Origins: Tropical Fantasy was brought onto the market in September 1990 by Brooklyn Bottling, a small family-owned soft drink manufacturer established in 1937, that was in 1990 only just getting by on its line of seltzers. Fantasy's comparably low price (49¢ per
In April 1991 rumors began circulating in black neighborhoods that the beverage was laced with a secret ingredient that would cause sterility in black men, and that the Ku Klux Klan were the actual bottlers.
Sales of the beverage plummeted by 70%.
The rumor did not spread by word of mouth alone; someone took the time to type it up and see that it was widely distributed via a flyer posted in stores and passed hand-to-hand:
PLEASE BE ADVISE, "Top Pop" & "Tropical Fantasy" .50 sodas are being manufactured by the Klu..Klux..Klan.
Sodas contain stimulants to sterilize the black man, and who knows what else!!!!
They are only put in stores in Harlem and minority areas. You won't find them down town....Look around....
Brooklyn Bottling's early attempts to fight the rumor were unsuccessful. Consumers were not swayed by the information that the same ridiculous slander had been aired about Church's Fried Chicken only a few years earlier.
The manufacturer fought harder and hired a black public relations firm to advise on how to diffuse
Problems continued. Distributors were threatened with baseball bats and delivery drivers were pelted with bottles. Rumors then began to circulate that Pepsi and Coca-Cola officials were deliberately spreading the rumor to regain inner city market shares, whispers that were denied by representatives of both companies. Free Tropical Fantasy was handed out. The warmer weather also worked its magic, creating increased demand for cold beverages. New York Mayor David Dinkins, a prominent African-American, drank Tropical Fantasy on television in a effort to prove it was harmless.
The combined counterattacks finally took the wind out of the rumor, and by mid-June 1991 sales had rebounded. The rumor was not necessarily forgotten, but it was no longer strongly influencing sales.
Probably no one will ever know for sure who started this rumor, but Brooklyn Bottling maintains it was begun by vindictive former employees or unscrupulous competitors. This is a common enough claim for any victimized concern to make, and in most instances those who study such matters eventually conclude that however a vicious rumor came into being, business rivals were not at the bottom of it. But that is not the case here: the bottlers of Tropical Fantasy have in fact amassed an impressive amount of evidence which suggests that if their competitors did not launch the story, they might well have actively perpetrated it.
Tropical Fantasy is not the only product to have had the sterilization rumor tied to its tail. Church's Fried Chicken experienced a similar fate.
Non-blacks first encountering the rumor might wonder at how widely the canard was believed, because they are intially struck by the implausibility of the claim. Folklorist Patricia Turner provides this answer:
Barbara "whirled of difference" Mikkelson
Last updated: 26 May 2011
de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (p. 141). Ellis, William. "African American Legends." FOAFTale News. June 1991 (pp. 10-11). Harris, Nicole. "Eric Miller Is No Soda Jerk." Business Week. 10 August 1992 (p. 28). Levinson, Arlene. "Rumor Almost Ruins Small Soda Firm." Los Angeles Times. 14 July 1991 (p. A2). Turner, Patricia. I Heard it Through the Grapevine. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California, 1993. ISBN 0-520-08185-4 (pp. 165-170). Newsweek. "A Storm Over Tropical Fantasy." 22 April 1991 (p. 34).