There’s a fun little treat that’s recently been making rounds on social media. It’s a YouTube video of a 1969 TV commercial for Sunsweet Prunes, featuring iconic sci-fi author Ray Bradbury.
The spot made by satirist Stanley Freberg introduces Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, and purports to describe some of the author’s predictions.
By 2001, the narrator says, people will travel in pneumatic tubes, their televisions will be wall-to-wall, and – most incredibly of all! – they’ll eat Sunsweet prunes from tiny mini-packs.
“Hold it! What’s going on here?” Bradbury interjects. “I never mentioned prunes in any of my stories.”
“Oh, you didn’t?” the narrator retorts.
“No, never,” Bradbury answers. “I’m sorry to be so candid.”
“No, they’re not candied,” the narrator bellows, “but pretty sweet all the same. The prune of tomorrow, available now.”
“They’re still rather badly wrinkled, though,” Bradbury says.
“Sunsweet’s wrinkle technicians will one day conquer that, too,” the narrator declares. “Sunsweet marches on!” The scene switches to a rocket taking off.
“I never mentioned prunes in any of my stories,” Bradbury repeats. “What are these people trying to pull?”
As it turns out, they pulled off a commercial that would be a hit 50 years later on devices that hadn’t yet been invented, which use an internet that hadn’t yet been invented. Not bad for science fiction.
So how did the commercial’s predictions turn out?
People still don’t travel in pneumatic tubes, unless they’re elves in “Polar Express”. (The London Underground doesn’t count.) But by 2001, my brother had a home theater with Surround Sound speakers and a movie screen that went wall-to-wall. And mini-packs have been ubiquitous at every prune producer meeting I’ve covered for years.
However, perhaps the commercial’s most prescient message was its idea of prunes as a snack of the future. That came true, in several different ways.
The industry saw a period of acreage growth that peaked in – yep – 2000 and 2001, with a record 219,000 tons produced in California in 2000. Today’s acreage and production are about half of those totals.
More importantly, the ad was correct in positioning prunes as a snack of the future. You see, in the last 50 years consumers have become more knowledgeable about the role that diet plays in their internal health, to the point that they’re ready to fully embrace prunes either as a snack or a food ingredient.
That’s why the California Dried Plum Board – which changed its name from the Prune Board in 2000 – is about to launch a major campaign reembracing the name “prunes” for the dried fruit.
“We’re expanding our portfolio” of health and nutrition research, including more recent discoveries of the importance of maintaining the gut health that prunes were well-known for, board executive director Donn Zea told growers in February.
No word yet on whether they’ve done anything about the wrinkles.