Michigan legend in pickle industry Robert Vlasic dies at 96

Robert Vlasic turned his family name into an 'iconic national brand'

Photo of Angela Mulka
Robert Vlasic
Photo provided/A.J. Desmond Funeral Home

A Michigan legend in the pickle industry Robert J. Vlasic died peacefully of natural causes at his home Sunday. He was 96. 

Robert expanded his family's east side Detroit food business into a national brand after becoming general manager of the Vlasic operation after World War II. 

Robert opened Vlasic's first plant in Imlay City, Michigan and over the next 20 years, Robert and his father Joe grew Vlasic into America's number one pickle, according to Vlasic's website. The business was started by Frank Vlasic, Robert's grandfather, who moved to America from Poland in 1912. Back then he made cheese—not pickles.

The Vlasics played an important role in shaping American eating habits with their glass-packed pickles. In 1933, per capita, pickle consumption was 2.09 pounds. By 1974, consumption grew to 8 pounds, according to the company, which became so successful at pickles that they dropped milk and cheese entirely.

Robert Vlasic, the father of five sons, sold the company to Campbell Soup in 1978 for $33 million, according to a funeral home obituary. He joined the board of directors and served as its chairman from 1988 to 1993. 

"He always remained an entrepreneur at heart, founding technology companies and other ventures, while also taking leadership roles on the boards of Henry Ford Hospital and Cranbrook Educational Community, and as a member of the finance council of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit," the obituary reads.

Even with his many responsibilities, Robert embraced being with his family. He met his wife Nancy Reuter after serving in the United States Navy and they were married on November 11, 1950, for nearly 66 years.

Robert contributed much of his success in the food industry to having Nancy by his side. She passed in 2016.

Robert donated $5 million to Henry Ford Health to honor Nancy after she passed. The gift was recognized through the naming of The Nancy Vlasic Skyway, which connects the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion and Henry Ford Hospital over West Grand Boulevard.

"Robert loved traveling, playing golf, and hosting special occasions and vacations for his family and friends," the obituary reads. "Above all, he had a passion for contributing his talents and experience to helping others. Robert was an enthusiastic supporter of many charitable causes, particularly ones related to education, health care and his Catholic faith."

Visitation is from 4 p.m. until a 7 p.m. prayer service on May 27 at A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home, 32515 Woodward Ave. in Royal Oak.

View the obituary and share memories at AJDesmond.com.