Notable Deaths ›

Charles Sanna (1917 - 2019), invented Swiss Miss Cocoa

Image via Cress Funeral & Cremation Services

He created the first shelf stable cocoa mix to use hot water rather than milk

Charles Sanna invented Swiss Miss Cocoa, the first hot cocoa mix that could be made with hot water instead of milk. Sanna found inspiration for Swiss Miss in a surplus of powdered coffee creamer left over when his family's business, Sanna Dairy Engineers, contracted with the U.S. military. After providing powdered creamer for U.S. troops serving in the Korean War, Sanna was looking for a good way to avoid wasting the powder the military couldn't use. As he tinkered in his kitchen, enlisting his children as taste testers, he eventually developed a recipe for shelf stable hot cocoa mix – and a delicious industry was born.

We invite you to share condolences for Charles Sanna in our Guest Book.

Died: March 13, 2019 (Who else died on March 13?)

Details of death: Died in Madison, Wisconsin at the age of 101.


Is there someone you miss whose memory should be honored? Here are some ways.


Perfecting his product: Swiss Miss was originally called Brown Swiss – named after a cattle breed – and was developed for use in airlines and restaurants. It was an early hit but lost traction when diners and passengers kept stealing the packets to bring home, and Sanna's corporate customers lost interest in ordering it. But Sanna and his family saw an opportunity to market cocoa mix directly to consumers, which they did after a second round of kitchen-stove tinkering to create an even more shelf stable product. They renamed it Swiss Miss and launched it in stores in 1961.

Notable quote: “It's nice to know that you've done something that will carry on.” —Sanna in a 2019 interview with the Wisconsin State Journal.

What people said about him: “My father kept changing the formula. He would say, 'Do you like A or B?' It was like an optometrist saying, 'Can you see better with this lens or that one?' It was a game for us.” —Sanna's daughter, Lucy Sanna

Funeral details: A celebration of life will be held Sunday, April 28, noon, at Maple Bluff Country Club, Madison.

Full obituary: New York Times

Related lives: