Fwd: The fruit formerly known as prune gets a name change and makeover

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Thu Oct 11 2001 - 02:30:09 BST

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    Subject: Fwd: The fruit formerly known as prune gets a name change and makeover
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    Here's a little trifle offered as a diversion. It's not your
    grandfather's breakfast fruit.

    - Wade


    The fruit formerly known as prune gets a name change and makeover

    By Lisa Zwirn, Globe Correspondent, 10/10/2001

    What's in a name? Plenty if you're a prune. Go ahead: Snicker if you're
    old enough to know the image that a prune brings to mind.

    And so it was that California's prune producers believed their fruit's
    name had outlived its usefulness and a more charismatic moniker would
    breathe life into lagging sales. After winning approval from the Food and
    Drug Administration in June 2000, yesterday's prune is today's dried plum.

    This wasn't a hasty decision. Extensive research was conducted, explains
    Peggy Castaldi of the California Dried Plum Board. ''For people who had
    never eaten prunes, the name was a turnoff,'' she says. ''For those who
    knew prunes, the product had a negative image.'' It's not unprecedented
    for a food to get pigeonholed, and then be doomed. This one was wrinkled,
    and many associated it with laxatives.

    While it's a fact that appearance affects consumption, how often has a
    name - misleading or otherwise - turned off potential fans? It happened
    with the fish formerly called dolphin. The fish-consuming public confused
    it with the mammal of the same name, and no Flipper-loving citizen would
    eat it. But it's actually a fish found off the coast of Florida and
    Hawaii; as mahi-mahi, it sounds exotic and appealing.

    Then there's the Patagonian toothfish, which conjures up a vision of a
    monstrous creature. This denture-filled species is now the more
    acceptable Chilean sea bass. And sable, a fish generally eaten like
    smoked salmon, is now served fresh in fancy restaurants as black cod.

    Other foods have found themselves name-challenged. Ever bite into a
    Chinese gooseberry? Its inedible dirt-brown skin is fuzzy. Yet the green
    flesh inside is tender and juicy, with flavors of strawberry, pineapple,
    and a hint of banana. The fruit is now called kiwi.

    Despite the apparent need for a name change, the Dried Plum Board never
    lost faith in its product. The new and improved prune (whoops, dried
    plum) is plumper, moister, and tastier than it was years ago. The change
    is the result of more effective harvesting techniques in which machines
    gently shake plums off trees, improvements in dehydration and rehydration
    processes, and advances in packaging.

    Vacuum packs and resealable packages replaced boxes, which caused prunes
    to shrivel and dry up (living up to their unfortunate image). The new
    dried plum comes in four varieties: regular, lemon or orange essence, and
    fortified with vitamin E and iron.

    The name is not changing outside the United States because the rest of
    the world thinks that the word prune, from the French, is fine. In this
    country, where the old and new names had to appear on packaging for two
    years (per FDA requirements), the Dried Plum Board launched a $10 million
    marketing blitz.

    The board targeted women 35 to 54, a group that represents 16 percent of
    the population, along with chefs and culinary professionals. The Prune
    Board's Castaldi wanted dried plums to make their way into home kitchens
    in much the same way that sun-dried tomatoes did a decade ago.

    In Northern California, the petite d'Agen plums, brought from France in
    the mid-19th-century, and destined to become dried plums, are grown on
    more than 80,000 acres. Ever since the name change, dried plum sales are
    up 2.3 percent (the previous year, they declined 3.7 percent).

    If you doubt the power of a name, perhaps this consumer test from the
    marketing campaign will change your mind: A Houston television station
    set up a table on a busy street with two bowls, one labeled prunes, the
    other labeled dried plums. Willing passersby were asked to taste one
    piece of fruit from each bowl. The dried plums won the taste contest; of
    course, both bowls contained the same product from the same package.

    This story ran on page E3 of the Boston Globe on 10/10/2001. Copyright
    2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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