Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popcorn – What’s happening to you?

I like my popcorn. Many years ago I decided to see if the brand name popcorns were actually worth any extra money and bought several different kinds and tried them against some no name brands and decided that, at least in the case of the “Orville Redenbacher” offering there really was a difference. Like the ads claimed, most of the kernels would pop and the popped corn was very light and fluffy.

I have popcorn at least once or twice a week and for years I have been pleased with the consistency of the Redenbacher brand. My favorite is their “white corn” mostly because the result seems brighter and more festive to me. I cook my popcorn on the stove and use the microwave stuff only now and then as I don’t really favor the seasonings that are used for those (Orville or otherwise).

A couple of months ago I opened a new container of Orville Redenbacher popcorn that popped  in a manner that could only be described as lackluster. Probably a fifth of the kernels had not popped and those that did were unenthusiastic cheerleaders for the Redenbacher brand at best.

So I cracked open my next-in-line container of  popcorn (seriously, I’m not gonna run out if I can help it so I always have a spare…) that I noted had the same lot number and expiry date (Feb 17, 2011) on it. It was also dismal.

So I went to my local store and picked up another container, different lot number, and later expiry date and… exactly the same thing.

On the label, the Orville Redenbacher products have only a phone number that you can call for information or “To leave comments”. I figured I could help them out by at least registering a complaint. But the phone system offers no ability to talk to a live human or to leave a comment. So I left a note with them through their website to voice my displeasure over the apparent lack of quality control in their product recently.

So, as with another quest I’ve undertaken recently I went out to see if there are alternatives to my favorite popcorn.

I picked up a bag of Kroger’s yellow popcorn and a container of “Pop-Secret Jumbo Popping Corn”.

Both performed admirably. The Pop-Secret kernels were *huge* and this did result in somewhat larger popcorn after it had popped. But the simple Kroger popcorn was fine as well. Both had nearly every kernel popping and both I would use again in a heartbeat.

I’ve finished the bag of Kroger popcorn and am still happy with it and I’ve had three servings of the Pop-Secret with no complaints.

My message left on the the Orville Redenbacher site was as follows:

Recently I purchased 3 bottles of “White Corn Gourmet Popping Corn”. That appear to be from 2 different batches.

2 expiring Feb. 17, 2011 and the third sometime in April.

I’ve been using Orville Redenbacher popcorn for about 2 decades now and have always been pleased with the quality and consistency of your product. These recent batches were terrible. Many of the kernels remain unpopped (up to 1/5 of them) and those that did pop were lackluster in their appearance at best being barely puffed.

I didn’t immediately think to try this web site, but rather contacted the number listed on the container that indicated it could be used for “questions and comments” but found no avenue for the latter. So I simply returned the products to the store.

While it is said that “voting with your dollar” is the most effective way to let a company know when it is failing, I have found the Orville Redenbacher brand so reliable over the past 20 years that I wanted to register my concern / complaint with you more directly than simply switching to a different product.

One thing that truly sets the “Orville Redenbacher” brand apart from others (and hence makes it worth the premium at the checkout counter) is the certainty that quality control will ensure that your popcorn experience will always be great. I have to say that that confidence was a little shaken after the first two containers but shattered after the third.

I am hopeful that, if this is a systemic issue, that others have voiced their concern as well and that measures will be taken to correct whatever failings led to my lackluster product experience.

I was somewhat mollified to receive an email response from them within a couple of days that included this paragraph:

Due to the unusually wet growing season, we are forced to use a different drying process to prepare the kernels for production.  This is the likely cause of the unpopped kernels/excess hulls as you¿ve experienced. We are adjusting our processes to reduce the occurrence of this situation. In the meantime, we want to offer you a replacement coupon for ANY ORVILLE product.

True to their word, a week or so later I received not one but *three* coupons for replacement Orville products.

I appreciate it that they would be stand up enough to not only offer a reasonable explanation for the poor experience that I had with their product, but also to go as far as one could reasonably expect them to go to “make it right”.

So this week, with coupons in hand, I’ll be picking up some new Orville Redenbacher popcorn and figure out if the issue was merely a fluke with a temporary cause or if  there really are now issues with the brand.

More to come.