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The Unhinged Genius of the Caty Dragon Fruit Noodles Meme


Dragon fruit has existed in Vietnam for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until the 21st century that it made its debut in instant noodles. 

From hero to zero

Dragon fruit, a type of fruit-bearing cactus, originates from the deserts of South America. It crossed the ocean with French colonists to Vietnam in the 19th century and was cultivated in scattered plantations across the colonies. Evolving in harsh environments, dragon fruit developed a robust growth capability, thriving without much water and withstanding the tropical sun and wind.

In the 1980s, thanks to the development of a market economy, domestic agricultural cooperatives adopted new technologies to cultivate dragon fruit on a large scale. By the 1990s, local farmers could sell a kilogram of dragon fruit for VND80,000, enough to buy a decent bicycle at the time. At one point, dragon fruits accounted for up to half of the country's annual fruit and vegetable exports, fetching high prices in foreign supermarkets.

When dragon fruits are not “rescued” in time. Photo via Tuổi Trẻ.

Yet, despite its past international glory, the recent narrative surrounding dragon fruits in Vietnam has been less illustrious. Poor production planning has led to bumper harvests, leaving farmers struggling as supply outstripped demand. Dragon fruit frequently ranks among the top fruits needing “rescue” due to market fluctuations, sometimes dropping to a mere VND1,000 per kilogram. We've all seen heart-wrenching scenes showing dragon fruits abandoned by the pile on the pavement or even fed to cattle.

Then, after years of being a “rescue” commodity, sentiments about dragon fruits changed with the release of a viral advertisement.

*Jingle automatically plays*. Photo via Mì thanh long VinaCaty.

Catapulted into fame from a viral promotional video

In November 2023, the TikTok channel of Mì thanh long VinaCaty (VinaCaty Dragon Fruit Noodles) posted a product advertisement, claiming that the clip was made with a humble budget of VND200,000.

In the video, reminiscent of a PowerPoint presentation complete with crude transitions, a package of noodles floats across the screen. Two dragon fruit mascots, resembling the purple dinosaur Barney, dance along. The scenes cut between vast dragon fruit fields in Bình Thuận Province and hardworking farmers during harvest season. All of this is set to the booming voice of a choir, mixed in karaoke-style background music.

The simple lyrics are as follows: “For the first time / Dragon fruit is in instant noodles / For the first time / Dragon fruit noodles bring a message / Love / Dragon fruit instant noodles / Caty instant noodles / Dragon fruit instant noodles / Caty instant noodles / Bringing you love / Caty instant noodles / Bringing you peace / Dragon fruit instant noodles…”

Dragon fruit noodle theme song, now coming to your nearest karaoke post. Photo via Mì thanh long VinaCaty.

Among modern ads featuring famous artists and sophisticated sound and visual effects, this 2000s-style TVC stood out in its simplicity. Its naive, “DIY” charm warmed viewers’ hearts and made them want to support the “underdog” instant noodle brand.

Netizens quickly created review clips and meme images. The brand capitalized on the viral wave, transforming itself into a meme by releasing karaoke remixes, one-hour loops, and interacting with customers on social media through the persona of “Pé Thanh Long” or “Lil Dragon Fruit,” an intern working under pressure, who prefers watching anime and doing TikTok challenges over posting conventional corporate-appropriate content.

VinaCaty's social media plan is essentially spamming unhinged content. Photo via Mì thanh long VinaCaty.

In reality, the noodle had been launched in March 2022, way before the meme went viral. However, it wasn't until the karaoke song that the brand gained recognition from the public.

Before becoming famous, VinaCaty's online store made less than VND1 million each month, despite being active for nearly two years. But soon after the song’s viral success, the vendor was overwhelmed with orders, with sales increasing 600 times in just two weeks. Dragon fruit noodles became a sought-after product, and Lil Dragon Fruit became a beloved meme figure. Other brands followed suit, launching products and posts inspired by dragon fruits.

In just a month, dragon fruits' visibility in Vietnam surged dramatically. Photos via Knorr Vietnam; Pizza Hut VN.

From a somewhat obscure brand, Caty's unique advertising approach and the sudden surge in attention catapulted the product into the league of the most inspiring figures of the year. For the first time, dragon fruits were everywhere, but most importantly, they were in the average Vietnamese's noodle bowl and mind.

What's in a meme?

When discussing Caty Dragon Fruit Noodles' sudden fame, experts often analyze the event from a business strategy perspective — a clever lo-fi marketing campaign, orchestrated by savvy Gen Z staff who understands trends and young people's mindset to capture public attention. However, often overlooked are the human factors: the people who have been rooting (pun unintended) for dragon fruits since the beginning.

Dragon fruit noodles were born in the context of the pandemic, when dragon fruit could not be exported, leading to thousands of tons being stockpiled at border crossings. Dragon fruit, with its soft flesh and skin, spoils easily and cannot be stored for long. Facing this situation, Caty Food, a dragon fruit company in Bình Thuận, the dragon fruit capital of Vietnam, decided to research and develop dragon fruit noodles to provide a stable outlet for farmers.

Photo via Mì thanh Long VinaCaty.

Initial attempts involved mixing dragon fruit with wheat flour, but the mixture didn't have enough elasticity, so the strands would break when pulled. Frying was also challenging due to the different cooking temperatures of the two ingredients. After many failures, the company collaborated with the Ho Chi Minh City University of Food Industry and the Saigon Economic and Technology Institute. With the support of professors and doctors, they successfully produced this special type of noodle after nearly two years of experimentation.

People: Consumes dragon fruit noodles. Dragon fruit farmers in Bình Thuận: Stonk. Photo via Mì thanh long VinaCaty.

Elated with the success, the chairman of Caty Food, an amateur musician and former dragon fruit farmer, composed the dragon fruit song and conceived the idea for the “Lil Dragon Fruit” mascot. The TVC was scripted and produced by the company’s team, resulting in the "homemade" quality we see today. It wasn't until a year later that a new young employee rediscovered the video, saw its potential, and decided to reuse it.

In an interview, the song's creator acknowledged its unpolished nature. The simple editing and repetitive lyrics were noticeable, but these elements weren't intended as marketing tactics. Instead, the roughness was just a natural result of farming and production experts tapping into their creative sides. The traditional aesthetics of the older generation came across as cheesy to younger audiences, and the original message got somewhat lost in the brand's chaotic humor and identity. While the meme was undeniably amusing, it's crucial to remember that this all started because the creator genuinely believed that “With love, dragon fruit brings many health benefits,” hence the lyrics “bringing you love.”

What's next?

Trends come and go quickly, but the rising popularity of dragon fruit noodles sparks thoughts about how we should go about promoting the country's agricultural goods.

Showcasing Vietnamese agricultural products requires a narrative that the public, especially young people, can relate to. Photo via Thông tin Chính Phủ.

“Farmers have not yet paid much attention to branding, and their investment in packaging remains minimal. Currently, many fresh agricultural products from Vietnam are simply packed in cardboard boxes and transported for sale [...] However, they need to create a narrative for each product, from its origin and production process to the love they put into it, to truly gain consumer trust,” shared an expert on enhancing public perception of Vietnamese fruit and agricultural products.

Vietnam has been blessed with abundant delicious and affordable produce, but it a hard sell trying to promote them to a wider audience if the message consistently remains “support high-quality Vietnamese goods” or worse, “rescue high-quality Vietnamese goods.” We need to repackage them in newer, more exciting ways that can resonate with modern consumers.

From left to right: Wasapy, Jumball và Miyasan. Photo via Mondo Mascot.

We can perhaps take some lessons from Japan, where adorable mascots are regularly used by regional authorities to promote their local specialties. Some of Saigoneer's favorite characters include Wasapy, a wasabi root with an azalea on its head; Jumball the Third, a watermelon king representing the town of Nyuzen; or Miyasan, a soft tofu dog from Hiroshima.

In a country rich in resources like Vietnam, the possibilities are endless. Without even trying, we already created an icon that is the chubby, noodle-obsessed Lil Dragon Fruit from Bình Thuận. But imagine, we could have Miss Grand Orange from Vĩnh Long, Auntie Pomelo Năm Roi, or maybe Uncle Plum from Hà Nội. We succeeded brilliantly in our first attempt. What exciting things lie ahead for our next steps?

Fun fact: Red-fleshed dragon fruits are typically rounder, while white-fleshed ones have an elliptical shape. This difference is reflected in the appearance of the two Lil Dragon Fruit mascots. Photo via Mì thanh long VinaCaty.

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