Ranch Rules

Slate: There is a great Simpsons episode in which Homer, overcome by carbon-monoxide fumes, hallucinates that he is an Ottoman sultan. Though he is surrounded by gyrating concubines, the Simpson family patriarch is not satisfied. “I grow weary of your sexually suggestive dancing,” he says. “Bring me my ranch-dressing hose!” Within seconds, the women are blasting him with a geyser of gooey ranch.
Homer’s tastes are meant to reflect those of the American everyman, and in this case the Simpsons writers nailed it: Ranch dressing has been the nation’s best-selling salad topper since 1992, when it overtook Italian. How did this simple mixture of mayonnaise, buttermilk, and herbs become America’s favorite way to liven up lettuce?
In the early days, ranch dressing didn’t seem likely to take Italian’s crown. It was a strictly local delicacy—the pride of Steve and Gayle Henson, a couple who’d opened a dude ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1954. Visitors to the Henson spread, known as Hidden Valley Ranch, came for the horseback riding, but they frequently left with fonder memories of Steve’s special dressing. The Hensons began to give their guests to-go bottles, and eventually they started a small plant where they manufactured packets of ranch seasoning for the retail market.
In 1972, the Clorox Company bought the Hidden Valley Ranch brand for $8 million.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am now head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.