On a recent trip to Giant Eagle, my local grocery store in Pittsburgh, I noticed something new in the fruit section: a single pineapple packaged in a pink and forest-green box. A picture on the front showed the pineapple cut open, revealing rose-colored flesh. Touted as the “jewel of the jungle,” the fruit was the Pinkglow pineapple, a creation of American food giant Fresh Del Monte. It cost $9.99, a little more than double the price of a regular yellow pineapple.

I put the box in my cart, snapped a picture with my phone, and shared the find with my foodie friends. I mentioned that its color is the result of genetic modification—the box included a “made possible through bioengineering” label—but that didn’t seem to faze anyone. When I brought my Pinkglow to a Super Bowl party, people oohed and aahed over the color and then gobbled it down. It was juicier and less tart than a regular pineapple, and there was another difference: It came with the characteristic crown chopped off. Soon enough, my friends were buying pink pineapples too. One used a Pinkglow to brew homemade tepache, a fermented drink made from pineapple peels that was invented in pre-Columbian Mexico.

At a time when orange cauliflower and white strawberries are now common sights in American grocery stores, a non-yellow pineapple doesn’t seem all that out of place. Still, I wondered: Why now with the flashy presentation? And why pink? And why had my friends and I snapped it right up?

When I brought my questions to Hans Sauter, Fresh Del Monte’s chief sustainability officer and senior vice president of R&D and agricultural services, he began by offering me a brief history of the fruit. You may assume, like I did, that pineapples have always been sweet and sunny-colored—but that wasn’t the case prior to the 1990s. Store-bought pineapples of yesteryear had a green shell with light yellow flesh that was often more tart than sweet. Buying a fresh one was a bit of a gamble. “Nobody could tell, really, whether the fruit was ripe or not, and consumption of pineapples was mostly canned product, because people could trust what they would eat there,” Sauter says. The added sugar in some canned pineapple made it a sweeter, more consistent product.

In 1996 the company introduced the Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet, yellower and less acidic than anything on the market at the time. Pineapple sales soared, and consumers’ expectations of the fruit were forever changed. The popularity of the Gold led to an international pineapple feud when fruit rival Dole introduced its own varietal. Del Monte sued, alleging that Dole had essentially stolen its Gold formula. The two companies ended up settling out of court.

With the success of its Gold pineapple, Del Monte was looking for new attributes that could make the pineapple even more enticing to consumers, Sauter says. But breeding pineapples is a slow process; it can take two years or longer for a single plant to produce mature fruit. Del Monte had spent 30 years crossbreeding pineapples with certain desired characteristics before it was ready to launch the Gold. Sauter says the possibility of waiting 30 more years for a new variety was “out of the question.” So in 2005 the company turned to genetic engineering.

Del Monte didn’t set out to make a pink pineapple per se, but at the time, Sauter says, there was interest from consumers in antioxidant-rich fruits. (Acai bowls and pomegranate juice, anyone?) Pineapples happen to naturally convert a reddish-pink pigment called lycopene, which is high in antioxidants, into the yellow pigment beta-carotene. (Lycopene is what gives tomatoes and watermelon their color.) Preventing this process, then, could yield pink flesh and higher antioxidants. The company set its dedicated pineapple research team to the task of figuring out how to do it.

The team landed on a set of three modifications to the pineapple genome. They inserted DNA from a tangerine to get it to express more lycopene. They added “silencing” RNA molecules to mute the pineapple’s own lycopene-converting enzymes, which also helped reduce its acidity. (RNA silencing is the same technique used to make non-browning GMO Arctic apples.) Finally, Del Monte added a gene from tobacco that confers resistance to certain herbicides, though representatives for the company say this was simply so its scientists could confirm that the other genetic changes had taken effect—not because Del Monte plans to use those herbicides in production.

The official Pinkglow website doesn’t mention these genetic alterations. And even Sauter skimmed over the science when I asked. I found the details in a patent filing and documents from the US Food and Drug Administration. (The Pinkglow comes without a crown to reduce waste, though removing the pineapple’s top also helps protect its proprietary—and lucrative—status.) Chris Cummings, a senior research fellow at North Carolina State University’s Genetic Engineering and Society Center, says that lack of information is probably purposeful. “There is some distinct marketing that’s going on with this particular product,” he says.

Although Del Monte originally dreamed up the Pinkglow as an antioxidant powerhouse in the days before social media, ads for the pineapple have adjusted to the times. The company doesn’t claim any health benefits but instead touts the Pinkglow’s Instagramability. “Become the envy of your friends and followers with this highly sought-after delicacy,” reads the Pinkglow website, where one can find recipes for rum-soaked Pinkglow shortcake, no-churn Pinkglow ice cream, and Pinkglow pineapple coconut crumb bars. In a 2020 press release, Del Monte described the Pinkglow as “one-of-a-kind and perfect for a hostess to serve as part of a festive party cocktail, as a delicious dessert all on its own, or even to give as a gift to the person who will now truly have everything.” It’s no wonder I picked one up in the grocery store. This product is clearly marketed at me, a 36-year-old millennial woman.

“This is a social food,” Cummings says. “This is to show off to other people. ‘Hey, look what I have that you don’t. This makes me cool, right?’”

The marketing seems to be working. In an earnings call in February, Fresh Del Monte Produce reported strong demand for its new pineapple varietals, with sales growing by approximately 25 percent in 2023 compared with 2022. In addition to the Pinkglow, it has recently introduced the Honeyglow (even golder and sweeter than the Gold Extra Sweet), the Precious Honeyglow (a miniaturized version of the Honeyglow), and the Del Monte Zero (a pineapple certified by a third party as carbon-neutral because of Del Monte’s expansive forests). This year, the company is continuing to expand the reach of the pink pineapple. It’s also rolling out a variety called Rubyglow (reddish peel, yellow flesh) in China.

“Consumers love innovation,” says Lauren Scott, chief strategy officer of the International Fresh Produce Association. She sees the Pinkglow as creating excitement around pineapples and likens it to Cotton Candy grapes, a naturally grown hybrid introduced in 2011 that are hugely popular because, well, they taste like cotton candy.

If the trend holds, the Pinkglow could herald a shift in consumer attitudes toward genetically engineered crops. Where GMO corn and soy were designed to better tolerate herbicides—a benefit invisible to consumers—the pink pineapple was mostly made to be fun and pretty, and to taste great. “I think the wariness toward GMOs is waning,” says Courtney Weber, a professor of horticulture at Cornell University.

Maybe the pink pineapple is frivolous. But maybe it’s just the kind of product that can help prepare consumers for the food system of the future, which will likely involve more bioengineering. “I love this for consumers, and I’m really happy about it,” says Vonnie Estes, vice president of innovation at the International Fresh Produce Association. “But I think the real benefit is that it’s going to allow us to use these tools to be able to adapt to a changing world.” That future could be hotter, drier, and filled with as yet unimagined diseases and pests. For now, though, it’s pink.