Murray Lender, US bagel pioneer, dies in Florida

Bagel baker, philanthropist saw frozen foods as an opportunity for greater distribution and expanding market to new consumers.

March 22, 2012 21:42
3 minute read.

Bagel filled with vegetables 311. (photo credit: Stock photo)

Murray Lender, a bagel baker, food executive and philanthropist who helped bring the bagel to kitchens across the US, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Miami at the age of 81.

Along with his two brothers, Marvin and Sam, Murray turned the dream of “bagelizing” America into a reality through freezing bagels, a process that the family pioneered in the early 1960s.

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He was born into the family business, which his father started in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1927 upon his arrival in the US from Poland. Murray began counting bagels in their backyard bakery before he was 11. By the time he finished high school he had learned all about bakery production and delivery.

Upon graduating from the Junior College of Commerce (now Quinnipiac University, in Hamden, Connecticut), with a degree in business, he spent two years in the US Army Military Police Corps, and entered the family business, which was still in their backyard garage, on a full-time basis in 1955.

Responsible for marketing and sales for Lender’s, Murray Lender had to make the most of a tiny budget. He was a food marketing innovator and he took what was formerly only an ethnic product, and made it a national staple, available to all Americans. In 1963, Lender’s introduced a branded retail pack of frozen bagels and the bagel boom was on. Murray Lender saw frozen foods, which was a new category of products, as an opportunity for greater distribution and expanding the market to new consumers.

He popularized “cross promotions” as he partnered with many of the day’s popular breakfast staples. In exchange for advertising on their bags, Lender’s could be seen on a range of products from Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Parkay margarine, Welch’s grape juice, Smucker’s jellies and peanut butter, and Minute Maid juices.

Free publicity was also a key to the success of Lender’s. Murray Lender could be seen presenting a man-sized bagel on the Tonight Show to Johnny Carson, or on Capitol Hill presenting House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill with a giant green bagel on St.

Patrick’s Day.

As the company grew, so did its advertising budget, and it was TV campaigns that helped spread the word. Whether in animated form, or live, lying on the bread shelf in the supermarket, there wasn’t much that Lender wouldn’t do to sell his product.

Lender’s Bagels was sold to Kraft food in 1985, but Murray remained with the company to continue his work as spokesman.

Murray Lender was forever passionate about the concept of frozen foods and became involved in all associations directed at strengthening its image. He was chairman of the National Frozen Food Association, as well as the chairman of the 50th Anniversary of Frozen Foods, a national promotion staged in 1980. He pioneered and co-chaired the first National Frozen Food Month in March 1984, an industry-wide month of promotional retail and food-service activity among frozen food manufacturers.

Lender would never go a day dressed without a penguin – the frozen food marketing symbol – whether it be on a tie, a pin, socks or a hat. He was recognized by this industry with numerous awards throughout his lifetime.

In more recent years, he directed his focus toward philanthropic work, and his energy and creative thinking have has a major impact on anything he undertook, particularly in his hometown of New Haven. Active in both the local Jewish community, as well as with his alma mater, Quinnipiac University, Murray’s influence can be seen throughout the city (Quinnipiac moved to a new campus not far from the city in 1966), which has recognized him with a school playground in his name, the Anti- Defamation League Torch of Liberty ward, and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Quinnipiac University, to name a few.

He lived most recently in Aventura, Florida, and previously in Woodbridge, Connecticut. Murray Lender was preceded in death by his parents, Harry and Rose Lender, his two sisters, Anna and Helen, and his two brothers, Hymen and Samuel.

He is survived by his wife, Gilda Winnick Lender of Aventura; daughter and son-in-law Haris Lender and Evan Cohn; son Carl Lender; son Jay Lender; eight grandchildren, one brother, Marvin Lender; and numerous nieces and nephews.

The funeral will be held at Congregation B’Nai Jacob in Woodbridge, Connecticut, on Sunday.

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