Cannery Life, Del Monte in the Santa Clara Valley

The Mystery of Fruit Cocktail

Detail from a Muirson Label Company promotional ad, c. 1960Fruit cocktail has been a staple of the canned fruit industry since at least the 1940’s.  The combination of pears, grapes, peaches, pineapple, syrup and bright red cherry halves was one of the most popular products Del Monte Plant #3 produced.  It is generally agreed that fruit cocktail was developed as a way make use of the fruit scraps left when bruised or damaged fruits could not be used in canning.  But the exact origin of fruit cocktail remains a mystery.

Label for Golden Morn Brand Fruit Salad, c.1920.Canner J.C. Ainsley of Campbell (California) began marketing a product called “fruit salad” in 1893, under the "Golden Morn" label.  According to the Campbell Historical Museum, the fruit salad contained cherries as well as diced fruits.  But the product was never called fruit cocktail.  In 1958, an article titled “100 Years of Canning in the West” in the journal Canner and Packer credited Herbert Gray of San Jose’s Barron-Gray Packing Company with invention of fruit cocktail in 1930.  Gray himself affirmed this claim in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News in 1969.  The academic field of Food Science gives credit for fruit cocktail to Dr. William V. Cruess, a pioneer in the field and professor at UC Berkeley from 1911 until 1954.  Dr. Cruess’ research focused on the use of fruit culls and by-products.  And some Plant #3 workers claim that fruit cocktail was invented right in the plant on Auzerais Avenue.

However it came to be, Calpak’s “new” Fruit Cocktail premiered under the Del Monte name in 1938.  Consumers were introduced to fruit cocktail as a stylish dessert suitable for formal dinner parties and entertaining.  Plant #3 produced fruit cocktail continuously from 1941 until the plant’s closure in 1999.