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MINDING THEIR BUSINESS

Luke Brown Seedless Watermelons
and Grocery Store Personalities

Reeves County

or
The Quality Goes in Before the Face Goes On

By Brewster Hudspeth
TE photos
It may have started in the 1960s with Chiquita Banana. Noticing that most bananas resemble one another, United Fruit started attaching tiny stickers to their product – creating both brand recognition and personifying the yellow fruit with their once-famous, Carmen Miranda-like spokeswoman.

Later, stickers were added to plums, avocados and even onions, identifying a particular variety or more recently, the country of origin.

According to a recent report by the people who report on these kinds of things, the watermelon market of 2010 is healthy – but sales are down.

This summer in watermelon-rich Texas, with towns vying for fame, there’s a new kid on the block – from a region long famous for another type of melon.
Cantaloupes, Pride of Pecos
The fame of Pecos cantaloupe is said to have spread from railroad dining cars that were supplied at the town of Pecos and served allong the line.
From the rather arid acreage of Pecos, Texas comes Mr. Brown's 4032, a strain of seedless watermelon that satifies your palate and doesn't clog the u-trap of your kitchen sink. Don't let its compact size fool you. It is equal to its counterparts from Hempstead, McAllen or Luling. The only place this little melon wouldn’t be welcome would be a seed-spitting contest.
Pecos TX Luke Brown Watermelo
The unspoken bond between grower and consumer - something we'd like to see more of.
Placed into cardboard-walled pallets and placed at grocery store entrances, the melons (usually still cool from the produce room) are a double threat. If you aren’t tempted going in – they have a second chance of tempting you as you leave.

Attached to these succulent little bowling balls at the grocer near me, was a sticker with a photo of an earnest young man named Luke Brown. At first I mistook the sticker to be a public service ad – of the “Have you seen me?” sort, but when I saw an email address and “Comments Welcome,” I realized that I was seeing something that’s increasingly rare nowadays: pride and accountability.

From Aunt Jemima to Betty Crocker, companies have, for years, tried to personalize their products. The two ladies just mentioned were of course, fictitious. There had been several women hired to “play” Aunt Jemima at county fairs and public gatherings but that practice died years ago. Betty Crocker’s image continues to be made-over every generation – her current incarnation being a composite of several dozen contemporary women.
Chef Boyardee
Not to be confused with Adolphe Menjou
Likewise, the smiling Chef on the box of Cream of Wheat never drew breath, nor did the jovial Quaker on the familiar round box of oats. The reality of Uncle Ben and his “converting” of rice is still being debated in theological circles, while scores of people make a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of Chef Boyardee – a very real person who appeared in his own television commercials and lived to be 97 years old.

(Chef’s birth name was Hector Boiardi but he appeared in print ads with his surname [considered insulting by some] spelled phonetically across his toque as Boy-Ar-Dee. Hyphens were later dropped.)

Another product personality familiar to Texas shoppers is C.B. Stubblefield, founder of the famed Austin, Texas restaurant that bears his abbreviated name "Stubbs." Stubblefield, originally from Navasota, Texas was a combat veteran of the Korean War, and a Purple Heart recipient – certainly not your everyday grocery personality.
Stubb's Bar-B-Q Sauce
Slogans don't get more honest than this.
The son of a Baptist Minister who often cooked for his congregation, Stubblefield’s product slogan is the sober proclamation: “My Life is in These Bottles.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen such a straight-forward attitude and we wish Luke Brown the success of Orville Redenbacher, Duncan Hines or C.B. Stubblefield – and the longevity of Chef Boyardee.
Dulcinea Watermelon - Pure Heart
A slogan everyone can agree with.
(One of many semi-humorous sayings attached to the stickers.)
Fusilli Whole Wheat Pasta
A, wistful but strong-jawed look at modern marketing.
As for certain Texas grocers, they bond their business with their host communities the way armies march (on their stomachs) and the way women used to navigate their way to men’s hearts (through their stomachs).

If the personality trend of marketing continues, who knows who we might meet? May I soon be introducing you to Aida Avocado? Pierre Dijon? Rudolph Tomitillo?

Will watermerlon stickers become the 21st Century equivilent of baseball cards? Will Luke Brown become the new Honus Wagner? You might consider making room on your refrigerator door.


BH
August 1, 2010

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