Some things are distinctly New Jersey. Probably way more than you think. Taylor Ham, Whitney Houston, baseball and so on. If you’ve spent any time dining at some of New Jersey’s classic lunch spots, such as Rutt’s Hut or Hiram’s, you might have noticed something weird: Yoo-Hoo is everywhere. Seriously, 10 minutes in one of these spots and you’ll likely see more Yoo-Hoo than you have in the last five years combined. Is the combo of salty food and chocolate that good? Or, is there something else fueling this fandom?
The answer is in its origin: Yoo-Hoo is yet another pride of the Garden State.
The Origins of Yoo-Hoo
Yoo-Hoo owes its existence to Natale Olivieri, a successful businessman in making carbonated fruit beverages under the brand Tru-Fruit. In the 1920s, Olivieri noticed the growing popularity of chocolate and set out to create a bottled chocolate beverage. However, a simple chocolate milk would not cut it—Olivieri wanted to develop something more shelf-stable.
Olivieri turned to his wife, who was proficient in jarring (sometimes called canning) tomatoes. He looked closely at her process, which involved boiling the tomatoes and jars, creating a seal that preserves foods for longer periods. Olivieri decided to take this approach to his eventual chocolate beverage.
What Is Yoo-Hoo?
To create a lasting product, Olivieri sought to leave milk out of the Yoo-Hoo formula. He found that a combo of water, whey, chocolate and sweetener made not only a delicious chocolate beverage, but one that would stand up to the canning process and last on a shelf.
In 1928, Yoo-Hoo was ready to hit shelves out of Garfield, NJ.
The drink first appeared in New Jersey grocery stores and developed into a local brand. Something that was unique to Jersey. This is when eateries like Rutt’s Hut and Hiram’s—which both opened around the same time as Yoo-Hoo’s launch—started stocking the chocolate beverage. It was official; Yoo-Hoo was a New Jersey gem.
Yoo-Hoo: It’s Not Just for Kids
The brand was consistently growing, but it was mostly limited to New Jersey. Furthermore, children were the main customers of the beverage. So, Yoo-Hoo looked to remove these barriers. They would launch a campaign to fix this that would accomplish three things in one fell swoop: Cement themselves as a New Jersey product, spread their influence to the rest of the nation and grow their audience by gearing a marketing strategy toward adults. The solution? They struck a deal with Jersey-born baseball star, Yogi Berra.
During the 1960s, a campaign aired starring Yogi Berra and his fellow New York Yankees teammates. In the advertisement, Berra, dressed in a pinstriped suit, enjoys a Yoo-Hoo from a bottle, holds it up to his cheek, and playfully shouts, “It’s Me-He for Yoo-Hoo!” Baseball was hitting a golden age during this time and there was no team more popular than the New York Yankees.
The campaign was successful and Yoo-Hoo soared in popularity. Advertisements continued over the years, specifically marketing Yoo-Hoo as a vitamin-rich soft drink.
Eventually, Yoo-Hoo moved its headquarters to Tarrytown, NY, but certain Yoo-Hoo products are still manufactured in Carlstadt, New Jersey.
Yoo-Hoo is not nearly as popular today as it once was, but still, you see it everywhere when dining at some of New Jersey’s legendary restaurants and lunch counters. It’s a testament to the pride of many New Jersey natives. The chocolate beverage, which contains no milk at all, was invented to bring a shelf-stable chocolate beverage to the market. And like many of life’s great pleasures, it all started right here in the Garden State.
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.