Some brands have the ability to transcend time, taking you back to the high school lunchroom or an after-school play date. Yoo-Hoo is one of those brands. You may be surprised to know that the chocolatey drink was invented by an unconventional beverage maker right here in New Jersey. Read on to learn more about this classic lunchtime treat and its tie to the Garden State.
History of New Jersey’s Yoo-Hoo
Yoo-Hoo is an iconic American drink. With loud yellow packaging, a familiar name, and the taste of nostalgia, it is synonymous with playgrounds and after-school treats. As of late, the drink is often thought of as a 90s brand, but it was actually invented in New Jersey in the 1920s.
Yoo-Hoo was created by Natale Olivieri, an entrepreneur and beverage maker who bottled and sold fresh fruit drinks under the business name Tru-Fruit. He became interested in creating a chocolate drink at some point but could not figure out how to bottle it while keeping the dairy contents fresh.
Then, one day, he observed his wife bottling up jars of homemade tomatoes and realized that boiling jars, in the same manner, could seal and preserve Yoo-Hoo for longer shelf life. A solution was born, and after many attempts, Oliveri successfully bottled his chocolatey drink without risking it going sour. A gentle shake also killed most bacteria when boiling, making the product even more shelf-stable.
Tru-Fruit was still the name of all the family’s products, and it wasn’t a fit for the new chocolate drink, so Oliveri came up with the name “Yoo-Hoo.” It was an upbeat greeting and sounded friendly and peppy, similar to Moxie and Whoopee’s drinks, which were popular at the time. The name stuck.
While the chocolate nature of Yoo-Hoo is somewhat mysterious — it has no milk in it — it hasn’t stopped being a favorite for the second half of the 20th century. It’s called a “chocolate drink” rather than chocolate milk as the primary “milk-suggesting” flavor is in the whey. It’s also got a good amount of sugar, but that’s probably why we love it so much.
Partnership with Yogi Berra — A Jersey Icon
Baseball hit its golden age in the 1950s and 60s, so it was a natural fit for advertisers to find a way to capitalize on the sport’s national success. Add one often-quoted, three-time baseball MVP, and it’s a guaranteed marketing home run. In 1955, Yogi Berra agreed to endorse Yoo-Hoo because he was familiar with the drink and genuinely liked it (being a Jersey boy and all). He even made his own catchphrase in a way only Yogi could: “Mee-hee for Yoo-Hoo!” From print ads marketed to kids to TV campaigns, Yogi Berra was one of the first professional athletes to endorse a product. He became such a good spokesman that the company gifted him stock.
Yoo-Hoo was sold to different parent companies through the years, and Yogi Berra ended his partnership. However, he came back for a few more advertisements in the 1990s. You can even see some of the original ads and bottles at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.
Yoo-Hoo still has a factory in Carlstadt, NJ, but is headquartered in New York under a larger drink company, the Dr. Pepper-Snapple Group. It’s hard to imagine a brand that was started so long ago still feeling relevant, but today it is the drink of teenage nostalgia. Yoo-Hoo might just be as New Jersey as you can get.