A long time ago, before there were people who specializing in developing brands that resonated with consumers, there were fruit and vegetable variety names. These names were not chosen to resonate with the shoppers who would purchase them. Almost all vegetables were anonymous at the market, identified by type but not by name: “Carrots”, or “Iceberg Lettuce”. The names were chosen mostly to appeal to the farmers who would plant them.
Farmers were not, and still are not, known for their extraordinary creativity. They generally get excited by high yields, disease and pest resistance, and other agronomic factors like how many days from planting to harvest. Thus, sweet corn varieties with names like Xtra Sweet 277. The “2” denotes that it is a yellow-kernel variety. It takes 77 days to mature. And it’s really sweet. I know, I know. Zzzzzzzzzz.
Tree fruit breeders historically haven’t been much more creative with names. My personal pet peeve is peaches and nectarines. When people ask me the variety name of a particular peach that we grow, I can almost never remember. The names are so boring and generic that I forget them the minute I hear them: “June Pride”, “Earliripe”, “Augustglo”.
Back in the 1970s, a few people in the produce industry began to see the value of assigning names to fruits and vegetables with marketing appeal to the end consumer. Unfortunately one of the first of these creatively named varieties to be aggressively marketed was”Delicious” apples, red and yellow. Farmers and breeders learned the lesson that giving a variety the wrong name can seem like false advertising: the apples were often mealy and insipid when shipped and stored for long periods. One the first ever Pluots (apricot-plum cross) to be developed was given a fantastic name: “Flavor Grenade”. Unfortunately, it was the pluot equivalent of the Delicious apple.
Fast forward thirty years. Anyone who sells anything knows that branding is critical. Companies thoroughly test out new names, logos and other branding strategies for their products using an army of pricey consultants. Meanwhile, produce sections of supermarkets are now chock full of branding information: variety names along with information about preparation and storage as well as photos and bios of the farmers who grew the crops. Q codes can be scanned to learn more about it all.
And yet while seed companies and plant breeders spend decades and umpteen millions developing new varieties of fruit and vegetables, they appear to use a dartboard and a page from the dictionary to assign them generic names that all sound alike.
I can understand that most plant breeders (still) do not consider consumers to be their actual customers, since it is farmers who actually buy their products (seeds and plants). One of the best examples I can provide is the name of a popular zucchini variety: “Cash Flow”. Seriously. But in the current environment of produce sales, this approach leaves farmers as well as produce suppliers handicapped when it comes to marketing.
A few seed companies have clearly been paying attention to the trends of the last decade, like “Early Girl” Tomatoes becoming a household name. They have risen to the occasion to come up with creative names that can be used to develop customer loyalty, like a lettuce called “Outredgeous”. Its competitors have names like “Thurinus” and “Breen”.
This could be a multi-million dollar opportunity for the right person or persons. Even if the seed companies don’t want to spend lots of money on a big branding firm, maybe they would spring for a variety name generator along the lines of this one that makes up names for your band. It couldn’t come up with a name for a sweet corn worse than “Xtra-Tender 2573A” or a summer squash worse than “Slick Pick YS 26”, could it?