Of pioneers, passion and passaia

The exotic soft drink Passaia from Rivella celebrates its 50th birthday - a brand history full of pioneering spirit, passion and Black Beautys.

A pioneer. In front of the mind's eye is a bearded man with a coonskin cap and a double-barreled shotgun in his hand. Ready to enter new territory, to conquer, to do things that no one has done before. If you cast off the romance of the leather stocking and turn to the Swiss business world, you will also find a few pioneers - at least in the recent past: Gottlieb Duttweiler, the light figure of Migros, Mövenpick founder Ueli Prager and - to stay in the broader gastronomy and food sector - Robert Barth, founder of Rivella. They have at least one thing in common: the iconic table drink Passaia.

Until 1952, it had never occurred to anyone to create a soft drink based on milk serum. Anyone who heard of Robert Barth's idea at the time often mouthed off in disgust and waved it away. That can't taste good. The success story of Rivella, the first sponsor of the Swiss national ski team, is the example of a vision and the will of a true patron. "We kept receiving inquiries from entrepreneurs abroad who were looking for something new," recalls Kurt Minder, former marketing and sales manager at Rivella and active for the company from 1954-1995. Among the interested parties was Cottee from Australia, and so Robert Barth, who loved to travel, set out for Down Under to sell Rivella. And he came back with something unprecedented: passion fruit juice and a vision of an aromatic table drink the likes of which Europe had never tasted.

"At an invitation in Melbourne, Dr. Barth enjoyed a cake enhanced with passion fruit coulis," says Kurt Minder. "He was blown away by this refreshing taste and saw it as an opportunity to add a new brand to Rivella's range." In the local lab, the imported juice was analyzed, diluted, and ultimately a refreshing drink was created along Australian lines. Once the formula was in place, the Swiss beverage pioneer addressed the people of Goroka, a highland in Papua New Guinea and a passion fruit growing region, in December 1962 with the following words: "Ologeta man i harim. Kumpani i rere nau long baim prut. Sapos man i karim prut long faktori pei enap long 9 d. long wan paun hevi.- You all men hear. The company is now ready to buy fruits. If a man brings fruit to the factory, enough is paid, 9 d. for a pound of weight."

Simply Passi

In 1964, the time had finally come: "To be on the safe side, we used the same brown bottles as for Rivella at that time, because we didn't know whether we would meet people's taste," says Minder. The advertising drums were beaten. The messages were exotic. South Sea charm and flower chains surrounded the yellow drink on the poster. Customers are far less familiar with the name tag than with the drink itself," says Kurt Minder. "They simply call it Passi, and we follow suit."


No effort is spared to offer the Swiss population the exotic pleasure of passion fruit, as support for the local population of Papua New Guinea is also seen as meaningful development aid. There are no connecting roads between the cultivation area located 3° south of the equator in the highlands of Goroka at 1800 meters above sea level and the port. "So they packed the canisters of passion fruit juice into DC-3 propeller planes and flew them unceremoniously to the coast. There, the contents were immediately deep-frozen and shipped to Europe," Minder explains with still incredulous laughter.


Two pioneers find each other

Like Robert Barth, gastronomy pioneer Ueli Prager also recognizes the potential of Passi and includes the fruit juice drink in the range of his popular Mövenpick restaurants right from the start. By the end of the first year of sales, half a million liters of the exotic soft drink were already being drunk. But Passi's growing popularity also brings enviers on the scene. "In 1967, the U.S. beverage company Pepsico threatened to take legal action because the name 'Passi' could lead to confusion with Pepsi," says Kurt Minder. "Rather than let it come down to a lawsuit, we decided to change the name. "Passaia is born.

To guarantee the continued success of Passaia, Cottee and Rivella set up a passion fruit plantation in Kenya in the early 1970s. Local farmers deliver their fruit, and the specially founded Passi AG processes it into juice and concentrate, which is sold to Switzerland and other companies worldwide. But political unrest forces the abandonment of the operation. Instead of throwing in the towel, the company starts looking for other locations. Angola serves as a supplier for a short time, but civil war turmoil puts an end to trade relations. Despite the continuing difficulties, Robert Barth sticks with Passaia and finds the aromatic concentrate in Brazil. Today, pure passion fruit juice from Ecuador serves as the basis for the refreshing table drink.


Hot Rhythm - cool Passaia

In spite of all the efforts, the Passaia business fell somewhat asleep in the mid-1970s. What to do? "To the eye, passion fruit doesn't look like much," recalls Hans Werner Zobrist, sales manager from 1978 to 1995. The small, often somewhat wizened balls exude nothing of the majestic sight of a pineapple and: "At that time, they were virtually unknown in our latitudes, only delicatessens occasionally carried them." Right from the start, Rivella provided educational information on the actual information leaflets, including pronunciation instructions: "Passionfruit is pronounced Päschenfruut. " - "We also couldn't rely on the inner values that inspired Rivella founder Robert Barth for advertising," says Zobrist. But his team found other ways to illustrate the beauty of the passion fruit and to convince the 25,000 sales outlets throughout Switzerland: "We filled Passaia in transparent bottles and brought the yellow color into focus," says Kurt Minder. But the Rivella sales team landed a real marketing coup with smartly dressed Black Beauties, attractive dark-skinned ladies who, together with sales representatives, paid surprise visits to the restaurants - after all, the aim was to attract the attention of the restaurant operators. "When and where such an action would take place was not known," says Hans Werner Zobrist. "The bartenders only knew that such a campaign was underway in the area and that all Passaia bottles on the tables were paid for by Rivella. So excitement and attention was guaranteed. Very smart regulars kept an eye out for the black beauties and ordered a Passaia just before they arrived. "From today's perspective, you can hardly believe such a marketing campaign, which was supported with corresponding poster subjects," grins Zobrist mischievously. "But the regulars found it very funny, and there was plenty to talk about."

As successful as the Black Beauties campaign was, a theme had to be found for Passaia that fit Rivella like sports and appealed to a young target audience. Chance came to the aid of Charly Buser, the head of Sportservice from 1972-1985. Together with Kurt Minder, he discovered the young band Boney M. at an Udo Jürgens concert in Zurich's Hallenstadion just before their big hit "By the Rivers of Babylon" (1978). "The band was perfect and embodied the exotic of Passaia," explains the later inventor of the audience spectacle Super- 10-Kampf. As a result, the German music producer Frank Farian was contacted and a sold-out Swiss tour with six concerts was organized in the spring of 1978. "The success confirmed the decision that music and Passaia were a perfect pair," Buser says. "Under the slogan 'Hot Rhythm - Cool Passaia,' we supported the events of the newly founded concert agency Good News as a sponsor. That was just as unique as Rivella's decision to become the first sponsor of the Swiss ski team." From then on, the exotic thirst quencher led the range of beverages on offer at Good News gigs, and the Passaia logo, complete with palm trees, was emblazoned on all concert announcements and posters. In 1979, Passaia sold around 3.5 million liters, thus reaching a temporary peak in production.

Migros takes over

In the mid-1970s, a central switch in the history of Passaia is made, and another Swiss pioneer comes into play: Although it is not Gottlieb Duttweiler personally who takes a liking to Passaia, the buyers at his Migros understand the appeal of passion fruit compared to Coop. Under the name Passinel - a trademark protected by Rivella - the soft drink is added to the range. To mark the 40th anniversary of Passaia, which is also available in a light variant, Migros abandons the "Passinel" brand. "Since then, Migros has been selling Passaia exclusively and sales have been increasing," says a pleased Kurt Minder, who continues to keep an eye on the success of "his" company despite his retirement. Although the eponymous product is the focus at Rivella and the sporty soft drink also accounts for the lion's share of sales, efforts are always being made to keep Passaia in the conversation and, above all, on the table. In 2009, the cult brand undergoes a relaunch. Labels and logos were redesigned from scratch and the fresh appearance was supported by a humorous advertising campaign - with success. Since then, sales of Passaia have been rising steadily.

Now, on the 50th anniversary of the yellow drink, various campaigns are again planned that continue the tradition of guerrilla marketing. "This time, it's not trompe l'oeuil paintings of exotic oases that will be painted on squares and streets," says Monika Christener, head of corporate communications at Rivella. "Via Facebook, we are recruiting brand ambassadors to accompany us throughout the year."

These ambassadors are to represent the Passaia brand and products in their private environment in a positive and, above all, authentic way. "They should invite friends to a barbecue and are supported by us and Migros in doing so ", explains Ms. Christener. "At open-air festivals, they continue the tradition of music and passaia with actions, and of course something is being considered in the environment of the World Cup." Of course, there is also a prize in store for the chosen ambassadors. All will receive a travel voucher worth 200 francs. "The winner of the main prize will fly to Hawaii," reveals Monika Christener. The vending machine campaign will also attract attention, as Passaia is available free of charge here. "Eye-catching vending machines filled only with Passaia will be set up in public places," says Monika Christener. "Anyone who outed themselves as a Passaia- fan on Facebook will receive a QR code that can be used to get a free bottle from the vending machine." Well then, cheers.

Marc Bodmer

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