Going from Coke to Cuties

07/20/2012 09:05:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

Amelia Freidline, Fresh TakeIn the world of marketing, it’s a sign of success if a brand name is adopted as the generic name for a product.

We take our trash out to the Dumpster. We write notes on Post-Its and listen to iPods while Photoshopping pictures. We put Band-Aids on our abrasions and ask what kind of Coke a restaurant serves, often without realizing we’ve been rattling off a list of brand-name products.

Can — or should — produce tap into this facet of the marketing game? According to some, one commodity already has.

In a recent Saturday Essay for The Wall Street Journal, writer Miriam Jordan recounted the mandarin orange’s recent boom in popularity and a trademark dispute between Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus and Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific over the Cuties clementine brand.

According to Jordan, the term “Cutie” is on its way to being synonomous with the fruit it represents.

“Just as people have long asked for a ‘Kleenex’ instead of a tissue, they are starting to ask for ‘Cuties’ when they mean mandarins,” Jordan writes.

“I can’t think of any other produce that has done this,” Jordan quotes John Ball, partner and creative director of San Diego-based branding firm MiresBall. “It’s ‘a name that is the thing.’”

Is it? I’ve heard people talk about buying or eating Cuties, but I assumed they were buying that specific brand of fruit.

The blue 5-pound boxes are ubiquitous in the produce aisle of grocery stores and even stores like Target or Wal-Mart, especially during the winter citrus season.

I took a quick survey of friends and asked what name they’d use when asking for easy-peel citrus.

Most of them were familiar with the Cuties brand but said they’d ask for clementines in general.

“I just call them little oranges,” one person said.

I’ve heard people say “Vidalias” when they mean sweet onions in general, even though Vidalia onions are a carefully protected trademark with a federally designated growing area.

A co-worker mentioned her friend recently used SlimCado as a generic term for Florida’s lower-fat, greenskinned avocados. SlimCado is trademarked by Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals.

It seems like that kind of name recognition can be beneficial to more than just the company that owns the trademark.

Other sweet onion growers can capitalize on consumers’ love of sweet onions when the Vidalia — or Walla Walla Sweet — season is over.

Likewise, other mandarin orange brands such as Darling Clementines from LGS Sales or SunWest Fruit Co.’s Clem’N Tina’s can benefit from consumer demand for clementines driven by Cuties’ aggressive marketing campaign.

A little competition can be a good thing, after all, if it drives companies to ensure they provide a high quality product.

And that’s something that benefits everyone.

afreidline@thepacker.com

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