How A California Gold Rush Dream Led To Folgers Coffee

For almost 40 years, Americans have had the Folgers' jingle, "The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup," buzzing around in their heads (via Folgers Coffee). In fact, it's hard to imagine a time when Folgers commercials weren't airing on TV, let alone scoops of Folgers coffee weren't being taken out of the coffee can to be brewed.

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world. Every year, 35 million people drink Folgers coffee and can choose from more than 20 varieties, according to the company. Flavors range from French Vanilla to Classic Roast and come in different kinds of packaging, from K-Cup Pods to 28.8-ounce plastic containers. In 2020, Folgers had the largest share of coffee sales in the United States, per data from Statista. Folgers led with 25.1% of the market share, followed by Starbucks at 12.4%. Rounding out the top was private label brands at 10.7%, Maxwell House at 10.5%, and Dunkin' at 7.8%. 

While Folgers may be drunk around the country today, in its early days, its sales were only in the golden state of California. It wasn't until 1900, about 50 years after Folgers was created, that the coffee began to expand sales to more, per the company's website. But how did the gold rush inspire a dream that led to the coffee's creation? Here's the scoop.

Dreams of finding gold

While James Folger may have originally dreamed of getting rich by finding gold in California, he actually built a company and his wealth through coffee sales. Coffee has a storied history, and the Folgers company is no different. According to Folgers Coffee, at the age of 14 in 1850, Folger and his two brothers ventured to California during the Gold Rush to find a new start after a fire destroyed the family's livelihood on the East Coast. After arriving on the West Coast, James Folger started to work for The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills. When the company was in financial trouble after the Civil War, Folger bought out his fellow business partners and renamed the coffee company J.A. Folger & Co. When James Folger died, the company passed to his son, James A. Folger II, along with the message from his father that the company's reputation was the most important thing.

James Folger may not have found gold in California, but he helped to create a company that had more than $1 billion in sales in 2020, according to Statista. However, the company recognized in 2022 that its branding needs an update and is now taking charge of its reputation with a new ad campaign: "Think of us as grandma's coffee? Heck yeah we are!" (via NPR). Despite the odds, it seems to be working with Folgers' sales increasing among millennials and Gen Xers.