A kiwi by any other name

2007-10-22

in Daily updates, The environment

Some people will be surprised to learn that the kiwi fruit (produced by a hybrid of Actinidia deliciosa and other species of that genus) was named after the somewhat similar looking bird of that name (Apterygidae Apteryx) in 1959 as a marketing ploy. Apparently, the fruit had previously been called a ‘Chinese gooseberry’ but that name was seen as overly political during the Cold War. The alternative name ‘melonette’ was problematic because melons faced high import tariffs. The solution dreamt up by the produce company Turners and Growers was thus to brand the fruit with the name of the bird it supposedly resembles. The general association between the bird, the word ‘kiwi,’ and people from New Zealand extends back before 1899. The kiwi bird has been part of the regimental signs of New Zealand Regimentas since the Second Boer War.

The whole thing is reminiscent of the re-branding of Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) as ‘Chilean Sea Bass.’ The intention to alter consumer perceptions of products by changing their names isn’t reserved for agricultural or fishery organizations trying to optimize their sales; some environmentalists are trying to re-brand ‘biodiesel’ with the moniker ‘industrial agrodiesel‘ in order to alter perceptions that this is a green or sustainable fuel.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. October 22, 2007 at 7:13 pm
Emily Horn October 22, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Funny story.. When I was in New Zealand, I visited a bird sanctuary which had all sorts of great flightless birds. I learned that the Maori actually never needed to hunt for the NZ flightless birds because they’d just leave out a bowl of food for the birds and they’d eat until they couldn’t move, leaving them susceptible to a quick grab.

So, anyways, they kept the Kiwi birds in a different area, inside of a dark shed kept safe behind glass enclosures. They’re mostly nocturnal animals, and need lots of quiet, so you can go in but there’s all sorts of signs saying “Be quiet!” and “Don’t tap the glass!” They’re endangered animals, and the New Zealanders are very protective of their national bird.

Naturally, after staring for a long time at what looked to be a brown blob, I got impatient and gently started tapping on the corner of the glass. It stirred, and came over to investigate the sound. I continued tapping, and it got increasingly more excited.. Figuring I had made some sort of Dr.Doolittle-like morse code communication with the Kiwi, I felt rather pleased with myself. I stopped tapping, and it went to walk away, so again, I gently tapped on the glass and it suddenly lost it. It started whacking its head against the glass repeatedly, for an extended period of time, until I became horribly self-conscious and fled the scene.

Lesson learned: when they say don’t tap the glass, don’t tap the glass!!

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