Formed in 1949, the Hines-Park Food Company was a joint venture of advertising executive Roy Park and Bowling Green native Duncan Hines (1880-1959). After his first restaurant guidebook, Adventures in Good Eating, was published in 1936, Hines’s reviews became must-reads for Americans seeking quality dining during their travels around the country. The next step for Hines was to capitalize on his reputation by creating his own food label.
The “Duncan Hines” label first appeared on ice cream, but soon became closely associated with packaged cake mixes. In 1955, Hines-Park Foods was pondering a strategy for increasing its sales and, through heightened perceptions of the man himself, making Duncan Hines the most popular product endorser in America.
The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library has acquired a collection of materials dating from this period of the company’s history. The highlight of the collection is a fascinating market research study, conducted in 1955, which features among its theoretical and survey data a detailed analysis of the company’s target consumers: women.
The study concluded that Hines’s greatest potential appeal lay with “emancipated modern housewives” who no longer submerged their identities in home and kitchen. These women aspired to “gracious and beautiful living,” the authors observed, “but are not secure in their ability to carry out such principles.” With his wise, bachelor-uncle-style, masculine authority, Hines could offer them the confidence that arch-rivals like motherly Betty Crocker could not. In particular, the study argued that college-educated women, despite rejecting the submissive “homebody” label, were actually more receptive to such male authority because of their “years of respectful contact with professors and instructors.”