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Portrait of a Pink Lady

June 7, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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The Pink Lady, that adorable rosy fruit, has issued a request to its fans: Protect the brand. The apple's advocacy group, Pink Lady America, asks consumers to report mislabeled retail displays--that is, apples under the Pink Lady banner that do not bear the Pink Lady sticker.

Like the Vidalia onion, Pink Lady is trademarked produce, the first of the apples to seek federal recognition of its unique status. Since the apple's arrival on the scene some 15 years ago, she has become something of a starlet: pretty, charming, and propelled by powerful PR. This is her story.

 

The Pink Lady: Pedigree for success

Pink Lady hails from Australia and boasts fine parentage: Golden Delicious and Lady Williams, an old United Kingdom variety. During a cross in the 1970s conducted by John Cripps, 300 apple varieties were produced but only two were considered commercially viable. One of this lucky pair was a smooth, sweet fruit with rosy coloring, initially dubbed Cripps Pink.

The Lady’s debut

The vaguely gang-related variety name was discarded, and the apple was re-christened Pink Lady for the world stage. (Less discerning customers can still purchase apples labeled as Cripps Pink, the apple’s true variety name, but only the most qualified of the variety bear the crown of a Pink Lady sticker.)

The first apple to be trademarked, Pink Lady debuted in the U.S. in the mid-1990s. By the turn of the century, though, her popularity had soared.

Pink Lady America marketing director Alan Taylor credits the apple’s success to its quality and taste, but the unique marketing campaign that has followed the Lady since her introduction didn’t hurt. Pink Lady is the first of the “managed varieties”—apples that must meet certain quality standards to bear the trademarked name. With the protection of the name comes the weight of various Pink Lady marketing campaigns, and observers regard the Lady’s PR as most significant.

How the Lady communicates with her public

Pink Lady America, along with other governing Pink Lady bodies like Pink Lady UK, has cultivated a careful message for its prized fruit. An initial campaign featuring Audrey Hepburn, heroine of cool girls the world over, propelled Pink Lady toward becoming the most popular girl in school. Marketing campaigns revolved around female-centric holidays (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day); girlish fun (flash mob featuring smiling, fit teens); and worthy, trendy causes (breast cancer research). Posters for the fruit show vintage images of Paris worthy of a freshman dorm room. Alan says he’s in talks with a perfume maker for a product tie-in.

A Continental star

Pink Lady enjoys particular status in Europe, where she takes the largest slice of the UK apple market. Fruit Today, a European publication, declared Pink Lady “an indispensable star product” on the French apple scene.

Her productions numbers are considering more modest stateside (3 million cartons out of Washington state, a number Taylor admits is “a drop in the bucket” compared to other varieties), but there’s no doubt Pink Lady enjoys a healthy public image in the U.S.

Pink Lady: Trendsetter
Like all social leaders, Pink Lady has spawned imitators seeking to replicate the success of her branding. Jazz, a cross between Royal Gala and Braeburn, made a huge splash on the apple scene in 2004 with her flashy red and yellow coloring and sensational crunch. Jazz has been aggressively marketed through billboards, radio advertising, street teams, and association with athletics with the help of the Oppenheimer Group.

Karin Gardner, marketing communications manager for the company, says the intensity and energy of Jazz matches the spirit of marathon runners and cyclists (Jazz sponsored a professional women’s cycling team). “It’s an intensely flavored apple for folks who are interested in other intense things,” she explains. “It’s an adventurous, quirky apple.” The images of Jazz and Pink Lady remain quite different but the business model is the same.

Not all new varieties have embraced marketing and trademarks with the zeal of Jazz and Pink Lady. Mark Seetin of the U.S. Apple Association calls these two apples the most deliberately marketed fruits in the industry, but he’s unwilling to call managed varieties a trend. Seetin identifies a third variety, a newcomer out of Minnesota called SweeTango, as a challenger to Pink Lady and Jazz but says it’s “not as advanced in the marketing as those two.”

Dennis Courtier, president of SweeTango’s managing company and orchard Pepin Heights, doesn’t disagree that SweeTango isn’t as heavily marketed as Jazz and Pink Lady.

“You’re looking at some of the first entries into a new generation of varieties and a new standard of marketing,” he says, adding that he’s a “fan of both of these apples.” Courtier is less concerned with marketing and more concerned with producing the best apple he can. “Frankly, our strategy hasn’t changed in 30 years,” he says. “Find really great apple varieties that taste great. Make them really good and people are going to eat more of them.”

Courtier isn’t resisting the introduction of managed varieties. (SweeTango is, after all, one of them.) “I think it’s a good thing for the apple industry,” he says. “And I think it’s going to be a good thing for consumers.” Right now, the apple lacks the defined associations of Pink Lady (feminine) or Jazz (energetic), but Courtier says they’re working on it. Plus, he points out, demand for SweeTango exceeds supply currently.

Though Courtier sings the praises of Pink Lady and says the growers are all friendly with one another, SweeTango is by no means a guileless friend to the Lady.

“We’re competitors, don’t get me wrong,” says Courtier. Like all popular girls, the Pink Lady is not without her frenemies.

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