August 4, 2014 at 8:40 am

Detroit: the SpaghettiOs capital of America

When it comes to classic-in-a-can SpaghettiOs, we eat circles around everybody else

Across the past 12 months, more SpaghettiOs were purchased in Metro Detroit than anywhere else. (Campbell Soup Co.)

We used to build more cars than anyplace else, but we don’t anymore.

We used to have a gold record factory on the west side of the city, but we don’t anymore.

We used to have the best football team in America — okay, it was 1957 — but we don’t anymore.

Uh-oh, though, can we eat SpaghettiOs.

We eat them plain. We eat them with those ground beef pellets the company calls CheeseburgerOs. We eat them with both hands.

We eat more of them than any other place in the country.

From World SpaghettiOs Headquarters in the Campbell Soup Co. fortress high atop Camden, New Jersey, comes word that we are once again No. 1 at something.

Hold those foam fingers high, friends and neighbors — with maybe just a trace of red sauce at the tip.

What this means in the grand scheme of things is uncertain.

“I don’t find it too shocking that this would be a highly popular food,” says Tom Rifai, a physician and diet guru at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland. On the other hand, “I’m not thrilled about it.”

But it’s his job to be a spoilsport. The rest of us can start planning the parade.

Cheap and tasty

Campbell’s says we eat SpaghettiOs because they are delicious.

Another theory would be that we eat them because they’re cheap: $1.35 for a 15-ounce can, or four for $5 last week at Kroger.

Shelly Taylor of Southfield, pushing a cart at a Kroger in Farmington Hills last week, may have hit upon the best explanation for their popularity wherever they are sold. She says her 4-year-old likes them, and her 1-year-old can’t throw them very far.

Taylor will soon encounter the latest SpaghettiOs permutation, SpaghettiOs MicrOs, alighting this month.

For those who find regular SpaghettiOs too difficult to prepare, the new innovation places them in what Campbell’s describes as a “super-convenient snack-sized microwaveable tray.”

We will most likely pounce on them, because when it comes to the various relatives of SpaghettiOs with Franks, did I mention we are the top dog?

And that’s not some wimpy statistic like SpaghettiOs per capita.

Our 4.4 million mouths consumed more SpaghettiOs than the 8.4 million in New York City, which ranked ninth in the Top 10 that Campbell’s fed semi-exclusively to The Detroit News.

More than mighty Chicago, which ranked third. More than Dallas/Fort Worth, which ranked only second ... probably because Prince Fielder hasn’t been there very long.

SpaghettiOs' gOdfather

SpaghettiOs were created by a Campbell’s marketing manager named Donald Goerke, who was thereafter known as “the Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs.”

He went on to create Chunky soups, making him something of a patron saint for parents who don’t really feel like cooking for their kids tonight.

His team at the Franco-American brand had been assigned to craft a relatively mess-free pasta. Thinking outside the box of macaroni, it toyed with noodles shaped like stars, spacemen and cowboys, among others, but ultimately settled on the simple circle.

SpaghettiOs rolled out in October 1965 and made an immediate impact, buoyed by a jingle that didn’t make much sense if you thought about it hard: “Uh-Oh! SpaghettiOs.”

Today, sales have reached a number Campbell’s is not about to divulge without a court order it would unleash a pack of rabid lawyers to prevent.

Not that Campbell’s is difficult to get information from, at least not compared to the Kremlin. But after only a week and a half, I was able to get responses to about half of a short list of questions from the Manager, Brand Communications, Campbell North America.

She said that Detroit has historically been a strong SpaghettiOs market, that the most popular flavors here and elsewhere are Meatballs, Original and Franks, and that slightly more than half of all known SpaghettiOs are consumed by adults.

That’s OK, more or less, with the nutrition physician from St. Joseph Mercy.

“Food, in the raw sense, bring us life,” Rifai says. “It brings us joy.”

SpaghettiOs just focus more on the joy part. And we like that around here, a lot.

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn