In an age of conglomerates and corporate behemoths, a lot of companies are still able to make a profit and a name for themselves by focusing on a single product or specialized service. Often many of these companies end up getting swallowed by the bigger fish. Some notable examples include Pepperidge Farm, famous for its cookies, which was devoured by Campbell Soup in 1961. Rhino Entertainment, known for reissuing oldies, was herded into the Warner Music Group stable. Yet a few Davids with a product specialty are holding out against the Goliaths.
Known for its hot wheat cereals, Malt-O-Meal is still owned by descendants of John Campbell, the man who founded it in 1919. And instead of being acquired, Malt-O-Meal has made some big acquisitions of its own, such as the Farina Mills brand from U.S. Mills in 2009.
You’d think The Wiffle Ball would make a soft target for toy biggies like Hasbro, but it’s still run by the grandsons of the founder. David Mullany got the idea for the product in the 1950s while watching his son and a friend play a game using a perforated plastic golf ball and a broomstick handle.
Known for its flagship Samuel Adams brand, The Boston Beer Company ranks as America’s largest microbrewer. Investment firm Neuberger Berman has taken a small sip of the company’s stock and owns a 12% stake, but so far guzzlers like Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors haven’t bellied up for a larger gulp.
Founded originally in the 1920s to make equipment for auto service stations, Huffman Manufacturing recycled itself as a bicycle maker during the Depression of the 1930s. Huffy has pedaled past a number of struggles in recent years, filing for bankruptcy protection in 2004 and closing plants, but giants like Dorel Industries haven’t gotten control of its handlebars.
Roman Meal goes way back – with a product line that is based on the diet of Roman legionnaires – but bigger companies with less hoary recipes haven’t taken a slice out of it yet. The company is still owned by the Matthaei family, who bought it from its classically inspired founder, Dr. Robert Jackson, in 1927.
Founded in 1906 as a manufacturer of arch supports, New Balance is known today as a maker of running and other sports shoes. With a strategy that includes global sales and advertising campaigns targeting young customers, New Balance has been able to keep itself upright and out of the shoe closets of NIKE and adidas.
Known for a design concept of hiding bulky refrigerators and freezers behind cabinetry, Sub-Zero has yet to be taken out of the cold by such giants as GE Appliances & Lighting. Sub-Zero was founded in 1945 by Westye Bakke and is still owned by his family. Though the company has struggled and cut its workforce, it remains as a leader in home-appliance innovation.
This company’s key product has been the piano for more than 150 years. While Samick Musical Instruments did take a small stake in Steinway in 2009, the company is controlled by chairman Kyle Kirland and CEO Dana Messina, owners of more than 80% of its voting power. Targeting older folks with pianos and students with band instruments, Steinway has been able to keep from joining the staff of a giant like Yamaha.
Liquor giants like Diageo have yet to grab Jack Daniels by the neck, indulge in a little Southern Comfort, or take over any of the other famous liquor brands that have been made by Brown-Forman since 1870. The public company is still controlled by descendants of George Brown, who founded it with John Forman.
In 1978 John Mackey founded a store in Austin, Texas, that would become the Whole Foods chain of 285 natural-foods outlets. Grocery giants like Safeway and Kroger are into moving the Whole Foods market, but the company has yet to be folded into the giants’ banners. A public company, Whole Foods is still led by Mackey as its CEO.