On October 13, 2020, fruit giant Del Monte Fresh released the Pinkglow Pineapple, a fruit that is genetically modified to produce pink flesh. Priced at up to $49, the Pinkglow is beyond the reach — and reason — of many consumers, which appears to suit Del Monte just fine. It is grown, marketed and sold as an exclusive item. The Pinkglow seems to be an example of what happens when the need for PR buzz drives science, generating a product that nobody needs and very few will be able to buy.
Why is this pineapple pink?
Pineapples naturally turn yellow as they ripen because of an enzyme that tells the pineapple to produce beta carotene. In the Pinkglow Pineapple, the genetic material is modified so that the enzymes that make the flesh yellow are suppressed, resulting in a pinkish pigment. The inside of the modified pineapple looks, according to Jimmy Kimmel, "like a ham." Kimmel brought one in as part of his monologue, complete with taste test and a helpful review (“You know what this tastes like? Pineapple.”)
It's not surprising that the Pinkglow would earn a mention on late-night TV. It is new, and it is odd. Before slicing the fruit, Kimmel pointedly displayed the accompanying Certificate of Authenticity, which unfurls like a diploma. After watching Kimmel's segment, it seemed "Why is it pink?" was perhaps the wrong question. A better one might be, why would someone make it pink? What was the reason behind this product?
A GMO ripe for Instagram
Del Monte began work on the pink pineapple sixteen years ago. Already a dominant force in the fresh fruit industry, they were looking for "a niche product that could expand the market for pineapple." The rest of the world's pineapples are yellow-fleshed — including the millions already grown and sold by Del Monte every year. In developing the Pinkglow, Del Monte is wagering that at least some of its customers are willing to pay 5-10 times the price for the novelty of an unusual pineapple. One of the Pinkglow's selling points is as an accessory on social media:
"Become the envy of your friends and followers with this highly sought-after delicacy. Pinkglow™ will look phenomenal on whatever social media platform is en vogue by the time you read this."
Within a month of the Pinkglow's launch, the smaller Petit Pinkglow became available to residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area — increasing the exclusivity while decreasing the fruit's size.
The kind of fruit we don't need right now
The world into which the Pinkglow arrived was very different from the one in which it was conceived. Remember, the gestation period was sixteen years. As part of the product launch, the inventors were credited with a kind of prescience by Food & Wine: "It’s like Del Monte knew 2020 would be the year nothing needs to make sense." Evoking the chaos of the last year to celebrate the release of a pink pineapple is in poor taste. It's too soon. It will be too soon for quite some time.
At the Non-GMO Project, we take food seriously — food access is serious, healthy and equitable food access even more so, and the introduction of such an exclusive product at a time when food insecurity has doubled in a single year is baffling. And it's wonderful when food brings joy! But the elitism of the Pinkglow, the sheer waste involved, is troubling. Beyond the cost of a single pineapple, there were years and fortunes spent developing it. Making GMOs isn't easy. It takes tenacity and some fancy footwork to force an organism to accept our crude interventions. A good portion of those sixteen years was nature, resisting.
Recognizing how much went into engineering the Pinkglow, it's worth remembering that every human action is ultimately bound, to some degree, by limited resources. Whether that limit is what's in our bank accounts or our kitchen cupboards, how we spend our talents or the tasks that fill our lives — these things are all resources, and they are precious. Then there is the cosmic bottom line, which applies even to the world's powerful corporations: that time cannot be reclaimed, that the Earth can only produce so much to sustain her many inhabitants. The choices we make matter, because so much depends upon them.