We Americans owe our contemporary epoch not just to the founding fathers and the Constitution but also, believe it or not, to the pickle. In 1492, before weighing anchor for the New World, Columbus had his ships provisioned with barrels of pickles—which, packed with vitamin C, kept his crew from contracting scurvy. They made it and so have we.
We kept eating pickles, too. The commodity people tell us that close to 70 percent of households consume pickles: 9 pounds per person, per year. That rate of consumption means that we head to the store for a new jar of pickles every 53 days.
But as the ads here show, Vlasic understands something about pickles that we, as consumers, would probably rather not think about. Each one of those tasty spears packs about 300 mg of sodium. Of course, consumers didn’t always care about such things, which helps to explain the disparities between these 1985 and 2013 ads. Twenty-eight years ago, most shoppers didn’t think twice about hefting that big jar of swamp water into the shopping cart. Today, they do—and the pickle’s profile has been updated accordingly: baptized anew in the holy brine of the farm-fresh movement.
“Vlasic’s gone from hearty to healthy because, obviously, they have to. It’s a much more educated consumer out there,” said Steve Cody, managing partner and co-founder of New York-based communications agency Peppercomm. “Given the cards they’ve been dealt—a pickle loaded with salt—they’ve delved into a consumer trend that is very much of the moment, and very smart.”
While 1985 wasn’t that long ago, it was an eternity in terms of dietary awareness. That year, The Wall Street Journal reported that American eating habits (heavily slanted toward convenience foods and red meat) had scarcely changed since 1965. Maybe that’s why murky gherkins like the ones shown here failed to raise alarm. “Those pickles looked like alien life forms,” Cody said, “—murky like Love Canal.”
OK, maybe not that bad, but it’s a safe bet that, by 2012, Vlasic realized that the rusty-water aesthetic would no longer fly in an age of artisanal foods, farmers markets and home growing. Fortunately, those trends also offered the perfect culinary paradigm for the pickle’s rebranding. Indeed, Vlasic’s Farmer’s Garden line—and its 2013 ad shown here—checks off every box on the feel-good list. Design touches like the deckle-edged label and the weathered plank background whisk viewers right to the farm. The turbid juice is gone, meanwhile, replaced by a crystalline brine that lets those sumptuous slabs of carrot and garlic strut their natural stuff. “They’ve really done a remarkable job recasting the look and feel of the product,” Cody said. “Transparency is the currency of the realm.”