#012: How Sunkist Sold 7 Billion Glasses of Orange Juice In A Year

Sunkist Orange Juice Extractor Home Juicer 1916
Sunkist Orange Juice Extractor 1916

In 1885, the average American ate 8 oranges.

In 1914, the average American ate 40 oranges.

In 1916, that jumps up to an estimated 200 oranges.

If you put that on a chart…

Exactly.

Let’s find out how it happened.

The History of The Orange

On every long boat trip, the Spanish carried lemons and oranges. These fruits are high in Vitamin C and keep sailors from getting scurvy. And in the 1700s, they sailed to America and brought these fruits with them.

They weren’t all that popular until about the 1840s and 1850s. Also known as the California Gold Rush.

It brought thousands of miners to California. All looking for gold with dreams of getting rich.

Thousands of miners is thousands of mouths to feed. The local food supply just couldn’t keep up. So miners got scurvy because there weren’t enough oranges and lemons to go around.

In about 1870, there was a boom in orange farming. 

Farmers discovered navel oranges and Valencia oranges. With these two oranges, a farmer could grow and sell oranges all year. So, many farmers got into the business.

But here’s the problem.

The demand for oranges was flat. The supply for oranges was growing. And basic economics means that farmers were losing money.

In the 1880s, California orange growers began organising into cooperatives. Basically teaming up to bargain for higher prices instead of competing for lower prices.

And in August 1893, they formed the Southern California Fruit Exchange.

Lemon growers joined in 1896.

Growers from San Joaquin Valley north of L.A. joined in 1905.

And in 1905, they changed their name to the California Fruit Growers Exchange (CFGE).

A Deal With The Southern Pacific Railway Company

The CFGE had a big problem. At peak harvest, prices were so low that growers lost money.

And the same success they had as a group was about to come back to bite them.

Past success made CFGE farmers plant thousands of acres of new groves. Groves that will give oranges in a few years. Enough oranges to double the current supply.

One of two things had to happen:

  1. Cut down the supply before they bankrupt themselves.
  2. Push up the demand to save themselves.

They chose option 2.

Advertising.

But they didn’t want to pay for it.

As a compromise, the CFGE President visited the President of the Southern Pacific Railway.

Like in the story of how Ogilvy built a national brand with just $1.50, the CFGE President offered a deal the other guy couldn’t refuse.

For every dollar the CFGE spent on advertising, the Railway company would add a dollar to the campaign. And when the CFGE sold more oranges, they would use the Southern Pacific Railway to ship them.

The Railway president agreed.

The CFGE put up $10,000. The Southern Pacific Railway matched it.

And with $20,000 ($550k today), the CFGE went to make history.

This was the first ever large-scale ad campaign for a raw food.

Sunkist, Lord & Thomas

The CFGE’s Eastern Office was responsible for all marketing. It was in Chicago. And the most famous agency at the time was the Lord & Thomas (L&T) Agency, also in Chicago.

The CFGE wanted to do a test campaign for $3,000 ($80k today) in Iowa.

Why Iowa?

Iowans really liked California. The CFGE’s oranges are from California. Seemed like a good idea.

For this campaign, in July 1907, a copywriter named R.C. Brandon had an idea. He suggested the CFGE use “Sunkissed” as a single brand for all members in the CFGE.

In August, that was changed to “Sunkist” to make it easier to trademark.

The CFGE liked the idea, but didn’t want to change their branding.

So, L&T had to make a campaign without a real brand name. This campaign was “Orange Week in Iowa” and it involved:

  • A print ad on Monday, March 2nd 1908.
  • Special banners on trains shipping fruit to Iowa
  • Prizes for articles that might advertise California oranges and lemons
  • Billboards across Iowa railroads with different slogans
  • A public speaker touring Iowa to say good things about California

And it worked.

In 1908, CFGE sales went up 50% in Iowa and 17% nationwide.

With these results, the CFGE started taking the Lord & Thomas agency more seriously.

And in April 1908, the CFGE formally started using the Sunkist brand. And used it only for the best fruits grown by its members.

Also in 1908, the CFGE ordered 6 million “Sunkist orange” stickers to put on their oranges.

Feeling excited about the 1909 harvest, CFGE increased their budget to $25,000 ($715k today).

And they gave one task to L&T.

Cover the north half of the U.S. with Sunkist ads.

But don’t sell competitor’s oranges.

Sunkist – The Biggest Buyer of… Spoons?

This was a tough one to solve.

Shopkeepers would take off Sunkist labels and selling lower-quality oranges at Sunkist prices. This made them more money but ruined the Sunkist reputation.

L&T suggested wrapping each orange in paper with a Sunkist logo.

Shopkeepers just threw these papers away and continued.

So L&T answered with a campaign.

A free Sunkist Orange Spoon to anyone who would send in 12 Sunkist wrappers and 12 cents.

What happened next?

Shoppers started demanding the wrappers for every Sunkist orange.

It worked so well, the CFGE sent out a total of 2 million spoons in 1909 and 1910. They became the largest buyer of spoons in America.

And from bulk buying and the 12 cents customers sent in, the CFGE actually made A LOT of money.

About $40,000 ($1MM today).

By 1914, Americans were eating 40 oranges per person per year.

By 1915, the CFGE opened up its wallets and bumped up their budget to $250,000 ($6MM today).

This was fantastic timing because of what happened that year.

And it’s here where I need to tell you about Don Francisco, the man who invented orange juice.

Wait, A Mafia Boss Invented Orange Juice?

No. That’s just his name.

After graduating from college in 1914, Don got hired as a fruit inspector for the CFGE. His job was to basically check incoming fruit to make sure it wasn’t spoiled on arrival.

Don was a very curious guy. In an interview, he said this:

I started calling on retailers as a matter of curiosity, to see what kind of oranges people asked for, and how many they bought at a time, and how they selected them, and so on …

I tabulated these findings that I made, and gave them to the [CFGE’s] advertising manager, and he was very much interested, and asked me to do this in other cities, on a larger scale …

I picked up a lot of ideas on how the smart dealers increased their sales of oranges and lemons. And, as I would go about this work, I would pass on these ideas to other dealers … to tell the retailers how they could increase their sales.

Don Francisco, 1937 Interview

One of the things Don learned is that soda fountain attendants hated making fresh orange juice and lemonade. 

Too messy. Too time-consuming.

So they didn’t sell it or made it too expensive for customers to buy it.

Don read between the lines here. If stores thought it was too much trouble, that means people at home would too.

So… wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t eat half an orange with a spoon?

Wouldn’t it be nice if people could instead have the juice of a whole orange? Or two? Or three?

Don took this idea back to CFGE. He went to work with manufacturers to develop 3 things:

  • A heavy-duty electric juicer for soda fountains that made it easy to make and sell orange juice.
  • A smaller electric juicer for home use
  • A simple glass juicer for home use

A glass company agreed to produce 1 million of these glass juicers with “Sunkist” on the side. These would be sold for 10 cents each.

L&T jumped on this idea with both feet. And they pointed their biggest gun at it.

The first copywriting legend himself: Claude Hopkins.

The campaign was called…

Drink An Orange

To say this campaign was successful is an understatement.

On the back of this campaign, Sunkist sold roughly:

  • 70,000 commercial juicers for business use
  • 140,000 electric juicers for home use
  • 3,000,000 glass juicers for home use

Sales for the glass juicers were so ridiculous that other glassware manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon.

On the strength of this campaign, people went from having half an orange to 2-3 oranges per serving.

That would translate to a little over 6 and a half billion glasses of juice by my estimation.

And the most famous ad in that campaign is a very rare find.

An ad written by Claude Hopkins himself.

The Full Ad

Sunkist 1916 Drink An Orange Claude Hopkins Orange Juice Extractor Ad California Fruit Growers Exchange

The Headline & Layout

Very simple. Straight to the point.

It introduces a new use of a product that many hadn’t thought of.

For the layout, Hopkins did something unusual. This ad was written in separate sections, like it is many ads in one.

One section is for orange juice. Another for Sunkist. And one more for the glass juicer.

The Orange Juice Section

Orange juice—a delicious beverage—is healthfulness itself. California orange juice is rich in flavor and bouquet.

Have you a tendency to overeat?—orange juice provides an aid to digestion that counteracts the ill effects of the heavy meal.

California orange juice is advised by thousands of physicians for the tiniest babies as well as for grown-ups. It provides a needed food value and aids in the proper assimilation of food.

Hopkins describes what orange juice is (healthfulness itself).

He combines who orange juice is for (overeaters, babies, adults) with the benefits it has (digestive aid, food value).

And in making a case for babies, he uses the authority of “thousands of physicians” to calm any safety concerns.

By mentioning babies and adults, he implies that every age in between could benefit from orange juice.

In short, the fresh, pure, live juice of good oranges, which comes to you in nature’s germ-proof package, is a natural regulator that every mother and wife should be careful to serve to the whole family at every meal.

Why forego for even a single day this natural liquid food that makes all other foods more healthful?

Here we have plenty of product upscaling.

The juice is fresh, pure and LIVE. And it is also a natural regulator.

The peel is nature’s germ-proof package.

Then we have usage instructions to have it at every meal.

To end this section of the ad, we have a rhetorical question with a very wide benefit.

The Sunkist Section

Sunkist

California Seedless Navel Oranges

Quite simple. Mention the brand name in large letters.

And mention what the product is.

Sunkist navel oranges are juicy, sweet, full-flavored and delicious.

They are seedless, firm and tender. Because of these facts hundreds of thousands of housewives, and famous chefs, prefer them for salads and desserts. Write for the free booklet of excellent tested recipies. Try the many dainty dishes you can make with this luscious fruit.

Hopkins starts by describing Sunkist navel oranges using a lot of tempting adjectives.

He adds social proof to differentiate Sunkist oranges by being the preferred choice for hundreds of thousands of housewives and famous chefs.

He also offers a lead magnet in the form of a recipe book which will educate customers on how to use Sunkist oranges. And gives a call-to-action for the reader to order the booklet and to use Sunkist oranges in the dishes inside it.

CALIFORNIA FRUIT GROWERS EXCHANGE

[address details]

All first-class dealers sell Sunkist Oranges and Lemons. Look for the name “Sunkist” on tissue wrappers, and save wrappers for the beautiful silverware.

Buying instructions. And a callback to the popular free spoon offer.

The Juicer Section

Use the Sunkist Orange Juice Extractor

10c–from Your Grocer or Fruit Dealer

The headline is a soft-sell call to action.

It doesn’t tell you to buy it. Just to use it and what it costs.

The Sunkist Juice Extractor is especially designed to extract the juice of the largest as well as the smaller sizes of either Sunkist oranges or lemons. It is a new pattern of unusually large size which is manufactured of heavy tough glass exclusively for us.

Pay attention to how Hopkins keeps emphasising Sunkist.

The juicer has Sunkist in its name. It is especially designed for Sunkist oranges or lemons. It is manufactured exclusively for Sunkist.

And the juicer itself has Sunkist written on it to reinforce the brand.

Note how Hopkins also emphasises its versatility (works on large and small Sunkist oranges or lemons) and durability (heavy tough glass).

I also want you to pay attention to how the juicer is especially designed for Sunkist oranges or lemons. Hopkins wrote ‘especially’ NOT ‘exclusively.’ He wants to avoid the reader thinking the juicer is useless without a Sunkist orange or lemon.

We are distributing an enormous number of these at cost simply to facilitate the preparation of orange juice. This gives you, at a minimum price, the best orange juice extractor that truest experts can devise.

If you cannot secure this from your dealer, send 16c in stamps to cover cost and expense of mailing and we will send it direct to you by parcel post. 24c to points in Canada.

CALIFORNIA FRUIT GROWERS EXCHANGE

[Address details]

He justifies the price by explaining why it is 10 cents.

And he also gives buying instructions in case the reader can’t get it from the grocer.

The Image

Here are the little captions near the picture.

This Juice Extractor 10c from Your Dealer anywhere in U.S.

This is an exact reproduction of the Extractor.

Remember that there are 3 general rules of thumb when it comes to images in copywriting:

  • Show the product
  • Show the product in use
  • Show the benefit of the product

This ad uses Rule #2.

Key Takeaways

In your business…

  • Find someone to partner with. The CFGE deal with the Southern Pacific Railway company let both companies start advertising. Whenever you start a new project, ask yourself if there is anybody else who could also benefit from it. And reach out to partner with them.
  • Listen to your employees. Sunkist became such a big success because of Don Francisco’s ideas and initiative. This is not the first time where a company found big success because of an employee’s ideas.
  • Interact with your customers. Don Francisco’s big contribution came from interacting with customers. He saw a problem they were facing. And he saw a HUGE opportunity from it.
  • Think of a new way to use your product. You might not have a Don Francisco in your business. You might not be able to talk to customers that much. But you can spend time thinking about any new ways people can use your product. And with that new way, you might make a lot of money for it.

In your copy…

  • Challenge a reader’s thinking in your headline. This campaign was successful because it challenged conventional thinking. Together with the image, it created enough curiosity to get the reader’s attention.
  • Show the uniqueness of your product. Hopkins uses very colorful language to talk about Sunkist oranges. He also explains the unique selling points of the juicer. And even if the product might not be unique, if you’re the first to say something about it, you’ll be unique in your customer’s mind.

Credits:

Credits to The Man Who Sold America written by Jeffrey L. Cruikshank and Arthur W. Schultz for this historical account of Sunkist and Lord & Thomas.

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