Rose-Anna Vachon: The Woman Behind Canada’s Beloved 100 Years of Sweet Treats

The Vachon company, famous for its Jos Louis and May West snack cake brand, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Thanks to the vision of Rose-Anna Vachon.

If you’re Canadian, chances are you’ve had the delightful experience of indulging in a Jos Louis cake at least once—hopefully, many more times. Picture a round red velvet cake filled with vanilla creme smothered with milk chocolate. The mastermind behind this delectable dessert was Rose-Anna Vachon, a farmer’s wife turned baker, after spending 25 years tending to the land and raising eleven children.

At the age of 45, Rose-Anna embarked on a new venture with her husband, Joseph Arcade Vachon, by acquiring LeBlond Bakery in Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Québec, a quaint town situated sixty kilometers south of Québec City. Known for her strong character and unwavering determination, Rose-Anna quickly realized the importance of diversifying their offerings beyond bread. She expanded the bakery’s repertoire to include pies, brioches, and a delightful assortment of sweet treats. By 1927, she had hired a skilled pastry chef and sold various cakes throughout Québec. Within seven years, all her children had joined the family business, solidifying their commitment to the industry.

Flagship Brand

Then, in 1932, Rose-Anna achieved pastry perfection. She created a single-serving snack cake that would become the company’s flagship brand—the Jos Louis. This mouthwatering treat featured a simple yet divine red velvet sponge cake filled with creamy vanilla creme and enveloped in a luscious milk chocolate shell. Its irresistible allure made it a sought-after indulgence, especially during the challenging times of the Great Depression. To add to the charm, Québécois locals often paired this heavenly confection with a refreshing Pepsi!

Rose-Anna’s innovative spirit didn’t stop at the creation of Jos Louis. She was also the first to package these delectable cakes individually in cellophane. Legend has it that the name “Jos Louis” was inspired by two of her sons, Joseph and Louis. However, the true genius of the brand name lies in its connection to the renowned heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis. As the first black champion, Joe Louis had become a global sports icon, capturing the title by defeating James Braddock and holding it for an impressive eleven years. Similarly, Rose-Anna used a similar naming tactic with another snack cake, branding a white vanilla variant as the May West. This clever nod to the immensely popular stage and movie actress Mae West of the 1930s, ensured that both brand names were instantly recognizable and unforgettable, differing from their celebrity counterparts by just one letter.

Ten Billion Smiles

The demand for Rose-Anna’s delectable cakes snowballed, and she had to secure a more prominent location and establish a new factory equipped with a modern assembly line to keep up with production. However, tragedy struck in January 1938 when her husband Joseph-Arcade, passed away at 71. Undeterred, Rose-Anna continued to run the business until her retirement in 1944. Her four sons—Joseph, Amédée, Paul, and Benoît—took the reins and carried on the family legacy. Sadly, four years after her retirement, Rose-Anna passed away at 70.

By 1983, the world had devoured over ten billion of Vachon’s delectable snack cakes, making them a global sensation. Rose-Anna’s unwavering dedication, culinary creativity, and business acumen had left an indelible mark on the sweet tooth of Canadians and beyond. Since then, the snack cakes brand has changed ownership with the most recent acquisition in 2015 by Grupo Bimbo, a massive global baking company with over 9,000 products operating in 34 countries. Vachon remains a brand worth over $100 million in Bimbo’s portfolio.

100th Birthday

It’s fair to say people are eating less and less of these sugary packaged pastries as they shift towards healthier and fresher products, but this hasn’t stopped the iconic Quebec brand from celebrating its 100th birthday with a big smile. Vachon recognizes its anniversary with a birthday campaign that keeps with the playful branding tone it has maintained for much of its 100-year history.

The Cossette agency created the advertising campaign.

This tribute is an updated excerpt from the article: Canadian Branding Queens.

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