In many homes, Sloppy Joes are synonymous with Manwich, the sauce brand that made this stalwart cafeteria staple even easier to make at home. While Sloppy Joes were invented back in the ’30s, according to Blue Apron, it wasn’t until the late ’60s that Manwich put these saucy sammies within the reach of even the most challenged of home cooks. Armed with a can of Manwich, all a cook needs to do is brown some ground beef, add the can of sauce, and let that blend of saucy tomatoes and seasonings work its magic. Piled onto buns, it more than delivered on the promise of a sloppy but delicious sandwich.
While Manwich is certainly tasty, it’s also rife with its share of controversy, ranging from questionable health claims to purported anti-feminist leanings. To help you understand where the truth ends and the myth begins, we’re digging deep into the history of this unique brand, as simple as it is complex. Here is everything you didn’t know you needed to know about Manwich.
Manwich didn’t invent the Sloppy Joe
Manwich got its start back in 1969, according to Foodimentary. Marketed as a quick-and-easy shortcut for one-pot meals, it provided all of the seasonings you needed to turn a simple pan of browned ground meat into a meal, according to Quaint Cooking.
Contrary to what you might believe, however, Manwich didn’t actually invent the Sloppy Joe. That honor, according to The Takeout, may belong to 1 of several possible inventors: an actual Joe in the kitchen of Maid-Rite in Muscatine, Iowa, or the Havana-based José Abeal Otero, the proprietor of a bar that shared the name of the sandwich. If the latter story is to be believed, legend says it was Ernest Hemingway himself who convinced his buddy Joe Russell to use the name for his own Key West establishment in the ’30s.
Either way, the Sloppy Joe was well established — beloved, even — before Manwich entered onto the scene.
Manwich is made with a combo of tomato sauce and spices
Much like Hamburger Helper, Manwich doesn’t actually contain the beef you need to turn it into a meal — that honor falls to Manwich’s Heat & Serve, a product launched in 2004 that combines the beloved sauce with the meat for an even easier dinner, according to ConAgra. The traditional can of Manwich is filled, not with beef, but with the ready-made sauce. It’s intended to be added to a skillet of browned beef, thus transforming it into the ideal sandwich filling.
The original Sloppy Joe sauce made by the company, according to Manwich, is made with a tomato purée base, sweetened with both regular and high-fructose corn syrup. A touch of distilled vinegar adds a pleasant kick of acidity. The sauce also contains spices like chili pepper, as well as aromatics like garlic. The result is a flavorful way to jazz up dinner quickly and easily.
Manwich is now available in several flavors
While the original Sloppy Joe sauce is a surefire classic, the company now makes its sauce in several different flavors. In addition to the original recipe, Manwich makes a Bourbon BBQ version. According to the company, it marries smokiness and sweetness. It contains honey, molasses, mesquite smoke flavor, mustard, paprika, and actual bourbon, in addition to the aromatic tomato and spice blend of the original. The Thick & Chunky variety, meanwhile, relies on dried onions and diced green and red bell peppers to deliver on the promise.
While the Bold sauce certainly promises to kick up the flavor "a few notches," The Florida Times-Union notes that tasters found the flavor of the sauce "zesty" rather than bold. In a taste test, the reviewers said that the sauce tasted more like barbecue sauce: sweeter and more tomatoey, for sure, but perhaps not deserving of the moniker proudly displayed on the front of the can. While some testers enjoyed it, noting that they would nevertheless serve it with more beef in the future, others said that it just doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
Manwich has relied on several different slogans over the years
From "I’m lovin’ it" to "Eat fresh," it seems a food company is only as good as its catchy slogan, and Manwich has had more than its share over the years. The authors of "The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising" claim that Manwich’s best-known slogan — "A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal" — proves particularly catchy, thanks to its use of parallelism. It pairs 2 clauses that are nearly equal in meter and length. The tagline featured in ’70s ads invited association between the canned sauce and perceived "manliness" of activities, like chopping wood (via The Media Hoarder). In turn, it cemented Manwich’s connotation as a hearty, delicious dinner option.
These days, Manwich’s website more prominently features the simpler slogan: "Make tonight a Manwich night." It’s not nearly as catchy, but it is less divisive, an important evolution given recent controversy linked to its older slogan.
One recent ad campaign from Manwich was fairly controversial
Manwich proved itself to be pretty tone-deaf on modern gender politics with an ad campaign launched back in 2011. It was before the #MeToo movement went viral, according to the Washington Post, but still well into the push for less gender-based discrimination and stereotyping.
The ad campaign featured men being slapped for exhibiting traits perceived to be more "effeminate," including caring about your hair, loving musicals, or liking shoes, according to Queerty. It was "yanked," AdWeek notes, due to its perceived promotion of physical violence. The decision, the outlet reports, followed the launch of a petition on Change.org, which argued that the commercial series "glorified" hate crimes against gender non-conforming people.
"Violence against gender non-conforming men and women is a serious problem in our country and should not be used for lazy jokes in advertising," read the petition.
The company apologized, Queerty reports, with a rep saying, "It was not meant to offend. The ads were never on TV and were not part of a some multimillion-dollar ad buy. As soon as we became aware of them we pulled them down."
Manwich wasn’t banned, despite rumors to the contrary
Given the very real controversy surrounding Manwich’s ads (per AdWeek), it may seem plausible that Manwich was indeed banned in California due to allegations of sexism surrounding, not the company itself, but its name.
According to widely spread myths reported by Snopes, the state of California allegedly banned the sale of Manwich, as well as the use of its name, due to it not being gender-neutral. The rumor ostensibly surfaced following the proposal of a policy in Berkeley that would have eliminated certain gendered terms from the text of the city’s laws, such as replacing "manpower" with "workforce" and replacing gendered pronouns like his with gender-neutral alternatives, like "their."
Snopes ultimately deemed the rumor false, but it didn’t stop The Federalist from publishing a satire, claiming that Hunt’s had "officially apologized" for assuming Manwich’s gender.
"We’ve sat down with a can of Manwich on numerous occasions, but it keeps refusing to answer any of our questions, including ones about which pronouns to use," the article claimed a spokesman said at the time.
Manwich has leaned into its nutritional value in advertising
Manwich hasn’t relied exclusively on its name or connotations of heartiness and manliness in its ad campaigns. Indeed, in 2009, it jumped on the health-conscious bandwagon with an ad that focused on the sauce as containing a full serving of vegetables, AdWeek reports. According to the outlet, the new campaign was in-line with other moves from producers of shelf-stable goods, reflecting a real shift in its brand messaging. The new ads even boasted a brand-new tagline: "Manwich. Meat Your Vegetables."
"Our focus group research showed that moms had misconceptions about Manwich’s nutritional value," the company’s VP and general manager Michael Locascio told AdWeek. "We think these new ads will give moms another reason to love Manwich — the fact that it has a full serving of vegetables in each serving."
Of course, its health benefits aren’t exactly all that they seem to be.
Manwich isn’t unhealthy — but it’s not that healthy either
While it’s all well and good to focus our attention on nutrition, Manwich may not be as nutrient-rich as it claims. While SFGate notes that the tomatoes contained in a can of Manwich do indeed contain nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium, as well as the antioxidant lycopene — which may lower risk for certain cancers — the benefits kind of end there. Not only does a can of Manwich contain quite a bit of sugar — about 6 grams per 1/4 cup serving, according to on-package nutrition information — but the sugars come in part from high-fructose corn syrup. As the Cleveland Clinic notes, high-fructose corn syrup is absorbed more quickly into the body and can lead to metabolic issues like insulin resistance, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Fitday notes that there are a few ways that you can make a standard Sloppy Joe a bit healthier, like using high-grade lean beef or a whole wheat bun. However, the outlet asserts that these changes don’t transform a Sloppy Joe into a healthy food by any means.
Manwich can also be used in other recipes
Manwich sauce was designed to jazz up a simple skillet of ground beef and turn a sandwich into a meal… but that’s not the only thing it can do. Since the can of sauce is made up of a simple combo of tomato purée and seasonings, it can actually be used to flavor a whole variety of dishes — something Manwich is happy to help home cooks accomplish.
Recipes on the brand website offer creative ideas, including using the can of sauce to season taco filling, chicken wings, or even mini pizzas. Manwich also makes a great saucy base for a casserole or a marinade for grilled meat. While there are over 50 recipes already published on the site’s database, we’re sure that creative home cooks can put their minds to the task and come up with even more delicious meal options.