I Heard it Through the Grapevine...
October 09, 2017

I Heard it Through the Grapevine...

The Superfood of the San Joaquin Valley
The San Joaquin Valley has produced the finest raisins in the world eversince the crop was first introduced in the mid-1800s. The many benefits of this tasty snack include aiding digestion, boosting energy, and fighting free radicals. It's no wonder this ancient delicacy is also the food of the future.

It was in the 20th century, however, that America would truly develop its soft spot for raisins. The love affair with this succulent fruit continues to this day. From brands over a century strong, to iconic maidens, '80s super bands, and up-to-the-minute websites, California is the natural home of this flavorful favorite!

The California Raisin Company
It's staggering to consider that as early as 1903, California was already producing 120 million pounds of raisins every year. In 1912, California growers formed the California Associated Raisin Company, a co-operative designed to capitalize on the wonderful quality of San Joaquin's produce.

The company reaped the bounty of the ideal growing conditions of the San Joaquin Valley to produce the best raisins around. The unique conditions of the region allowed almost all of their grapes to be ripened into raisins purely through the power of the sun, without additives or coatings. In 1914, ad manager E.A. Berg changed the label of their brand to “Sun-Maid.”

The Panama Pacific International Exposition took place in May 1915. The California Associated Raisin Company sent a little troop of Sun-Maid girls in white blouses and blue sunbonnets to pass out samples to passers-by. The Expo was to run for nine months and see over 18 million visitors. A young lady named Lorraine Collett was one of the Sun-Maid girls, and was about to become the face of the company.

Sun-Maid is Born
When Sun-Maid exec Leroy Payne saw Lorraine in her backyard in Fresno, she was drying her long dark hair under a red sunbonnet. Inspired, Payne saw a company trademark in the making. In 1916, Lorraine's painted likeness started appearing on the raisin packaging and sales began to climb. The California Associated Raisin Company would go on to triple raisin consumption in America by the close of the 1920s, and in 1922 they decided to rename the company after their best-selling brand: Sun-Maid Raisin Growers of California.

Lorraine went on to appear as the Sun-Maid at fairs, to model clothes in stores and even to drop raisins from a low-flying plane. She went on to train as a nurse and converted a hospital into a convalescent home, and it was as a nurse she would retire.

At over a century old, Sun-Maid continues to go from strength to strength. The evergreen Maid herself is emblazoned on 26 products in over 60 countries, and the Kingsburg based co-operative of family owned farms produces over two million pounds of natural raisins every year. Today they're the world's largest producers of raisins and other dried fruits such as cranberries, apricots, dates, figs, and tropical blends.

National Raisin Company
There's more than one raisin giant at work in the California sunshine. The fruits of three brothers' vision, hard work, and dedication to their industry would see the formation of the National Raisin Company, a family owned enterprise that is now the largest independent packer of dried fruit in the world.

With its roots in the trying times of the 1940s, the company was forged by Ernest Bedrosian's determination to see raisin growers receive a fair price for their product. His goal of unifying all independent California raisin growers into a single bargaining association took the dedication of a visionary: a vision that was supported by his brothers Krikor and Kenneth, and his sister-in-law Kathy. The Raisin Bargaining Association was founded in 1967 with Ernest as its first president. Dedicated to ensuring a strong voice for California's independent raisin growers, the association continues to represent them to this day.

In 1969, the National Raisin Company was founded and continues to be run by the Bedrosian familyProcessing a truly titanic total of more than 100 million pounds of raisins every year, the company produces conventional and organic raisins with their Champion and Bonner Organic brands.

Perhaps their tastiest treat is Raisels: a sweet and sour raisin that has proven so popular through school distribution in the last five years that National has had to set up a new website for the product to cope with the high demand. Fat-free, gluten-free, and high in Vitamin C, Raisels are just the kind of snack parents don't mind their kids packing. You can find out why Raisels are such a hit at their new site.

The California Raisins...LIVE!
Who can forget that there's another place to plant ideas that's almost as fertile as the San Joaquin Valley: television. In 1987, the Will Vinton studio produced a raisin commercial that was both new and retro.

The Claymation “California Raisins” were an animated band who performed Motown and rock 'n' roll classics in their quest to let America know just how cool raisins could be. Their blend of imagination, humor, and charisma took the world by storm. It led to a chain of successful merchandising, an animated cartoon series, four albums, and a legion of fans. It's even said that in 1988 the wrinkly rockers grossed more than Californian farmers made actually selling raisins!

The Raisins that started as an ad campaign continue to live on as part of pop culture to this day.

Join in and celebrate the wealth of food experiences in your own backyard!
At the Fresno Food Expo, we're constantly inspired by the human histories and rich food heritage of the Central California region. To learn more about who we are and connect with the people, companies, and stories in your area, follow us on Facebook or connect on Twitter and Instagram.

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