Orville Redenbacher’s smiling face is iconic on his boxes of popcorn, but his original company may never have become as popular as it is without a simple suggestion about what he should rename it.
In 1970, Orville Redenbacher hired a firm and paid them $13,000 to come up with a new name for his popcorn company, which was called Red Bow at the time. What was their suggestion? Name the company Orville Redenbacher. The firm also suggested that he put his face on the label. Redenbacher often joked that his mother had dreamed up the name for free.
Orville Redenbacher started as an agricultural scientist. He came up with a breakthrough for the improvement of popcorn with his partner, Charlie Bowman, when they introduced the “snowflake” variety of popcorn in 1965. In relation to the popcorn made for over 5,000 years and introduced by the Iroquois Indians, the Redenbacher/Bowman popcorn expanded up to 40 times more than their original size. The common variety popcorn of the time expanded only 20 times their size.
While the popcorn was nice and fluffy, it was costly to make the variety. No one wanted to try to take it on as a product, so Redenbacher began trying to sell it to retailers in Indiana himself. He didn’t have any trouble selling his Red Bow popcorn, but it wasn’t known nationally. That was when the meeting with the firm happened that convinced him to change his product’s name.
Five years after it was introduced with its new name, Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn became the leading popcorn product in the country. In 1976, Redenbacher and Bowman sold the brand to Hunt-Wesson (which was later purchased by ConAgra, Inc. in 1990), and Redenbacher became a company spokesman. Orville Redenbacher Popcorn continues to be the number one popcorn brand in the United States. Orville Redenbacher passed away in 1995 at the age of 88.
Sources: New York Times, Orville Redenbacher’s