021 for the seventh year in a row.

The good performance of the company was highlighted by Jim Snee, president of Hormel Foods, the American company that owns the brand, in a press conference for investors, after the publication of the results of the group after the end of the October period.

The product, launched in 1937, became very popular with its customers for being relatively inexpensive and having a long life. During World War II it was distributed by the ton and was used to feed both American troops and European civilians from allied nations.

Spam was also highly consumed in the post-conflict years, when many countries were trying to rebuild and food was scarce.

GETTY IMAGES Spam recipes around the world are varied. In the photo, rice with pineapple and Spam.

Over time, this product became synonymous with a cheap ingredient in the West, but it was seen like a ¨manjar¨ 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. However, the product was so absorbed by South Korean culture that it became one of the country’s favorite dishes: “budae jjigae” the “military upholstery”.

During the Lunar New Year, it is sold in emporiums and supermarkets as a luxury item, in special packaging, used by Koreans as a gift.

This canned food also has a large market in the state of Hawái, where it is found on the menu of several restaurants in the archipelago. There it is eaten for breakfast with eggs and rice. Also in other dishes of fried rice or as a kind of sushi, the «Spam musubi».

From can to emails

GETTY IMAGES The product is considered a “delicacy” in some Asian countries.

The popularity it gained after WWII would make it, years later, synonymous with the spam tray.

The reason, according to etymologist Graeme Donald, goes back to a sketch by British comedy group Monty Python from the 1970s, in which a couple go to a restaurant where every item on the menu has Spam as an ingredient. Although the woman makes it clear that she does not like canned food, the assistant repeats in a shrill voice: “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam …”, a mantra repeated in chorus by a group of Vikings who are also on the scene.

The use of the word as a synonym for annoying and unwanted message began as a joke among Internet users, but quickly became universal, as reported by the US radio station NPR in an interview with Finn Brunton, author of Spam: A Shadow. History of the Internet (“Spam: a secret history of the Internet”).

The brand’s recent success, now present in more than 80 countries, prompted Hormel Foods to study an expansion of its Spam family product catalog, which should hit shelves in 2023, Snee told the investor conference.

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