Umbrex has developed this list of the best books on the consumer goods industry based on input from the management consultants in our community, our clients, and other professionals.
This list of books is a work in progress, not a final answer, and we invite you to submit your recommendations on our Contact page.
We also invite you to check out our list of the best podcasts on the consumer packaged goods industry.
A historical study of how increased access to ice—decades before refrigeration—transformed American life.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans depended upon ice to stay cool and to keep their perishable foods fresh. Jonathan Rees tells the fascinating story of how people got ice before mechanical refrigeration came to the household. Drawing on newspapers, trade journals, and household advice books, Before the Refrigerator explains how Americans built a complex system to harvest, store, and transport ice to everyone who wanted it, even the very poor.
Rees traces the evolution of the natural ice industry from its mechanization in the 1880s through its gradual collapse, which started after World War I. Meatpackers began experimenting with ice refrigeration to ship their products as early as the 1860s. Starting around 1890, large, bulky ice machines the size of small houses appeared on the scene, becoming an important source for the American ice supply. As ice machines shrunk, more people had access to better ice for a wide variety of purposes. By the early twentieth century, Rees writes, ice had become an essential tool for preserving perishable foods of all kinds, transforming what most people ate and drank every day.
Reviewing all the inventions that made the ice industry possible and the way they worked together to prevent ice from melting, Rees demonstrates how technological systems can operate without a central controlling force. Before the Refrigerator is ideal for history of technology classes, food studies classes, or anyone interested in what daily life in the United States was like between 1880 and 1930.Read moreRead less
A leading business journalist takes us inside a business revolution: the upstart brands taking on the empires that long dominated the trillion-dollar consumer economy.
Dollar Shave Club and its hilarious marketing. Casper mattresses popping out of a box. Third Love’s lingerie designed specifically for each woman’s body. Warby Parker mailing you five pairs of glasses to choose from. You’ve seen their ads. You (or someone you know) use their products. Each may appear, in isolation, as a rare David with the bravado to confront a Goliath, but taken together they represent a seismic shift in a business model that has lasted more than a century.
As Lawrence Ingrassia–former business and economics editor and deputy managing editor at the New York Times–shows in this timely and eye-opening book, a growing number of digital entrepreneurs have found new and creative ways to crack the code on the bonanza of physical goods that move through our lives every day. They have discovered that manufacturing, marketing, logistics, and customer service have all been flattened―where there were once walls that protected big brands like Gillette, Sealy, Victoria’s Secret, or Lenscrafters, savvy and hungry innovators now can compete on price, value, quality, speed, convenience, and service.
Billion Dollar Brand Club reveals the world of the entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and corporate behemoths battling over this terrain. And what fun it is. It’s a massive, high-stakes business saga animated by the personalities, flashes of insight, and stories behind the stuff we use every day.Read moreRead less
Jennifer P. Mathews
Although Juicy Fruit® gum was introduced to North Americans in 1893, Native Americans in Mesoamerica were chewing gum thousands of years earlier. And although in the last decade “biographies” have been devoted to salt, spices, chocolate, coffee, and other staples of modern life, until now there has never been a full history of chewing gum.
Chicle is a history in four acts, all of them focused on the sticky white substance that seeps from the sapodilla tree when its bark is cut. First, Jennifer Mathews recounts the story of chicle and its earliest-known adherents, the Maya and Aztecs. Second, with the assistance of botanist Gillian Schultz, Mathews examines the sapodilla tree itself, an extraordinarily hardy plant that is native only to Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. Third, Mathews presents the fascinating story of the chicle and chewing gum industry over the last hundred plus years, a tale (like so many twentieth-century tales) of greed, growth, and collapse. In closing, Mathews considers the plight of the chicleros, the “extractors” who often work by themselves tapping trees deep in the forests, and how they have emerged as icons of local pop culture—portrayed as fearless, hard-drinking brawlers, people to be respected as well as feared.
Before Dentyne® and Chiclets®, before bubble gum comic strips and the Doublemint® twins, there was gum, oozing from jungle trees like melting candle wax under the slash of a machete. Chicle tells us everything that happened next. It is a spellbinding story.Read moreRead less
A decade of swift and stunning change has profoundly affected the psychology of how, when, and why we shop and buy. In Decoding the New Consumer Mind, award-winning consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow shares surprising insights about the new motivations and behaviors of shoppers, taking marketers where they need to be today: into the deeply psychological and often unconscious relationships that people have with products, retailers, marketing communications, and brands.
Drawing on hundreds of consumer interviews and shop-alongs, Yarrow reveals the trends that define our transformed behavior. For example, when we shop we show greater emotionality, hunting for more intense experiences and seeking relief and distraction online. A profound sense of isolation and individualism shapes the way we express ourselves and connect with brands and retailers. Neurological research even suggests that our brains are rewired, altering what we crave, how we think, and where our attention goes.
Decoding the New Consumer Mind provides marketers with practical ways to tap into this new consumer psychology, and Yarrow shows how to combine technology and innovation to enhance brand image; win love and loyalty through authenticity and integrity; put the consumer’s needs and preferences front and center; and deliver the most emotionally intense, yet uncomplicated, experience possible. Armed with Yarrow’s strategies, marketers will be able to connect more effectively with consumers―driving profit and success across the organization.Read moreRead less
What we consume has become a central—perhaps the central—feature of modern life. Our economies live or die by spending, we increasingly define ourselves by our possessions, and this ever-richer lifestyle has had an extraordinary impact on our planet. How have we come to live with so much stuff, and how has this changed the course of history?
In Empire of Things, Frank Trentmann unfolds the extraordinary story of our modern material world, from Renaissance Italy and late Ming China to today’s global economy. While consumption is often portrayed as a recent American export, this monumental and richly detailed account shows that it is in fact a truly international phenomenon with a much longer and more diverse history. Trentmann traces the influence of trade and empire on tastes, as formerly exotic goods like coffee, tobacco, Indian cotton and Chinese porcelain conquered the world, and explores the growing demand for home furnishings, fashionable clothes and convenience that transformed private and public life. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought department stores, credit cards and advertising, but also the rise of the ethical shopper, new generational identities and, eventually, the resurgence of the Asian consumer.
With an eye to the present and future, Frank Trentmann provides a long view on the global challenges of our relentless pursuit of more—from waste and debt to stress and inequality. A masterpiece of research and storytelling many years in the making, Empire of Things recounts the epic history of the goods that have seduced, enriched and unsettled our lives over the past six hundred years.Read moreRead less
This book is a history of the some of the world’s most famous brands, from humble beginnings to current exalted status, from smudged, kitchen-table pamphlets to $ multi-million ad campaigns, from backyard experiments to global research. It examines the most recent developments in these glittering trajectories and reveals the very DNA of the brands themselves. Is it mastery of absorbency, the virtuoso integration of acquisitions, developing incomparable consumer trust, the ability to think in decades? All is revealed. If you work in Retail, FMCG, Marketing or Consumer Goods, this is a must-read book.Read moreRead less
For God, Country and Coca-Cola is the unauthorized history of the great American soft drink and the company that makes it. From its origins as a patent medicine in Reconstruction Atlanta through its rise as the dominant consumer beverage of the American century, the story of Coke is as unique, tasty, and effervescent as the drink itself. With vivid portraits of the entrepreneurs who founded the company — and of the colorful cast of hustlers, swindlers, ad men, and con men who have made Coca-Cola the most recognized trademark in the world — this is business history at its best: in fact, “The Real Thing.”Read moreRead less
There’s more to candy than its sugary taste. As this book shows, candy has a remarkable history, most of it sweet, some of it bitter. The author, a food historian and candy expert, tells the whole story-from the harvesting of the marshmallow plant in ancient Egypt to the mass-produced candy innovations of the twentieth century. Along the way, the reader is treated to an assortment of entertaining facts and colorful characters. These include a deposed Mexican president who ignited the modern chewing gum industry, the Native Americans who created pemmican, an important food, by mixing fruit with dried meat, and the little-known son of a slave woman who invented the sugar-processing machine still in use today.Susan Benjamin traces people’s changing palate over the centuries as roots, barks, and even bugs were savored as treats. She surveys the many uses of chocolate from the cacao bean enjoyed by Olmec Indians to candy bars carried by GIs in World War II. She notes that many candies are associated with world’s fairs and other major historical events. Fun and informative, this book will make you appreciate the candy you love even more by revealing the fascinating backstory behind it.
RECOMMENDED BY SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE AS A “BEST BOOK ABOUT FOOD OF 2016”!READERS WITH AN INTEREST IN THE HISTORY OF FOOD AND AMERICANA WILL SAVOR THIS CULTURAL HISTORY.Read moreRead less
Henry Petroski traces the origins of the pencil back to ancient Greece and Rome, writes factually and charmingly about its development over the centuries and around the world, and shows what the pencil can teach us about engineering and technology today.Read moreRead less
In the tradition of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an extraordinary investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store.
What does it take to run the American supermarket? How do products get to shelves? Who sets the price? And who suffers the consequences of increased convenience end efficiency? In this alarming exposé, author Benjamin Lorr pulls back the curtain on this highly secretive industry. Combining deep sourcing, immersive reporting, and compulsively readable prose, Lorr leads a wild investigation in which we learn:
• The secrets of Trader Joe’s success from Trader Joe himself
• Why truckers call their job “sharecropping on wheels”
• What it takes for a product to earn certification labels like “organic” and “fair trade”
• The struggles entrepreneurs face as they fight for shelf space, including essential tips, tricks, and traps for any new food business
• The truth behind the alarming slave trade in the shrimp industry
The result is a page-turning portrait of an industry in flux, filled with the passion, ingenuity, and exploitation required to make this everyday miracle continue to function. The product of five years of research and hundreds of interviews across every level of the industry, The Secret Life of Groceries delivers powerful social commentary on the inherently American quest for more and the social costs therein.Read moreRead less