The corporate drink of the New Age moment
The ridiculous history of Fruitopia, the Coke-produced juice that desperately wanted to be ~groovy~
Hello, Snackers. We’re traveling back to the early 1990s today and taking a look at an amusing and odd example of corporations trying too hard—way too hard—to be cool. (This is a second helping of a post that ran last summer, but there were very few subscribers back then, so this will be new to most of you.)
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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, New Age things were having a cultural moment. New Age music got its own Grammy category in 1987. Enya dropped “Orinoco Flow” (still a banger!) in 1990. In Brazil, New Age-inspired marketing included a cigarette ad showing people practicing tai chi. And in the USA, New Age beverages were one of the big trends in packaged food. It was a large category encompassing basically anything that claimed to be good for you, including bottled water, juice, smoothies, bottled tea and coffee, energy drinks and so on—most of them weren’t “New Age” in any meaningful way, even in branding. They were just, you know, healthful, or at least ostensibly so.
And then there was Fruitopia, the juice brand that really, really wanted you to know that it was down with New Age everything—bring on the higher consciousness and do it by way of a Coca-Cola brand with a $30 million marketing budget.
Fruitopia launched in 1994 (the same year Yanni dropped his “Live at the Acropolis” album and video), with packaging that leaned heavily on Woodstock-era psychedelic imagery, and product names like Raspberry Kiwi Karma, Strawberry Passion Awareness, Lemonade Love and Hope and Total Fruit Integration. There were also television ads, which I’m struggling to describe, because “trippy” feels inadequate. It’s more like “some copywriter did mushrooms on the way to work and then a fruit salad started telling them the secrets of the universe while Kate Bush-composed Muzak played in the background, and then the copywriter pitched that ad concept and Coke ran with it.” Behold:
That music really is Kate Bush, by the way—she did six different Fruitopia ads, and here’s a whole playlist with five more; other ads were scored by the Cocteau Twins. Fruitopia was an “alternative” beverage, you see, at least according to its creator, Coca-Cola executive Sergio Zyman (who was also the man behind New Coke and the short-lived, disillusioned-Gen-Xer-targeted OK Soda). At Zyman’s urging, Coca-Cola launched Fruitopia without any test marketing. It was simply his belief that it would succeed, based on what he called “presearch,” which is to say a gut feeling he had based on the fact that that Snapple (original name: Unadulterated Food Products) was doing well and there was room for competition. You can see Zyman’s basic attitude in this quote from The New York Times when Fruitopia launched:
What is our new product announcement? Let me answer that question by saying that it's not so much a product . . . as it is an attitude . . . an attitude about what people want from their beverages.
Come ON, what kind of corporate marketing vagueness is this?!
Again, this is the guy who was responsible for New Coke, and Coca-Cola let him launch a huge new product based on a hunch and zero actual data points. How?!
Plenty of consumers and industry observers at the time thought Zyman was trying too hard to be cool, a case study in the sort of corporate swagger that The Onion would later satirize in a story headlined “Our Global Food-Service Enterprise Is Totally Down For Your Awesome Subculture.” British consumers thought that Snapple was “boring” but Fruitopia was “too weird” and “the advertising was also considered bizarre and psychedelic” and when the Coca-Cola sent out a fleet of elaborately-painted, Ken Kesey-inspired buses on tour to sell Fruitopia, one twenty-year-old told The New York Times, “Them pitching it as an out-of-body, out-of-mind experience seems kind of trite to me.” And when news broke that much of the original marketing plan and the product’s very name had been created by Miami University students, with no credit and minimal compensation, Spy magazine gave the brand a score of 9/10 for “inherent loathsomeness.”
By 1996, two years after launch, Fruitopia was already struggling, still behind Snapple and Perrier in the New Age beverage category, and had to change its slogan (“Find your own Fruitopia”) after Saab complained that it was too similar to their slogan (“Find your own road”). In hopes of gaining new traction, Fruitopia changed its slogan and dropped six flavors and added two new ones, Banana Vanilla Inclination and Mind Over Mango, although—as was made clear by the new brand names—the underlying tone of the marketing remained unchanged.
Fruitopia endured throughout the 90s, its underlying messaging basically intact, but by the early 2000s, it was clear that the brand lacked staying power; as Mark Pendergrast notes in For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, “It never really contributed to Coke’s bottom line.” In 2003, Fruitopia’s run finally ended and Coke pulled it out of the American market, although it still endures in Canada, and if you really want some, enterprising Canadians sell it on Ebay, with international shipping.
Of course, ’90s nostalgia is back, and the commodification of New Age ideas and imagery never really went away among the corporations, so there’s always a chance Fruitopia will make a comeback—or, as Sergio Zyman might brand it, a Total Fruit Reincarnation.
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If you liked this post, you’ll probably also enjoy Aspen Soda (a short-lived apple soda), Chelsea Soda (an Anheuser-Busch product with a touch of alcohol but no age restrictions), gummi worms, carob, or the story of the two feuding brothers who both claimed to have invented the six-foot hero.