Real People, Useful Ideas: ORVILLE REDENBACHER

Sometimes you come across a name that seems made up.  Like Perla Buhay.  To me, that’s sounds like a name straight out of a Filipino poem.  Perla, Life.  Pearl of Life, The Life of a Pearl.  Well, hey, that’s me, wouldjabelieve?

Going back to our general topic, which is food names, let’s consider several unusual monikers and what notable contributions these folks are associated with.  The last – but not the least – in today’s postings on a quartet of food industry greats is Orville Redenbacher. 


He was an Indiana farm boy obsessed with creating the perfect popcorn.  He earned an agronomy degree from Purdue University, worked as a Farm Bureau extension agent, ran a successful fertilizer sales business, AND spent much of his free time with his business partner Charlie Bowman, experimenting with “tens of thousands” of strains of popcorn to develop the perfect snack.

Redenbacher and Bowman launched their popping corn business in 1970.  Within a couple of years they captured a large percentage of the unpopped popcorn market; after another few years, in 1976, they sold the company to Hunt-Wesson Foods.  It went through several more changes of ownership, eventually winding up with the firm Con-Agra.

The brand Orville Redenbacher sounded so unusual that people began to ask in writing if there was a real person behind the product label.   As a result, Orville Redenbacher became – and continues to be – the iconic face associated with the product.  Until his death in 1995, he was the company’s official spokesman, wearing his trademark bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses.

The Valparaiso (Indiana) Popcorn Festival, held each year on the first Saturday after Labor Day, celebrates the product and honors Redenbacher.   Parade floats are usually decorated with popcorn, of course!


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