EATON — Preble County native Bill Hildebolt came to the Preble County District Library’s Eaton Branch on Tuesday, March 6, to set the record straight on the history of spaghetti sauce — specifically the Prego brand. Hildebolt is co-author of the new book, It’s in There!, which he wrote to give credit to Ohio State University and all those involved with the original production of the sauce.
The book is part-memoir and part-product history of the iconic brand found today in kitchens around the world. Hildebolt served as vice president of research and development at the Campbell Soup Company, where he led development of the now-famous spaghetti sauce.
The inspiration for Prego is based on a family recipe with deep roots in Preble County, and it’s why Eaton was chosen for the premier introduction of It’s in There!
Copies of the book were available for purchase, and Hildebolt was willing to sign them. All profits from the sale of the book were donated for a scholarship to The Ohio State University.
Hildebolt explained the inspiration behind the sauce was actually his wife’s own recipe, but not in a good way. While her sauce tasted great, he was annoyed by the constant “weeping” — when the water would separate from the solids.
Later, while working for the Campbell Soup Company, Hildebolt was tasked with finding a solution to the problem.
“This is a project that originated out of Preble County, at Ohio State University. The development of Prego Spaghetti Sauce was actually based on my wife’s sauce, in a negative way,” he explained. “Her sauce was made from a family recipe and it weeped, making little red rivers on the bottom of the plate. Being a good ol’ country boy, I couldn’t stand that.
“This was in graduate school when we would host graduate student dinners. I would pour off the free liquid and, of course, my fellow students would harass me. I swore that if I ever got the chance I would solve that problem. I was in Food Science and I worked with tomatoes, where we learned the background process in biochemistry.
“Ten years later, after I graduated, I was put on a task force at Campbell Soup to develop tomato products. Prego evolved out of that. It took about three or four years to develop the process. We developed a thinker tomato paste that would not weep.”
He added, the competition at the time was using starch, which affected the taste, and different spices to add flavor. In response, Prego was an all-natural product.
He said, “It really revolutionized the marketplace. It did over $100 million on its first year out in the early 1980s. It was one of the top all time best selling new products. It created a whole new category in the retail level, known as homestyle. It was quite an adventure, honestly.”
Hildebolt explained that while this book was meant to be a celebration of those who made this accomplishment possible, it was also to “set the record straight.” He stated there had been a TED Talk about the history of spaghetti sauce and the speaker gave credit to a consultant who worked on Prego Sauce.
According to Hildebolt, this consultant worked on Prego four years after it was already developed.
“He is stealing credit from people who actually did the work. That is part of the motive, many times chefs, technologists, and engineers never get credit for what they’ve done, someone in the public relations department takes credit,” he said.
All of the proceeds from this book are going to scholarships for the Ag School at Ohio State University. Scholarships will be awarded based on need and merit.
“One of the well-kept secrets is that if you are in the Ag School Food Science, about everyone is on scholarship money. They have done a really great job providing financial support for those students. OSU Food Science Department is one of the top in the world,” Hildebolt explained.
“Basically this book is giving back to the university and telling the story for all of the people who did the development. Get a copy and read it!”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH