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The company was founded as Libby, McNeill & Libby in Chicago, Illinois, by Archibald McNeill and the brothers Arthur and Charles Libby. The business began with a canned meat product, beef in brine, or corned beef. It became well-known when it began to package the meat in a trapezoid-shaped can starting in 1875.
By 1880, it had 1,500 employees in Chicago, and by the turn of the century there were about 2,000 employed, by which time it had expanded to the canning of fruits and vegetables. Libby's came under the control of Swift & Company in the 1920s. One of the best known executives of Libby's was Charles Scott Bridges who in 1947 was made a director of the company and in 1953 became Libby's president and chief executive officer. Libby's expanded and modernized during his presidency. By 1960 Libby's had 9,000 employees and annual revenues of $296 million, and ranked 154th in size among U.S. corporations.
Libby's canned fruit and vegetable business was acquired by Nestlé in 1971 and, except for canned pumpkin, was spun off to Seneca Foods in the 1980s. ConAgra acquired the canned meats division in 1998. Libby's nectars was acquired by Tequesta Foods in 2010. Corlib Brand Holding is the current owner of the Libby's trademark.
Libby's UK operations were based in Milnthorpe, Cumbria, a decision mainly driven by the significant dairy farming community in the South Lakes area, who supplied Libby's with milk, the basic ingredient of evaporated milk that was the mainstay of the factory's operations. The factory went on to make tinned rice pudding, tomato ketchup and fruit juice, both canned and bottled. The Milnthorpe factory had its own R&D labs and eventually the plant produced Libby's Orange 'c', a best seller even though it was berated by a national newspaper for its high water content. Orange 'c' is still on sale today under the Libby's brand. The Milnthorpe operation gradually declined, following acquisition by Nestle, who moved production to various other Nestle plants in the UK, prior to closure of the Milnthorpe factory.
Libby's in the United Kingdom does not sell canned foods. They instead sell fruit juice.
In November 2009, Libby's announced that due to poor weather in the Midwestern United States (where it grows its pumpkins) and a depleted back stock, a canned pumpkin shortage was likely as Thanksgiving approached.