W A S H I N G T O N, Feb. 1, 2001 -- Prunes by any other name would taste the same.
But they might sell better.
Plum growers have won permission from the government to startcalling prunes "dried plums," and packages with the new name arenow showing up in stores.
Prune juice will still be prune juice, however. Dried fruitjuice would be a contradiction in terms, the industry was told bythe Food and Drug Administration.
By definition, prunes are indeed dried plums, but many consumersapparently don't think of them that way.
"Unfortunately, the stereotype among the women that we'retargeting is of a medicinal food for their parents, rather than ahealthful, nutritious food for women who are leading an activelifestyle. That's what we're trying to get around," said RichardPeterson, executive director of the California Dried Plum Board,formerly the California Prune Board.
Industry research shows that women between the ages of 35 to 50overwhelmingly preferred the term "dried plum."
The Chinese Gooseberry
There's precedent for changing a food's name. Kiwifruit was onceknown as the Chinese gooseberry. And there are foods with dualnames, such as the hazelnut, also known as a filbert, andchickpeas, also known as garbonzos.
But to Americans, prunes have been called prunes ever since aFrench nurseryman introduced the "prunier," or plum, tree toCalifornia in the 1800s.
The new packaging being introduced by major prune processors allfeatures the word "plums" surrounded by pictures of what thepurple fruit looks like before it's dried.
By agreement with the FDA, the term "pitted prunes" will continueto appear on packages in small letters for the next two years.
The industry admits it will take a while to improve the prune'sreputation.
"Let's just say that for many years prunes were advertised fora very specific nutritional message. … It's strong associationwith laxation," said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing forSunsweet Growers Inc., which controls more than 70 percent of theU.S. prune market. "It's difficult to change consumer impressionsovernight."
The name change just might work, said Diane Phillips, aprofessor of consumer behavior at St. Joseph's University inPhiladelphia.
"It's all in how you frame the product and the benefits you'regetting. If you put a positive spin on it, people will think of itin more positive terms," she said.
Nager said the name change appears to have reversed a decline inprune sales. He wouldn't disclose Sunsweet's sales figures otherthan to say that monthly sales were now showing flat tosingle-digit growth.
Dried plums will still be prunes when they are sold for export.
"In Japan, prunes are considered a miracle fruit," saidPeterson. "It's really just a function of a U.S. stereotype."