Was pitchman the victim of a high-pressure squeeze?

When I heard the Dos Equis radio spot in early April, I chuckled when I heard the latest tales of the World's Most Interesting Man's triumphs. You know WMIM, the debonaire cross between Papa Hemingway and George Hamilton who slakes his taste for something malty with double-X Mexican beer?

"His guacamole," the announcer intoned, "inspired the phrase, holy guacamole." That WMIM, what a scamp! I thought, and when the spot aired again, I told my wife, "Listen to this." But the reference was gone!

I knew WMIM had ventured where no beer pitchman dare. The phrase was too close to the homonym Wholly Guacamole, a wholly owned brand purchased 20 months ago by a major food company. No doubt WMIM's creators caved when challenged with a cease-and-desist e-mail from Wholly Guacamole's new owners.

Such a petty dustup seems beneath a product with such a noble heritage. Wholly Guacamole originally was named Avomex, the product that ushered in high pressure processing (HPP), the food industry's greatest technological success story of the 21st Century. HPP squeezes the life out of any bacteria or viruses in a product by exerting 85,000 psi of pressure on its flexible package. The food is pasteurized without heat, so you get the benefits of fresh taste and extended refrigerated shelf life. Hundreds of HPP presses are processing food in North America today, but the technology wouldn't have got off the ground without Wholly Guacamole and its creator, Don Bowden.

Don operated a chain of Mexican restaurants in Texas, where guacamole is a popular menu item. Virtually all avocados in the U.S. used to come from southern California, where retailers sold Hass avocados for twice the price that Hass avocados fetched in Canada. Canadians got their avocados from the Mexican state of Michoacan, source for 70 percent of the world crop. Don wanted the cheaper avocados, but a 91-year-long embargo against imported Mexican avocados was still in effect. He needed to process the fruit to cross the border, but everything he tried was unsatisfactory until the first HPP press went into service in 1993. "We were the (HPP) supplier's only customer for three or four years," he recalled. "They stayed alive because I kept ordering more machines." Every food company was welcome to see his presses in action. "We needed to keep the manufacturer in business just to have a source of parts," explained Bowden, and creating interest among other food companies was the way to do it.

That's why the Dos Equis dust-up seems so undignified. Considering the product's pedigree, Wholly Quacamole's beef was undignified. As for WMIM, he clearly has feet of adobe. Hey, WMIM, those are your cojones in that jewel case. Stay neutered, my friend.

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