Last Bite: Why the “Big Y”?
Membership of the growers’ cooperative established in the early 1900s more than quadrupled in its first four years.
The Yakima Fruit Growers Association updated its label in 1928, and the company itself soon came to be called the “Big Y.”
The Yakima Fruit Growers Association was established as a growers’ cooperative in 1911 for the purpose of packing, storing, and marketing the fruit of the individual members. The cooperative concept was, and remains, that members would be able to better control costs (and thereby reap larger profits) if they banded together rather than individually either operating individual packing houses or contracting with a third party. By January 1, 1912, the new organization had 328 members. During 1913, membership more than doubled to 698, and by January 1, 1915, there were 1,353 grower-members.
The cooperative quickly adopted a box label based on the letter “Y” (for Yakima, obviously) and organized its membership into five districts in and around the city of North Yakima, Washington.
Early in 1913, the managers purchased land and built a cold storage plant with a capacity of 100 cars, and just two years later a second storage facility was built in nearby Zillah, Washington.
This second plant, built for $50,000, was said to be the largest cold storage plant in the country devoted exclusively to the cold storage of apples. The apples were kept cool with ice made in the plant with machinery capable of creating up to 40 tons of ice daily.
J.H. Estes, who was responsible for one of the first commercially produced labels in the Yakima Valley (the Estes label was one of only two Toppenish, Washington, labels ever produced), oversaw both the construction and operation of the
The first cooperative label featured only an upright “Y.” But it helped sell fruit; in 1914 alone, the cooperative shipped a total of 1,870 rail car lots (each containing 840 boxes) of fruit to 37 states, five Canadian provinces, and five additional foreign countries.
In 1928, wanting a more up-to-date design, the cooperative redesigned the label into one that featured a shorter, squattier “Y” over which was printed the word “Big.” This new label immediately became known as the Big Y brand, and the company itself was soon called the “Big Y,” rather than its more awkward legal name, the Yakima Fruit Growers Association.
The Big Y remains in business as part of Snokist Growers cooperative, which was formed from the merger of the Yakima County Horticultural Union and the Yakima Fruit Growers Association.