Here at The Takeout, we’re always discussing the ways in which food is tied to nostalgia. We fondly recall the foods we ate as kids, and in some (okay, most) cases, the foods we never stopped eating even after we grew up. Inspired by a similar fit of fondness for Annie’s Homegrown mac and cheese, SFGate sports editor Alex Shultz set out to find the brand’s famously spotlight-averse founder, Ann Withey, and have a conversation about the massively successful company she’s built. The result is nothing short of a delightful read.
You would be forgiven for cynically assuming that the General Mills–owned “Annie’s” brand just stuck an approachable-sounding name on its organic line, but the story of Annie’s Homegrown is much more interesting. As she tells SFGate, Withey began developing her now famous mac and cheese out of her home in Boston back in the ’80s when she was just 21 years old. There was an excess of cheese sitting around the house because she and her husband were busy developing Smartfood—yes, the white cheddar popcorn that every single person on earth adores and no one has ever disliked! The pair had been seeking a way to make a cheddar popcorn that was more natural-looking than the “glow-in-the-dark orange” of other products on the market, and while testing out the white cheddar powder for Smartfood, Withey decided to try boiling some Kraft macaroni noodles with a scoop of the stuff. She describes it to SFGate as a “eureka” moment.
The most heartwarming part of the piece is when Withey describes the relationship she built with the fans of her mac and cheese. Back when Withey’s own contact info was still printed right on the box, hundreds upon hundreds of children would send her letters of appreciation, complete with drawings and “meaningful little gifts.” What I wouldn’t give to read these notes, excitedly scrawled by countless little white cheddar enthusiasts making sure to log their delight with the inventor of their favorite meal. Withey made an effort to respond to all of them.
For more delightful tidbits about the history of Annie’s Homegrown—including the details behind the bunny on the box—head to SFGate to read the whole story. It’s good Monday morning reading.