For years, Americans had to settle for having their canned goods prepared by giants and elves. Now, however, supermarket shelves are groaning with comestibles that bear the names, the likenesses, and in some cases, the secret family recipes of show-business celebrities. You can buy Jimmy Dean sausage, Frank Sinatra spaghetti sauce, Mickey Mantle barbecue sauce, and even Hulk Hogan vitamins.
Nonetheless, it was a bit surprising to find that the winner of the recent Entertainment Weekly Microwave Popcorn Taste Test (#77) was Newman’s Own corn, produced by screen legend Paul Newman. In a blind test of 13 brands of microwave popcorn, our panel awarded the top prize to the All Natural variety distributed by the Oscar-winning star of The Color of Money and last year’s Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.
But when a delegation from the magazine visited the offices of Newman’s Own, Inc., last week to present the award, they found a special kind of celebrity merchandising. Out of a modest office in a suburban Connecticut mini-mall — furnished with lawn chairs and complete with no marketing department whatsoever — Newman and his partner, A.E. Hotchner (author of Papa Hemingway), pursue something like reverse exploitation. They cash in on Newman’s name and funnel earnings into charities, including Newman’s own Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a nonprofit summer retreat in Ashford, Conn., for gravely ill young people and their families. (With wife Joanne Woodward, Newman will host the Second Annual Picnic Gala at the camp on Sept. 14.) Newman and his band are self-styled Robin Hoods of the licensing age.
”I really love popcorn, but I don’t know a damn lick about the food business,” Newman told publisher Michael Klingensmith when presented with the award on a porch behind the barn at the actor’s Connecticut farm. ”I’m only in it for the money, for the camp.”