Last Friday, I wrote about how fruits have become such an important part of the cultural rituals we have around, bringing good fortune with the new year. I also mentioned how we are now flooded with fruits from China, which are cheaper than our local fruits.
It looks like I might have to overdose you with two more columns on fruits, in part because I don’t want to write yet about politics.
The fruits of the holidays reminded me of how the marketing phenomenon of branding applies to fruits as well, and goes way back a few decades.
The full extent of this branding didn’t hit me until my father became bedridden in 2016, and made some of the most difficult requests for food he was craving. Three were high on his list: Delicious apples (note capital D), Fuji apples and Sunkist — well, more specifically, Sunkist orange juice.
Looking for these fruits, I thought of how thoroughly “colonialized” my father was, part of a generation enamored with products American, from cars to cigarettes and fruits.
Thinking back now about his cravings, I did some research and was surprised to uncover the history of the three fruits he loved.
We start with Fuji apples, which were not, technically, American but Japanese, developed by Tohoku Research Station in the town of Fujisaki (thus the name Fuji) in Japan, around the 1930s.
Fuji was a hybrid, developed from American varieties: the Red Delicious (yes, the one my father loved) and Virginia Ralls Genet apples. Fuji was sweeter and crispier than other apple cultivars and had a long shelf life, up to a year if refrigerated. This made it ideal for exporting, which began in the 1980s.
Today, it is one of the best-selling apples in the world. But, take note, they are not necessarily from Japan. Many are grown in the United States, in the states of Washington, Michigan, New York and California. And, get hold of yourself, from 2016 to 2017, Fuji apples accounted for nearly 70 percent of China’s 43-million-ton harvest.
I am certain the Fuji apples I got for my father were in fact from China, but we thought of them as Japanese. Fuji, more of a name for an apple variety, had in a sense become a brand.
Fuji’s success was so phenomenal it actually led to the decline, and near collapse, of Red Delicious apples, which were first developed in Iowa in 1880. Originally yellow in color, they became popular because they were firmer, juicier and sweeter than other apple varieties.
American exports may have captured the hearts of so many Filipinos, but many were unaware that, by the 1980s, Red Delicious had become too successful for its own good. Consumers wanted them all year round, but the timing of harvests was difficult; picked too soon, they would never turn sweet, and picked too late, they would turn mealy, too soft.
I never did find Red Delicious apples for my father, but he was happy anyway with the Fuji apples.
And he was happy, too, with Sunkist orange juice, which he insisted was better than all the other kinds of orange juices that had entered the Philippine market, from Europe and from Australia.
My father’s attachment to Sunkist juice started with the frozen ones coming out of the PX market, smuggled out of US bases in the country into shops in Angeles City and Cartimar. In recent times, homogenized Sunkist juice has become available, either without pulp (which he preferred), or with pulp.
Sunkist, it turns out, refers to Sunkist Growers, a nonstock membership cooperative with some 6,000 citrus fruit growers from California and Arizona. It was founded in 1893 and, early on, had to respond to an oversupply of citrus fruits. Enter marketing gimmicks — for example, promoting lemons as hair rinse, and as something to add to tea. And, enter Sunkist as a trademark, now used for over 40 varieties of citrus fruits: oranges (for which we have navel, Valencia and more), lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos and mandarins.
Today, Sunkist is a trademark that other businesses pay to use—for example, by General Mills and Snapple for fruit juices and other products.
For Filipinos, Sunkist refers to oranges, like we think of Colgate as toothpaste. It is a powerful brand, evoking images not just of sweet oranges (and orange juice), but also of status, of America.
On Friday, I’m going to talk about another kind of orange with an unexpected twist in branding.
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