Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A juicy scandal

Giants bestride the apple world, gripping the wholesale exchange, ruling the supermarkets, and limiting supplies of select varieties.

They dance far above a shadowed forest of small farms growing old and lesser-known varieties.

Earlier this year a group of New England growers sought to promote the Jonagold apple, borrowing marketing strategies form the big boys, only the be kicked to the curb.

The whole story is told by apple expert Russell Powell, writing last month in the blog of the New England Apple Association.

The New Englanders sought to rebrand Jonagold, a Jonathan x Golden Delicious cross developed at Cornell in the 1940s, as Juicygold (er, JuicyGold).

The plan was to use the licensing fees for the new trademark to market the apple into retail produce departments.

Jonagold should be more popular. It's sweet and straightforward and can be spectacularly crunchy and juicy. Powell compares it to Honeycrisp and speculates that this variety is held back by "its lackluster name."

He details how the rebranding effort was killed by a consortium of Washington State growers, who sued to prevent the growers from using the name "Juicygold." The reason: Alleged infringement on the trademark for another apple variety. "Juci Delite."

No, excuse me. "Juci! Delite." It's the trademark for a Honeycrisp x Braeburn cross that is not yet available for retail.

This name manages to incorporate almost every irritating trend in apple branding today (The misspelling! The punctuation!), but that is neither here nor there.

Powell's main point is that the Washington growers won dirty, by crushing Juicygold under the weight of legal costs.

Consequently, Juicygold will never have its day in court, to argue the absurdity and frivolousness of the charge of trademark infringement. As Powell explains,

The cost of defending JuicyGold is too great for New England growers to bear. The Association has already spent several thousand dollars in legal fees to defend itself and attempt to negotiate a compromise; thousands more would be needed to contest Custom Orchards’s specious claim.

An offer to include include “New England” with “JuicyGold" was rebuffed.

Now, the name "Jonagold" is really not so bad, so why not just put all that creativity into marketing the apple under it's given name? Must all new apples, in the words of Rowan Jacobsen, be named for strippers? (HeLLO, Juci!)

Unfortunately a marketing push to get fruit onto the shelves, after the model of the Honeycrisp and Sweetango campaigns, costs money. Without the revenues generated by licensing fees, there's not enough horsepower to crack the supermarket barrier.

And without the trademark, there are no licensing fees, as the apple itself has been in the public domain for decades.

Russell Powell has written several books about apples, most recently Apples of New England. Read his entire report about the triumph of Juci (!) Delite over Jucygold and weep.

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