What’s in a name? Marketing, that’s what

Many years ago, as a guest at a Bar Mitzvah, I was served something called sweetbreads. It was neither sweet nor did it contain bread, but it did taste pretty good. Curious to know exactly what it was, I spent the next morning at the library on Stone Avenue, because this was so long ago (or, not so long) that there were no computers to Google things on. I learned that I had eaten the pancreas and/or the thymus gland of a calf. Had I known that the day before, would I have cleaned the plate?

We often consume products that sound — or even taste — better when given a fancy-shmancy name. By a show of hands, how many of you would eat a dish of cooked snails? Remove the kishkes from the shell, heat it in butter and garlic, and give it elegant French name – escargot. Restaurants serve this chic appetizer and get about 15 bucks a plate.

Marketing advisors tell us that if it cannot be sold, try changing the name. Who was the genius who took the off-white canned tuna and relabeled it “light?” Chop in some celery, raw onion, a hardboiled egg and mix well in Hellman’s. Nobody I know can taste any difference between light and white.

Once upon a time, while in the Poconos, I caught a huge catfish. One look at the ugly face and whiskers and my roommate refused to prepare it. There are many like her. Okay — let’s play “Change the Name” and see what we come up with. Have you noticed the sale at the fish counter for something called “swai”? While everything else is selling for eight, 10 and even 15 bucks a pound, swai fillet, which look pretty good beneath the glass, goes for about four dollars a pound. Will I burst your bubble if I tell you that this tasty seafood is really an imported version of river-farmed catfish? How about basa? Or sutchi? My guess is they would sell a lot better than they do if the sign said “imported Asian catfish.”

Once upon a time we consumed a relatively small amount of “rapeseed oil.” For obvious reasons, sales multiplied when it was renamed canola oil.

Most older folks eat “prunes.” Younger Americans are growing to love “dried plums.”

Right now everybody who reads labels makes a face when we read that one of the ingredients of the particular item we’re holding is “high fructose corn syrup.” This common, relatively inexpensive liquid is both a sweetener and preservative in various sodas, fruit flavored drinks, breads and other processed foods. There are many who believe that this particular syrup is one of the causes of obesity, a problem which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. The research continues, but while the public continues to find corn syrup in an unfavorable light, the Corn Refiners Association is trying to change its name. The organization has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to allow them to rename high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar. This, of course, will make it sound like its first cousin, cane sugar.

So what’s in a name? I am [email protected] telling you that a fish by any other name will sell a lot better.