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Published: Wednesday, 10/1/2003

Grapefruit makeover dreams

For connoisseurs who prefer tart to sugary, grapefruit and its juices, which run from near-sweet to slightly acidic, have always been a treat. Florida growers, who have a prodigious share of the world and domestic markets, want to expand the grapefruit universe to the rest of us. To convince us that grapefruit squeezing is good, palate-cleaning - “sass in a glass.”

It won't be easy. Grapefruit juices often have mouth-puckering aftertastes. Then there's the fact that few in the mixed drink set have thrilled to a Screaming Alice, or that marmalade and curd makers, with few exceptions, haven't made sweet spreads of various grapefruits as they have with oranges, limes, and lemons.

Fans fear that grapefruit is going the way of Melba toast and antimacassars. Its incompatibility with anti-cholesterol medications is another blow. Older people, most likely to take these drugs, have been grapefruit's biggest fans.

Yet, grapefruit, which got its name because it grows in clusters, has a lot going for it. It is fat-free, full of vitamins, and, compared to orange juice, very low in calories - part of its pucker problem.

Now Florida producers have hatched a series of pitches to resell grapefruit to America. It will include definitive word about the worth of the old “grapefruit diet,” which is bunkum.

The promos will surely suggest in design circles a new fashion color, pamplemousse. Its paler shade of lemon will be to grapefruit what aubergine is to eggplant purple.

Watch, too, for the importation of inventiveness. In Japan, which accounts for huge sales of Florida grapefruit, people are squeezing its juices into their baths. Can grapefruit soap, talcum, cosmetics, fragrances, and candle lines be far behind? Or a new scent for those harsh liquid cleansers, too long devoted to the likes of lemon and orange? Or a line of citrus wines, a vintage that includes Florida assorted grapefruit types, aged in oak to perfection, and putting California's wineries on edge?

The marketing focus will be on American women between 21 and 49, sassy people most likely to seek out healthy food and beverages, and in a position to persuade families to follow. They're also the romantics, most likely to go for love, the second time around.

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