Why Pomegranate, and Why Now?

Not that long ago, pomegranates, if they appeared at all, made only cameo appearances in salads. And now: pomegranate juice, pomegranate soda, pomegranate martinis, pomegranate ice cream. What’s more, by now we all know that antioxidants are good, and that pomegranates have lots of them. How did pomegranate suddenly become the Paris Hilton of the food world? It has everything to do with Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the billionaire marketing geniuses who also own The Franklin Mint, Teleflora, and some of the most successful agribusinesses in California. Their holding company, Roll International, owns the biggest pistachio producer in the country (Paramount Farming), one of the largest almond processors in the world (Paramount Farms), and California’s top citrus grower (Paramount Citrus).

In 1987, Paramount Farming was aggressively acquiring olive, pistachio, and almond orchards in central California. It purchased the 18,000-acre Dudley Ridge Ranch, which happened to have an experimental 100-acre plot of pomegranates planted 16 years earlier and largely ignored.

At first Paramount sold only whole pomegranates. Then, after learning of the fruit’s health benefits, the company ramped up its San Joaquin Valley production of a single pomegranate variety (the Wonderful variety, hence POM Wonderful, the brand name) and started producing juice concentrate, a product reconstituted by bottlers in the now-familiar plastic containers.

Instead of lavishing money on advertising, the Resnicks invested heavily ($15 million to date) in funding scientific studies on the healthful properties of pomegranates. They leveraged the studies with small but effective campaigns that touted “Healthcare in a bottle” and advised drinking POM to “Floss your arteries. Daily.”

Interestingly, the healthy elixir is not an organic product. Pomegranate trees are drought-tolerant, but they need a fair amount of water to thrive. Since they can be hurt by aphids, whiteflies, and a parasitic rot fungus called Phytophthora, they’re treated with chemicals twice a year. And because the juice is flash pasteurized, its vitamin C is destroyed. (POM considered replenishing the lost vitamin C, but the company finally decided against doing so for fear that it would appear as if chemicals had been added to the juice.)

POM Wonderful is not cheap, selling for $4 and up for a 16-ounce bottle, which holds the juice from four pomegranates. But since Roll International dominates the market, and owns all rights to the extraction process, prices are not likely to plummet anytime soon.