Peaking at Age 14: A 'Ribena Girl' Tells Her Story

Jenny Suo, left, pretending to do a science experiment as part of her media blitz. Photo / Getty Images
Jenny Suo, left, pretending to do a science experiment as part of her media blitz. Photo / Getty Images

When the Pakuranga College science fair came along in 2004, I contemplated putting flowers in Coke and seeing how long it would take for them to die. It was the exact same experiment I’d performed the year before, but we had new teachers this year – no one would notice.

My priorities at 14 were:

1. Printing out and learning Dido lyrics2. Picking clothes for mufti day3. Avoiding any more cavities4. Not thinking about science

But when I found out we could do 2004’s project in pairs and I was allowed to work with my good friend Anna Devathasan, I rejected my flower-in-Coke idea like a flower rejecting Coke, and decided we were going all in. We would test the vitamin C in juice. It was an experiment three years above our level, but we had a thirst for victory.

We spent the following weeks testing and retesting several fruit drinks. Ribena came out with surprisingly low numbers.

We called Ribena’s maker, GlaxosmithKline.

We wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority.

We wrote to the Commerce Commission and spelled “Ribena” wrong.

We got 2nd in Science Fair.

It could have ended there. But strangely, our experiments started getting traction. Fair Go did a story. The Commerce Commission investigated. It found, to our surprise, that we were right. GlaxosmithKline had been misleading its customers over the vitamin C content of Ribena. Three years later, it was fined almost $250,000 and, all of a sudden, Anna and I were a bit famous.

We were dubbed “The Ribena Girls”. We spent the next month posing with lots of bottles of Ribena and test tubes. International journalists were calling and asking strange questions like “What were you wearing when you tested the drinks?” A man at McDonald’s asked me for my autograph. Life was surreal.

By the end of it all, Anna and I were pretty over it. We started ignoring calls from magazines and saying no to interviews. You see, my social standing at school had always been between “is she a nerd” and “yes, definitely a nerd”. But the Ribena thing turned me into an “uber nerd”. And social standing was a big deal in high school. I wanted it all to go away.

Now I work at TV3 alongside many of the journalists who helped tell my story. I had awkward “Heeeeeyyy I know youuu” conversations with Tony Field, Rachel Morton and Tristram Clayton when I first started in 2009. They’d all interviewed me two years prior.

Here's a photo of my boss, Newsworthy Executive Producer Jono Hutchison, modelling some Ribena for a 3News story in 2007.