By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Coca-Cola may be the king of fizzy drinks but Orangina gives it a good run for its money in France. The distinctively flavoured (orange and citrus) liquid in its distinctive 250 cl bulbous-shaped bottle with a pitted surface to evoke the texture of orange peel was first successfully marketed in France shortly after the war, by Jean-Claude Beton, who has died aged 88. The formula for its content was invented in the 1930s by a Spanish pharmacist called Agustin Trigo, who called it Naranjina. Beton’s father Léon Beton was taken with it and sold it in Algeria in the 1930s as Orangina.
After the war, Jean-Claude Beton set up production in an old distillery in Boufarik in Algeria and devised the famous bottle. French soldiers returning from Algeria were advocates. It wasn’t long before it was being sold and then produced in Metropolitan France. Beton called it “the champagne of soft drinks”. The famous logo, meanwhile, was introduced in 1962.
Orangina was first sold in the United States in 1983 and the UK in 1985 ("Shake it and wake it!"). But the stuff sold mostly in 500 cl plastic bottles over here doesn’t seem to have the intensity or quite the taste of the original – and no pith. In 2008, meanwhile, a TV advertising campaign for the drink was criticized for its sexualized depiction of anthropomorphic animals when it was shown in Britain. Looking at it again, it does strike me as a bit silly but fairly inoffensive.
Orangina has always seemed as quintessentially French as Perrier, Pernod Ricard and Dubonnet (does anyone recall the advertising slogan “Dubo . . . Dubon . . . Dubonnet”?) To me as a child on family trips across France, it represented a reward for agreeing to be shown yet another flying buttress on a Gothic cathedral. I probably consumed it on a café terrace in sight of the cathedral boasting those flying buttresses.
I don’t recall whether Orangina was advertised on the sides of buildings in towns in the north of the country in the way that Dubonnet was – those peeling billboards vying with electioneering posters for Jacques Chaban-Delmas or Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. It was probably a southern thing. It certainly evoked the sun of the South (as in Bernard Villemot's publicity poster, below).
Maybe one day I’ll blog a paean of praise to that other French design classic: Kronenbourg 1664.