You Might Never Think of Raisins the Same Way

New York Times profiles the surprisingly cutthroat industry in California
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2019 5:01 PM CDT
Updated May 4, 2019 3:40 PM CDT
You Might Never Think of Raisins the Same Way

Raisins may seem like an innocent, wholesome snack, but reporter Jonah Engel Bromwich of the New York Times has an entertaining read about the not-so-innocent industry that produces them in California. The story focuses on Sun-Maid exec Harry Overly, who at 38 is much younger than the industry's old guard. Three months into his new job in 2017, Overly says a meeting with other industry execs in which "completely illegal" collusion methods were discussed left him rattled. "I’m not saying this lightly, because—you can read about this in different spots—people kind of think there’s this raisin mafia out there and that kind of stuff." If that sounds a little much, consider what happened when Overly pulled Sun-Maid out of the Raisin Bargaining Association, a group that represents farmers and helps figure out prices with processors such as Sun-Maid.

Someone put a note in his front door with the ominous message, "you can't run." That was accompanied by about half-a-dozen death threats. Kalem Barserian, the 81-year-old head of the RBA, says he knows nothing of the threats (and Overly believes him), but he also suggested they were part of the culture. “I mean somebody might have threatened somebody. But that’s just the farm...," he said, before trailing off. Asked if Overly might have over-reacted, he responded, "Exactly." The story has much background on the raisin world, including how the iconic dancing raisins commercial of 1986—commissioned by the industry, not a specific company—led to a spike in sales, along with friction between Sun-Maid and smaller companies hoping to capitalize on it. Click to read the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)

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