How Regulations Helped to Kill the Blackcurrant Berry Market in America
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It’s no secret that regulations are used as tools by rent-seeking firms in order to keep competitors off the market. But when US regulations restrict the production of items for long periods of time and for no apparent reason, it’s often hard to bring the same items back into particular communities.
This happened with the blackcurrant berry, which has impacted Skittles, the fruit-flavored sweets that are both produced and marketed by the Wrigley Company.
In the United States, the purple Skittle tastes like grape. But anywhere else, including the United Kingdom and Australia, the company uses blackcurrant to produce these pesky purple pieces of candy. Outside of the country, everyone knows what blackcurrant is. But in America, many haven’t even heard of the powerful fruit.
What many also don’t know is that blackcurrant berry is not widely known in America because of a regulatory black hole.
For many years, growing the sweet and tart berry in the United States was outlawed. Since the early 1990s, farmers were forced to drop the production, but it wasn’t because there wasn’t a demand. Instead, the policy was embraced after legislators learned that the berry bushes could act as a vector for white pine blister rust, which could destroy the wood. That was a problem for lumber producers, and the berry was outlawed.
While in the 1960s the federal government loosened restrictions, allowing states to set their own rules, a few have kept the ban in place. Nevertheless, most states now allow farmers to grow the berry. Regardless of the policy change, the decades of obscurity made Americans remain unaware of the very existence of blackcurrant berry. The fruit, which is widely popular in Europe, is seldom found anywhere in the United States.
One man’s journey to formally decriminalize the fruit in New York started in Germany, where he ran a restaurant in the Bavaria region. Coming back to New York, Greg Quinn lobbied local lawmakers, helping overturn the ban on growing the fruit. Ever since 2003, Quinn has been growing blackcurrants in Hudson Valley, and now counts with at least 10,000 bushes in his backyard.
Ever since the very first moment he learned about the berry, he knew he alone had to help reintroduce the flavor back to the American palate.
As his brand of juices and concentrates start to slowly hit the market, many cocktail bars and restaurants appear to like the products, but the flavor is so foreign to Americans that the product is often seen as a tough sell.
Until blackcurrant berries are popular in America again, one can only hope that this story will help others to think twice before supporting more restrictions in the future.