No matter what day I run into H-E-B supermarkets president Scott McClelland, it turns into trick-or-treat night. He’s always handing me something new to eat. “Here, try this.”
Last week, it was Cotton Candy Grapes … exactly what it sounds like. They’re seedless grapes that taste like cotton candy, the carnival favorite. Now you might ask, regular grapes have done pretty well for themselves, right? In terms of “units sold,” grapes are the No. 1 fruit in the world. People love grapes “as is” for snacks and school lunches, as raisins, and especially as wine.
If people eat grapes year-round, why do we need grapes that taste like something we eat once a year – usually while waiting for Blake Shelton to perform at the Rodeo? What’s next, pears that taste like Deep-Fried Twinkies?
“Stop being like that, try them,” McClelland insisted. “It’s amazing to hand some of these grapes to people, ask them to shut their eyes and tell me what they taste like. They’re always surprised because they’re not expecting cotton candy.”
I ate a bunch. Okay, he’s right. They taste like cotton candy. Tell me more.
“They cost about $1 more per pound. We get them from a company called Grapery in California. Cotton Candy Grapes are to the grape category what Honeycrisp Apples are to the apple category,” McClelland said.
Honeycrisp Apples were the produce department’s Rookie of the Year in 2004. They’re super sweet and don’t brown or bruise easily. Now they're H-E-B’s top-selling apple when they’re in season.
Cotton Candy Grapes are already H-E-B’s most popular grape in season, about 10 weeks a year, including now. The mighty green seedless grape, old reliable, still rules the rest of the time.
I contacted Jack Pandol, founder of Grapery, the exclusive licensee of Cotton Candy Grapes in the U.S. I asked him, how did grapes that taste like cotton candy happen? Do you have a secret underground facility with mad scientists running around in white lab coats?
“The breeder is Dr. David Cain, arguably the most prolific and successful grape breeder in the world. He was crossing varieties from the Eastern U.S. that have unique flavors but poor attributes for commercial activity. This was in 2003. He knew he would get great and unique flavors but otherwise it was a nice surprise. We didn’t recognize the flavor at first, but it eventually dawned on us – cotton candy. However, consumers go crazy for it and recognize the flavor right away, The first commercial crop in the world was sold by Grapery,” Pandol said.
Reasons why Cotton Candy Grapes are a buck more per pound than other grapes?
“They’re the most difficult variety of grapes I have ever grown,” Pandol said. “We grow them in Kern and Tulare Counties in California. They have a straw and light green color because we leave them on the vine longer to mature. Yields are low and costs are high. Since they are new, they continue to be in short supply even though we are planting them as fast as we can. We’re not even close to meeting consumer demand.”
Back to McClelland, are Cotton Candy Grapes the strangest food item you’ve introduced?
“We see about 10,000 new items a year. The ones that are really good ideas, like Cotton Candy Grapes, you can count on two hands,” McClelland said. “We just came out with something new last month – Chocolate Hummus. I know it sounds bad, but it tastes unbelievable, like chocolate pudding.”
Here we go again … so why not just eat chocolate pudding?
"With Chocolate Hummus, the more you eat, the healthier you get,” McClelland said.
He was kidding. I think. Hope.
Completely serious, H-E-B has added Astros slugger George Springer to its stable of commercial spokesmen. McClelland and Springer, and returning thespian/shortstop Carlos Correa, will film a batch of new spots this week – after the Astros return from baseball’s All-Star Game in Miami.
“We’re excited about adding George to the H-E-B team, and Carlos is coming back for his second season. We’re also bringing back Vince Wilfork (formerly of the Houston Texans). Now that he’s retired, Vince has even more time to cook and consume H-E-B meat.”
McClelland also said he recently filmed three commercials with Texans’ defensive All-Everything J.J. Watt that will air at the start of football season.
“As usual, I’m the butt of everybody’s joke,” McClelland said.
Can’t win for losing
After a three-year hiatus, exhibition basketball team the Washington Generals, my former basketball team, reunited to play in something called “The “Basketball Tournament” currently streaming on WatchESPN. Alas, the Generals stunk up the gym and lost in the first round.
The Generals have made an art form of losing. The team was formed in 1952 and quickly became worldwide patsies for the Harlem Globetrotters, losing between 16,000 and 17,000 times, who's counting? The Generals did defeat the Globetrotters three times, once in 1954, once in 1958, and the last time in 1971.
I played with the Generals in 1994 and 1995. My career scoring average was 3.5 points per game. Not bad (for the Generals).
‘Twas the night after WWE’s “Great Balls of Fire”
Toyota Center is hosting Monday Night Raw Monday night. First bell is 6:30 pm. Tickets are available online and at the arena box office. Expect a lot of fallout from Sunday night’s Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view extravaganza.
Sympathy for the devil
So far, five people have been gored in the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. My sympathy for these people is -459 degrees Fahrenheit … absolute zero. Running of the Bulls is not a petting zoo. It’s the opening act for bullfighting season in Pamplona, the most disgusting, grotesque blood sport that - incredibly - still operates. Spanish professional tennis player Rafael Nadal needs to speak up.