McCormick buys locally invented Old Bay crab spice

Old Bay brand crab spice, the locally invented hot and salty seasoning that has become one of the nation's best-selling seafood flavorings, has been bought by McCormick & Co., McCormick spokesman Allen McC. Barrett Jr. confirmed yesterday.

The Hunt Valley-based spice giant bought Old Bay's trademark blue and yellow labeling and the recipes for four seafood seasonings for a price an industry executive pegged at $11 million to $14 million.


Old Bay crab seasoning, a blend of celery salt, pepper, mustard and several other spices, was devised and hand-ground by Gustav C. Brunn, a refugee from Germany who founded Baltimore Spice Co. in 1939.

Besides Old Bay's crab spice, McCormick got the formulas and rights to Old Bay's Crab Cake Classic, Tuna Classic and Salmon Classic, Mr. Barrett said.


Baltimore Spice was purchased by Hanson Industries, a British conglomerate, in 1986. Hanson sold Baltimore Spice's industrial seasonings factories -- including plants in Baltimore County, North Dakota and Nevada -- to a German company in July for $23.9 million.

The sale of the Old Bay line rids Hanson of its last remaining piece of Baltimore Spice Co., Mr. Barrett said.

Simon Statter, president of Baltimore Spice, said yesterday that the five people who worked for Old Bay were kept at his Owings Mills company, which grinds spices and mixes seasonings for products such as salad dressings.

The space opened up by the departure of Old Bay will be used to produce seasonings developed by Baltimore Spice's new owner, Fuchs Gewerze GmBH, Mr. Statter said.

Mr. Barrett, who said the previously undisclosed sale took place in August, would not reveal how much McCormick paid for Old Bay. He also said the acquisition was too recent for the company to have plotted its strategy for the line.

Joseph Bernard, founder of Old Bay's biggest competitor, said his Wye River Spices and Seasonings bid $6 million for Old Bay.

Mr. Bernard estimated that McCormick paid $11 million to $14 million for Old Bay.