In the early 20th century when there was a growing popularity of chop suey and chow mein among Americans, two enterprising University of Michigan students,Wally Smith and Ilhan New, neither of whom were Chinese, hit upon the idea of creating and mass marketing a line of prepackaged Chinese foods.  Thus,  La Choy, a coined name to generate the feeling that the foods were ‘oriental’ was born in 1922.   Wally Smith, owner of a  grocery store in Detroit  wanted to sell fresh bean sprouts. His friend, Illian New, a Korean American, was knowledgable about how to grow bean sprouts, and they came up with the idea of canning bean sprouts in glass jars. They expanded their canned products to include a variety of Oriental vegetables using metal cans. 

Newspaper articles gave publicity to their products, such as one in 1929 telling the public that these products now allowed “anyone to explore the strangely delicious (italics mine) food.”

Today, sales of La Choy and other brands of prepackaged Chinese food ingredients have declined sharply, having been displaced by better alternatives, but one could argue that La Choy contributed to its own decline by popularizing home prepared Chinese food.  As Jacqueline Newman, editor of Flavor and Fortune, a periodical devoted to Chinese cuisine, pointed out that in the 1920s, few non-Chinese knew how to prepare Chinese dishes at home and that the introduction of La Choy canned Chinese ingredients made a significant contribution to the interest among non-Chinese in cooking Chinese food, admittedly limited in scope, at home.  

La Choy cleverly promoted their products by publishing free recipes booklets to guide the consumer, as shown below.

 Ads of many grocery stores such as a chain in the South, Piggly Wiggly, prominently promoted La Choy products.

Whether by chance, a touch of humor, or with malice aforethought, here are two grocery store ads that placed LaChoy (and a later brand of prepackaged Chinese foods, Chun King) next to dog food promotion. (Oddly, this La Choy ad appeared in 1914, which precedes the 1922 founding of the La Choy company)

An ad in 1973 promoted “Oriental alternatives”…to American food, with the slogan, Why not swing American with LaChoy?  Discount coupons were an added incentive.

An ad focusing on the male-dominant Chinese society also encouraged non-Chinese to have “a delightful change” from their usual cuisine by having La Choy for dinner.

Chun King, a rival to La Choy in the 1940s, was a line of canned Chinese food products founded  by Jeno Paulucci, the creator of Jeno's Pizza Rolls and frozen pizza.
                One of its ads below also emphasized “Oriental for New Mood in Food” to encourage trying something different from the usual meal.  It also used celebrities such as Arthur Godrey to plug their products, offered fashion news, and even discounts on nylons.  Sweepstakes with prizes such as trips to Hawaii also were offered by Chun King.


Chun King promoted its line of Chinese foods sing a variety of innovative and humorous ads created by a master of comedic parodies, Stan Freberg,

Link to Chun King ad on playable record on food carton li

(click: HEAR HERE button to listen to the Chinese version of Jingle Bells)

            Video of a Chun King ad:
 "Break the American food habit of eating the same old thing every night."
 "Would it hurt anyone of us to try something different tonight like chow mein?"

          The peak for the prepackage Chinese foods was sometime in the 1960s.  By the 1980s, larger corporations acquired smaller companies such as La Choy.   Chun King was purchased by ConAgra during the late 1980s, it merged some of its product line with La Choy.