Granny Goose Foods, Inc., was a food company that was started in Oakland, California, in 1948 (according to SFGate; Wikipedia says 1946 without a citation) by a gentleman called Matthew Barr. Perhaps presciently, Barr soon after sold his shares in the company to his three young business partners. Granny Goose made potato chips, and generations of Californians grew up munching on them to their cholesterol's detriment.
In 1966, Granny Goose was purchased by Del Monte Foods Company. Del Monte is a massive company that focuses on canning fruit, vegetables, and broths, among other things. Things rolled along well for the company for a while until, in 1979, R.J. Reynolds Industries -- yes, the tobacco company -- purchased Del Monte Foods. By that point, RJR had already purchased the company that made Hawaiian Punch, so it was not that far flung to buy Del Monte. But, having a potato chip company did not fit for RJR, so RJR sold Granny Goose to Oakland-based G. F. Industries in 1980.
Under G.F., Granny Goose grew and expanded. In 1988, G.F. audaciously took over a company with ten times its nationwide sales -- Sunshine Biscuits Company. At the time, Granny Goose had $50 million in sales and Sunshine -- the then-owner of brands such as Cheez-It, Honey Graham crackers, and Hydrox Creme Filled Chocolate Cookies (the brand Nabisco ripped off to create Oreos) -- had $500 million in sales.
The L.A. Times story linked here mentions that G.F. Industries was "controlled by Northern California businessman Wilfred Uytengsu." This is an interesting tidbit, yet it is one that I cannot easily confirm. Wilfred Uytengsu, Sr., was a Filipino businessman in the dairy industry in the Philippines who started General Milling Corporation and then founded a Philippine company called Alaska Milk Corporation. He also served on the board of Milwaukee-based Universal Foods Corporation (now known as Sensient Technologies). But nothing in his biography or his son Wilfred Jr.'s biography mentions G.F. Industries.
In any event, the Sunshine acquisition started a string of takeovers in the takeover-crazy late 1980s. G.F. followed that purchase by buying Salerno -- a long-time Midwestern cookie company whose corporate synergies matched well with Sunshine's Hydrox brand -- in 1991. Shortly after, in 1993, G.F. bought Laura Scudder Inc. from financially troubled Borden, Inc. for less than $17 million.
Yet, by that point, Granny Goose's market share had declined rapidly in the face of tough competition from PepsiCo's Frito-Lay and Eagle Snacks, which was owned by Anheuser-Busch. Controversially, in July 1995, the City of Oakland loaned $2.25 million to entrepreneur Keith Kim in an effort to save 400 jobs in the city. It was criticized for being "typical of a series of misguided Oakland business subsidies" but, as the San Francisco Business Times article notes, the loan was repaid within a year.
Even that, however, was not enough to save the company. By 2000, Granny Goose sold off its Oakland production facility and moved to Utah. That was not enough to stop two large creditors from filing a state court action to sell off the company assets in a proceeding known as a general assignment of creditors. As part of that sale, Snak King purchased the rights to Granny Goose's corn chip, popcorn, and extruded snack lines (that's the potato chips, I think). Snak King then licensed the rights to these brands to Shearer's Foods, which now sells the chips.
Two different sets: one with facsimile autographs, one without.
Facsimile autograph version
Many people in our hobby talk about how the late 1980s and early 1990s was the heyday for cards in general with the sheer numbers of cards being made. Those of us who were collecting in the early 1980s, however, remember these cards as being a super-charged, high-demand set that was going for top dollar.
Granny Goose made big money itself out of the deal. This 1982 story from the United Press International wire service deserves attention for the lengths people were going to and for the prices that sets were getting. Here are a couple of the examples given by a company spokesperson:
- One gentleman came to the Granny Goose facility and bought 30 cases of potato chips. He proceeded to pull out the baseball cards and dumped the chips on the loading dock.
- One man from Los Angeles wanted to order 800 cases of potato chips and have them delivered to his house.
- Another Los Angeles man drove the two hours, twenty minutes to Bakersfield just to buy the chips and get the cards.
- Requests for the cards came in to Granny Goose from Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, and Milwaukee
The Oakland A's also had a few off-the-wall requests, including one man who wanted to buy 500 tickets to the game, donate 499 tickets to any charity of the A's choice, and then mail him the 500 sets of cards. The A's told the man that that was impossible. That story closed by noting two things: that sets from 1981 were already selling for $120 a year later, and that the A's handed out 15,000 of the complete sets of cards at their baseball card day.
Each of the four sets consisted of 15 cards. Each year, the Oakland A's gave away a limited number of the cards through a stadium giveaway, and Granny Goose included the cards in their potato chip bags. As you can see above, there was very little difference between the 1981 and 1982 versions of the set. The 1981 version was copyrighted by "East West Promotions Inc.", while the later two years of sets were both copyrighted by Granny Goose.
1982 featured two different set versions -- one with a facsimile autograph and one without. I don't know if this is the case, but I'd speculate that one of them probably was the stadium giveaway that year while the other was the potato-chip-bag version.
In 1983, the year of the card's issuance was added to the front, and an instant winner game was added. That instant winner portion led to a humorous soliloquy from Rickey Henderson to a young Grant Brisbee (the lead baseball editor at SB Nation).
Rickey pointed to the 1983 Granny Goose card with the contest scratch off and told young Grant, "Hey, you can't scratch that contest off. It'll make the card less valuable. You're not gonna win, so just don't scratch it off. I think the contest expired five years ago. so don't even mess with it. Ruins the value."
Rickey, as always, knew.
HALL OF FAMERS
Each of these sets has just one Hall of Famer in it out of the fifteen cards issued each year: Rickey Henderson.
A decent argument can be made that Billy Martin (in the 1981 and 1982 sets) should be enshrined eventually for his work as a manager. He was such a difficult man to get along with. He had major issues with alcohol, and he had a well-known propensity to cause a "take-a-number" line to form at Dr. Frank Jobe's offices. All of these factors may have added up to keep him out. Still, there are a number of articles that have plumped for his inclusion in the Hall; with a .553 winning percentage over 16 seasons (2267 games managed, 1253 wins) and a World Series Championship in 1977, it may happen eventually.
The 1982 and 1983 sets includes Davey Lopes, whose late start to his career at the age of 27 in 1972 didn't stop him from having a 16-year career. His late start -- thanks to his completing his degree at Washburn University in Kansas -- probably will keep him out.
Trading Card Database does not list any for 1981, 1982 autographs, 1982 clean, or 1983. However, a case can be made that having the 1983 set either with or without the contest tab (or scratched or not) could be considered variations.
As I mentioned above, the Granny Goose sets were in major demand in the early 1980s. They were a hobby supernova driven by Rickey Henderson's chase for the single-season stolen base record in 1982 (which he set in Milwaukee, incidentally). I think these cards, more than any, were responsible for my heightened awareness of Brewers police cards and of baseball card oddballs generally.
As a ten-year-old kid, I would look longingly at any sales of those cards I could find in the mail-order section of Baseball Cards Magazine and Sports Collectors Digest. I'd look longingly because there was no way that I could afford $120 for a 15-card set of Oakland A's. I mean, that is the equivalent of over $300 today. Minimum wage then was $3.35 an hour, so when you were poor like me and had a mom working fairly menial jobs when she could find work, that was simply a luxury beyond our means.
These days, those cards are much easier to come by. For instance, even if you were to put together the 1981 set by singles and lots off eBay, you probably would not be looking at paying more than about $25-$30 total. You can start with this 10-card lot for $8.50 and build from there. The 1982 set (no autographs; $18.99) and 1983 set ($22 with tabs and unscratched). The facsimile autograph version seems to be less available generally speaking than the other three sets, and singles for it are also tough to come by. Singles for the other sets are readily available.
But, if you'd like one of the highest graded 1981 Rickeys, be prepared to shell out $3,508 for a PSA 8 card -- or just pay $164 for 24 months and it will be yours!.