Most people think of raisins as a healthy snack, one to be enjoyed in trail mix or baked into bread. Usually, the most exciting thing you can do with them is to make ants on a log. However, Sun-Maid showed us in 1986 that raisins can be so much more. If you remember the California Raisins, you know that raisins can be cool, stylish and talented, going so far as to be nominated for the Emmys!
Who Were the California Raisins?
The California Raisins started off as a Sun-Maid commercial in a marketing scheme to improve the sales of raisins. This 30-second tv commercial featured a group of anthropomorphized, claymation raisins dressed to the nines in their suits and bowties. These talented little guys sang and danced their hearts out to "I heard it through the grapevine."
The California Raisins sang rhythm and blues, and their vocals were sung by musician Buddy Miles. Will Vinton, the animator who coined the word "claymation" helped bring them to life. This silly but beloved group was popular throughout the 1980s, making a name for Sun-Maid as more than a mediocre snack.
The idea was born when writer Seth Werner of Foote, Cone & Belding SF pitched the idea at a meeting on behalf of the California Raisin Advisory Board. The sales for Sun-Maid weren't doing well, as it was proving hard to shake raisins' reputation as a boring, healthy dried fruit. At the ad agency meeting, Werner declared "we have tried everything but dancing raisins singing 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine.'" Popularized by Marvin Gaye, this song would become even more popular after being belted out by a group of dancing raisins.
The Raisins' Rise to Stardom
To everyone's astonishment, the public fell in love with the California Raisins commercial. They even appeared in the Emmy Award- winning A Claymation Christmas Celebration, where they sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." These wildly popular clay animation raisins grew into far more than their creators had ever dreamed of.
The California Raisins released four studio albums in 1987 and 1988, and their trademark, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," was on the Billboard Hot 100. They even earned an Emmy nomination! Along with becoming successful singers, the California Raisins continued to be featured in commercials and were eventually used to advertise Raisin Bran cereal.
In 1988, CBS had a primetime tv special called Meet the Raisins!, a mockumentary that gave the raisins names and roles- A.C. did vocals, Beebop on the drums, Stretch played bass, and Red played guitar and piano. The next year, there was a Saturday morning cartoon series, The California Raisin Show. Then, in 1990, a sequel to Meet the Raisins! came out, called The Raisins: Sold Out!- The California Raisins II.
California Raisins Merch
Along with their success on TV and in the music industry, the California Raisins had plenty of merchandise made for them. There were California Raisin lunch boxes, bed sheets, posters, notebooks and t-shirts, along with a comic book series. The true lovers of California Raisins even made a fan club in 1987, which included memorabilia and a Grapevine Gazette newsletter.
The most memorable and widely loved merchandise was the California Raisins collectibles, which were little figurines of the famous raisin band. New collections were created in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 2001. Hardee's restaurants featured these collectibles in their promotion for Cinnamon 'N Raisin biscuits.
To add to these collectibles, there were several music albums released, featuring Motown and rock. These were directed by Helane Freeman, who later grew to fame from her work with various Disney programs like Hannah Montana. Last but not least, a video game was created for the Nintendo, in which a California Raisin had to fight an assortment of evil vegetables and fruits.
However, despite the wild success of these spunky, singing raisins, their time came to an end. The campaign eventually ended because of how expensive it was for the raisin growers. Along with this, CALRAB, the company who created the campaign, closed in 1994. Although we can no longer see these stylin raisins singing and dancing up a storm, this pop culture moment will never be forgotten.