While sharing a meal in Popayán, a small town in the Cauca district of Colombia, my Colombian friends and I began an animated discussion about the significance of jugo Hit, a very popular brand of juices. My friends wondered why Hit stuck to rather traditional flavors such as raspberry, mango and pineapple. Not that there was anything wrong with these flavors; after all, these fruits are very common in Colombia.
Yet there are so many other fruits that are far more unique to Colombia and its neighbors and which are equally delicious and appropriate for juices, such as tomate de árbol, granadilla, lulo, and guanaba, just to name a few. It is harder to find a mainstream juice company in Colombia that sells these flavors. It’s much more likely that you’ll either find these juices made from scratch either in restaurants, on the street, or at home.
Why though? If Colombia is so rich in its fruit diversity, why not expand a national beverage brand to showcase that?
I haven’t contacted anyone at Hit or done an extensive survey, so I have no definitive answers. But our conversation that day led to the hypothesis that Hit’s objective was not meant to promote Colombian’s bounty at all, but rather to sell to Colombians something international.
Now here we need to pause to explain what “international” means in this context. In the United States, “international” means multi-cultural, multi-lingual, etc. Yet in countries such as Colombia, “international” means “the best,” “highest quality,” in reference to the fact that imported products (international products) have historically tended to be regarded as better quality than domestic goods. So when DeVry Brasil, for example, says it offers “international-quality education,” it is not selling a multi-cultural quasi-UN model of education. Rather, it seeks to bring the best of the world’s education practices (with an eye to its parent company’s base in the US) to its students in Brazil.
So back to juice.
By sticking to flavors such as pineapple, mango and raspberry (flavors I assume are generally well-known in the English-speaking world), and by using an English word as its name (that invokes the idea of being the best, very popular), jugos Hit is offering an opportunity for Colombian consumers to believe that they are participating in the globalized food market and have access to the best. It is sending a message – albeit indirectly – that somehow the fruits that make Colombia and South America unique are just quite not up to par with these other fruits.
You might feel that my friends and I are reading too deeply into this juice thing. Perhaps. But in a later post I will explore why companies would make an effort to de-emphasize local flavors in favor of internationally-palatable tastes. Furthermore, I want to draw a comparison to the chocolate market in Colombia.
Colombia produces a lot of fine chocolate. But Colombians don’t see it. At the various stores I visited with friends in multiple cities, there were only a few brands on display, and mostly of Santander products.
Yet if you go to the airport, there are various types of gourmet Colombian chocolate brands available for purchase, as if what is best in Colombia must be hidden from Colombians. Actually, they don’t even need to be that hidden, as their prices make them quite expensive for ordinary Colombians and thus out of reach for ordinary pockets.
Why isn’t there a desire to sell to the domestic market the best the domestic market has to offer? This is a point I want to explore further.