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Hellenic Labelers Association

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The power of the label and… Ouzo

It’s widely known that the label is the “identity” of the product. It’s the “evidence” for the product inside the container, the company that produce it, its sustainability, even its use.

There’s no sense to repeat all those things once more.

However, we will mention a story that proves the power of the label and its influence in imposing a product at the market. Because sometimes it doesn’t only make up the “identity” of the product, but it also shapes it.

Ouzo is the par excellence national product of Greece. The most known, the most recognizable, the most featured. It comes automatically at the mind of every foreigner as a necessary supplement every time he listens or reads the words “Greece”, “Souvlaki”, “Mousakas” or “Greek Salad”, regardless whether he has visited Greece or tasted all those things.

Indeed, if the word “OYZO” is written in capital letters, we don’t know if it’s written in Greek or Latin characters.

All those are not just known, but also self-evident. What we don’t know and we can’t even imagine is what the name “ouzo” means, how this word was born and what its etymology is, from which word it originates.

We will be surprised when we will learn that the name of the most recognizable national product of Greece doesn’t have Greek origins.

Now let’s see the story of the name.

During the Ottoman occupation of Greece, while the international trade had already been developed, there was mass production of first quality cotton at the camps of Thessalia. When there was quality control, the best parts of the production were sent at Marseille, where the best spinning mills were found and they produced the best cotton fabrics.

Cotton was packed in wooden boxes, where a label with the necessary information had been stuck. At the boxes that were destined to go to Marseille, those labels wrote just “Use to Marseille”, without any further information, not even that there were cotton inside the box. The porters that transported the boxes and loaded them at the wagons that would send them to Marseille knew only that they had to load the boxes with this specific label. As they didn’t speak English, they thought the word “use” meant “excellent”, as those cottons were the best ones. Gradually, the word “use” –spelled “ouze”- has been widely used in their argot for those boxes and this concept prevailed in their daily life as a synonym to the word “excellent”.

Tyrnavos was at the same region too. Its camps produce excellent wine, but also an excellent greek drink named “tsipouro”.

During this time, a big landowner wanted a favor from the Ottoman general of the region. When he visited him, he gave him a present. It was a bottle of tsipouro, in which he had the inspiration to add some admixtures, such as anise, mint and some other spices and sweeteners. It was the first time that the taste of tsipouro has been alternated.

The Ottoman general tasted it and was excited. He thought that the inspiration with the admixtures was excellent and he used the word he thought that was expressing the quality of this new product. This word was “use”, which he thought was a synonym to the word “excellent”.

The producer realized that this is the name that would help the product to succeed. So, using the name “ouze”, he laid the foundations for the national product of Greece that conquered the whole world. As the years were passing by, the name was transformed to “ouzo” –which sounds a little more Greek- and that’s why today we drink “ouzo” and not “ouze”. The only thing that didn’t change is that the stores where we drink ouzo are called “ouzeri” and not “ouzari”, as the greek language should dictate.
The labels of this era were just fabrics stuck on the container with gluten and the letters were made by a pigment where the first material was usually beetroot or onion peel.

Today, the labels are a result of a kind of teamwork, a whole professional sector, a sector of science.

In both cases, the result remains the same: the recognition of the product. And if there is inspiration, the establishment of the product is another possible result.

 

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