Monday, December 7, 2009
Here's a novel idea: take a vaguely berry-flavored candy, label it a fruit product, and market it to gullible parents who will delude themselves into believing it has a smidgen of fruit content. They could lull their guilty consciences into submission with self-reassurances that the products were labeled 100% natural. What? Corn syrup is natural. Well, corn is, at least. And I'm pretty sure you can locate that gelatin somewhere in an 100%, all natural horse hoof. Just turn left at the glue.
Heavily marketed at children during popular TV shows, these alleged "fruit" snacks became something of a lunchbox staple. It was a lot easier than cutting and tupperwaring real fruit. Plus, if we happened to lapse into nuclear fallout, these babies would assuredly survive. They're virtually indestructible, expiration-wise. I have yet to back up this conjecture with empirical evidence, but I hypothesize that if I found a Fruit Roll-Up from my childhood, it would probably taste just as fresh today as it would have in 1995. That's the magic of plastic for you.
While there were countless fruit snack options and shapes available, these were among the most coveted in the cafeteria:
Fruit String Thing
You really have to admire the vagueness of Betty Crocker's marketing department. Or at least the one that exists in this imaginary reformulation of their fruit snack christening process:
Executive 1: We've got this new product, see. It's a...thing. It resembles string.
Executive 2: Stop drilling, you've hit oil. Let's call it a day.
Executive 1: Do you think we should be more specific? What if people think it's made of real string?
Executive 2: Good point. Let's add the word "fruit" just to be on the safe side.
Fruit String Thing was a sort of bastard child of Fruit Roll-Ups and Twizzlers' Pull n' Peel. The taste wasn't particularly palatable, but its gimmickiness was just enough to make kids beg for it. I'm pretty sure I even convinced myself I liked the flavor, though really I just liked the unraveling aspect.
First of all, that ad is terrifying. I couldn't sleep for weeks for fear I'd be zapped into a human-size semi-peeled banana. The image still haunts me. This near-banana experience, however, did not deter me from begging my parents to buy Costco-portioned cases of these liquid-filled fruit snacks. They just had a sort of pull over me. Maybe it was the hypnotically prismatic shape. Or, more likely, mind control serum in the mysterious filling. Whatever their tactic, it certainly was effective. They had us all convinced these were nothing short of a snack food revelation.
In retrospect, these are a bit troubling. What was that mysterious goo lining the interior of our beloved fruit snacks? It was sort of like a tart, tangy eyedropperful of fruit juice embedded within a fruity gel coating. By description alone these sound disgusting, so let me assure you that they absolutely are. I'm sorry, but I find something inherently disturbing about my food "gushing". I just don't feel comfortable using verb for my snack food that better describes the rush of blood from a wound. It's just not right.
To read the full Gushers post, click here
Fruit by the Foot
As an avid Fruit by the Foot and Bubble Tape fan, let me tell you: I like quantifiable, lengthy snack food. When I'm eating a cake or a pie, sure, it tastes good, but I feel a little empty without knowing precisely how it would measure up to a yardstick if unraveled. It just isn't quite the same.
For some reason, in the 90s it was totally acceptable to describe our snacks by their standard-measurement dimensions. The fact that it came with its accompanying joke and fun-fact printed wrapper was just a bonus. With found-in-nature flavors like tie-dye berry, how could you say no?
Fruit Roll Ups
Fruit Roll-Ups were launched in 1979 and enjoyed a heyday of popularity in the 80s and 90s. They were certainly mysterious in texture and content. The preservative-rich ingredient list was more than enough to befuddle our fragile young minds, particularly those amongst us who were in the lowest reading group.
Despite the questionable recipe, these things were a kids dream. They were sticky, they had punch-out shapes, you could put it over your face like a mask. Really, they thought of everything. Fruit Roll-Ups also stuck to themselves, so you could make a lumpy mound of gooey goodness and attempt to down in it a single gulp. Those were the good times.
I'll be straight with you on this one. I was sold on commercial alone. Who could resist a gaggle of load-bearing gummy bears conga-ing to the maraca-shaking rhythms of the "It's Amazing Fruit!" chant? Who, I ask you?
It's never a good sign if while the voice-over announces natural ingredients, a fine-print caveat appears onscreen admitting they're actually made up of natural and artificial flavors. Which means, in short, there's pretty much no fruit in there. On the other hand, there are bears, so it's sort of a draw overall. I'm leaning toward bears, myself.
There's no reality-grounded explanation that can tell us exactly why we so loved these artificially flavored, plastic-scented fruit snacks. Even more perplexing is why our parents thought packing us chock full of concentrated sugar was a wise idea. Then again, this was the same generation of parents who sent us off to school toting Lunchables. Whether they were extraordinarily lazy or just not particularly health-conscious, I'm sure kids today are kicking themselves for not being born a decade earlier. They could have had String Thing.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
When you watch one of these commercials that is burned into everyone's brains for all eternity, you sort of have to wonder if the people hawking this ad campaign had even an inkling it would go quite so far. Did they know that I can not for the life of me remember how to solve a simple algebraic equation, but I can sing the entire 90s-era Mentos jingle from memory? Or perhaps that I would slowly but steadily forget the names of my former classmates and teachers, but would forever recognize that opening "doo-do-do-do-do-do-doo-waaah" with unwavering accuracy? God, I hope not. It's hard to fathom an ad agency with that level of thirst for absolute power over my dwindling available brainspace.
These guys were lucky they came before the days of fast-forwarding through blocks of quick-passing DVR-ed commercials. Nowadays, it's pretty unlikely many of us even know what commercials are on the air, let alone can recite them with startling astuteness from memory. Someday we'll tell our grandchildren of the days that advertisers weren't using cheap product-placement ploys to get to us but that we consciously absorbed information from a real live ad. They'll look at us blankly, we'll hum a few bars of a jingle for effect, and a generational gap will be had by all.
Mentos commercials were the absolute campiest thing to come out of 90s TV advertising. Many may have assumed we left behind these lamely cheesy commercials in the 80s, but our brothers at Mentos stayed true to the corny tradition of hackneyed ad premises and embarrassingly light and fluffy background music. In some ways we'd like to believe that the good people at Mentos were offering us a sort of tongue-in-cheek, intentionally campy commercial, it's just as likely that they were totally and completely serious. What? Real people brandish a cylindrical roll of chewable mints when they get themselves out of a tough jam. Well, some people. I'm sure at least one person. Possibly.
The Mentos commercials were something of a 90s phenomenon as the jingles had that uncanny ability to lodge themselves forever in our brains and play on a constant, unnerving loop. The commercials all featured the same basic skeletal plot outline with a few variances in character and setting. Typically, they involved a good-looking person facing a mildly inconvenient and potentially day-interrupting situation. Luckily for these fine folks, they've got the power of Mentos behind them, like in this classic take:
Wow, I honestly had no idea that you could simply repeat the same few words again and again in a rhythmic sequence and label it a fully-composed songs. The things I don't know, huh? I suppose these ads were all about the power of suggestion, and their reliance on repetition was supposed to reinforce those messages. Or maybe, more likely, to really, really get under our skin and keep us humming the tune all day long.
In case you failed to take good notes during the above video, here's a refresher course for the lyrics. Get it? Refresher? *Holds hands up to shield face from onslaught of reader-thrown tomatoes*. I can take a hint. Anyway, the words are:
'Doo doo doo doo, doo-doo, do-Wah!'
It doesn't matter what comes, fresh goes better in life, and Mentos is fresh and full of life.
Nothing gets to you, staying fresh staying cool, with Mentos, fresh and full of life.
Fresh goes better, Mentos freshness, fresh goes better with Mentos, fresh and full of life!Mentos, the freshmaker!
I'm sorry, what? how many times did you say fresh and/or full of life? By my count (not necessarily a reliable one, based on my suspect arithmetic skills) some variation of the word "fresh" comes up nine times. Nine times. The commercial's only 29 seconds long! That means nearly a third of the airtime is devoted to saying the word "fresh". Based on my complex algorithm equating a single word with one second, that is.
If the above ad's content didn't do it for you, don't you worry. They had plenty of other farfetched Mento MacGyvering fare to offer. Like this gem:
My favorite part of these commercials has got to be the incredible acting. Or miming, I suppose, considering the lack of verbal engagement. You have to love the way the jerk guy who parked behind her gives her that droll, "Oh, you!" look as the construction workers haul her car from its entrapment. He seems so mildly amused by the situation, as if it were a quickly resolved misunderstanding between friends rather than the more realistic road-rage induced maniacal behavior that inevitably leads to fake neck braces and gold-digging lawsuits in real life.
Or, if you prefer the jazzier remix version of the jingle, you can always go with this version of the ad:
Well, would you look at that! The lady is ingenious, I tell you. Ingenious. There's no way I could have thought of that in a stinky-breath moment. Thank God for Mentos, that's all I have to say.
If you're looking for more of a male-dreamboat featuring awesome Dawson hair and an open-front flannel shirt, then this one is definitely the way to go:
Okay, okay, I think you've got the idea. These commercials were incredibly formulaic yet remarkably successful. I suppose we all just wished the answer's to our everyday dilemmas could be so simple, or at least that we could handle them so breezily while underscored optimistically by doo-wop music.
A decade later, Mentos were back in the spotlight thanks to some enlightening viral video-ry showing us all the hidden danger of Mentos when dropped in soda. Apparently, there's something in the chemical reaction that causes a geyser-like effect, creating a dangerous pressure situation and a minty-fresh bottle rocket. Since I'm about as good at science as I am at math (that is to say, my knowledge extends no further than the notion that the earth is not trapezoidal) I'll let my good friends from MythBusters do the dirty work for me. Well, not so much dirty as sticky. And minty. Did I mention these things are fresh?
Don't try this at home, kids. Or, if you do, don't even think about telling your parents I told you to. A poor unpaid blogger like me can't afford a lawyer. Explosive chemical reactions aside, Mentos are notoriously chewy, minty, delicious, and they had a cameo in Clueless. Really, what much more could a 90s breath mint dream of?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Some mysteries are better left unsolved. For example, it baffles my mind to ponder exactly what part of the cheese becomes the semi-gelatinous room-temperature no-refrigeration-required goo in the Handi-Snacks conveniently compartmentalized tub. The more I think about it, the more my brain yearns to burst from its enskullment and lay twitching on the floor, exhausted and defeated. Luckily, I've never given it that much thought.
Dunkable snacks were all the rage in the 90s. Dunkaroos cornered the sweet sector of the market, but the savory had yet to be conquered in a snack dunking tour de force. Luckily, Nabisco (later Kraft) was there to step in and show us the way to salty dunkable goodness. With mystery cheese. Really, just incredibly mysterious. I'm starting to get a headache again contemplating its very existence, so I think I'll just go on pretending that's a natural state of cheese. Okay, good, good. I'm back at cheese-pondering baseline again. Whew. Close one there.
Handi-Snacks were a pretty ingenious concept. Parents were increasingly busy and demanding more and more of food manufacturers to produce the type of lunchbox fillers that required little to no preparation. The morning rush and ensuing time crunch forced working parents to reconsider their nutritional standards and opt for easy available prepackaged options.
Things like nutritional content and edibility quickly took a backseat to the incredible ease of taking a few ready-sealed packages, throwing them in a bag, and declaring it a fully assembled lunch made with a parent's loving albeit neglectful touch. When it came to lunch time, instead of finding a sweet note and a well-filled sandwich, we were usually left with a moderately sized pile of plastic packaging that held mysterious and delicious contents within its airtight plastic. We're talking the kind of stuff that could survive some serious nuclear fallout. This food may not have had much to do with anything edible found in nature, but it certainly had the power of perseverance.
Handi-Snacks were streamlined for ease of accessibility. The concept was brilliantly simple. Each individually wrapped packaged housed two compartments: a cracker den and a cheese hangout. Somewhere in the vicinity of our crackers lay the one necessary implement to cheese spreadage: the little red plastic stick. I like to think of the little red plastic stick as a sort of magic soft cheese spreading wand. Or, you know. Just a little red plastic stick. Whatever.
As a child I craved these things with a zealousness that would make proselytizing missionaries pause and say, "Now, really. Don't you think that's a bit much?" These things were like a snack time drug to me. I needed my fix, and I would stop at nothing to get it. Whether it was a frenzied cafeteria trade for some off-flavor Snack Packs or discreetly tossing them into the supermarket cart when my mom's head was turned, one thing was for sure: I was going to get my Handi-Snacks.
The brand later expanded to include other delicious flavors and varieties. We had our breadstick version, though I use the term breadstick lightly. Er, heavily. These things were rock solid. They in no way resembled a breadstick and any insinuation of a relationship between the two would certainly infuriate any legitimate Italian gourmet. Whatever the case, these little breadstick-shaped crackers were nothing short of a dunking revelation. Or at least, that's the way my 7-year old self perceived their greatness.
The brand also came in a pretzel variety, satiating our salt cravings and prematurely clogging our virile young arteries. These too were packaged alongside the mystery cheese that for the above described reasons shall be investigated no further. Let's just say it may not have been cheese cheese, but they were probably related in some way. Somehow, though, I doubt a dairy cow would have recognized it as her byproduct. Just sayin'.
There was also a peanut butter cracker combination, which to its credit was a bit easier to stomach when considering its appropriately tepid temperature. This formulation was fairly short-lived, however, as it was not as well-received. The people had spoken and they wanted their disgusting cheese, dammit. Far be it from Kraft to deny them the spreadable cheese fix they so sorely need.
Handi-Snacks dropped the ball a bit when they attempted to break the Dunkaroo empire and offer sweet dunkable snack products. The cookies and cream variety was less than appetizing, though that of course did little in the way of stopping me from begging my parents to purchase it for me at every supermarket turn. Pretty much anything sweet that showed up on my snack radar was fair game for grocery store begging. I didn't even have to like the product, it just needed to contain a proportion of sugar that far exceeded the recommended daily dosage. It was a simple system, actually, though I can't imagine my teeth have written me any heartfelt thank you notes since.
In a sort of gross turn of events, Kraft morphed the Handi-Snacks brand name into a catchall for all sorts of their newer products: run-of-the-mill pudding cups, gelatin snacks, and even a Baskin-Robbins crossover pudding brand. Perhaps the rebranding was warranted in some way I've failed to comprehend, but let me be the first to say that when I think Baskin Robbins, I tend not to think lumpy, unidentifiable and unsourceable cheese. But then again, maybe that's just me.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Nowadays, it takes a lot of dough to impress our friends. $200 jeans, $100,000 cars; it's awfully tough to attain something covetable. Back in our younger days, however, it was as easy as whatever you had packed in your brown bag lunch. As kids, money wasn't much. We wanted some functional currency. Something we could really barter would, something that had tangible value to us.
That's where school lunches came in. If yours happened to contain a Lunchables box or Snack Pack, congratulations. You were well on your way to your way to lunch trading royalty. It was more than just food, though. The 90s brought an onslaught of sweet beverages that were marketed specifically at youth. These drinks became the stuff that supermarket temper tantrums were made of. Our parents may have aspired to feed us healthily, but they could only hold out so long.
These may not have been the healthiest of offerings, but that didn't stop us from coveting them with ever thirst-unquenched fiber of our beings. Many of them had pretty vague and questionable contents, making them the perfect product for kids. We didn't question, we simply consumed. And if it helped garner us some cafeteria credibility, well then, all the better.
Squeez Its/Kool Aid Bursts
What sort of parent wouldn't want to purchase their kid a six-pack of pure liquid sugar? Especially if they came in super-sleek flexible, squeezable bottle. Everything about it just screamed kid-friendly. The twistable cap with its residual droplets of so-called juice. The faces on the Squeez-It brand bottles. The pure, pure sugar that would no doubt be coursing through our veins at a rapid rate by the time we hit math class. Seriously, I still don't know why my mom refused me these. They seem so full of nature's goodness. What? Chemicals are found in nature. Sometimes.
Speaking of brands who got a lot of flack from parents for their sugar content. These pouches were like liquid crack to children. There was something so satisfying about plunging the pointed end of that little yellow straw into the pre-perforated circle in that shimmering silver pouch. The contents were indiscernible, to say the least. The ads claimed the juice to be "all-natural" but failed to tell us exactly from which fruits these juices were extracted. It didn't matter much, as we were all pretty mesmerized by the Alex Mack rip-off commercials in which active kids morphed into some silvery form of the juice. Sold.
Nothing quite says refreshing beverage like little balls of orbiting gelatin crowding up the bottle. Novelty drinks are one thing, but sometimes manufacturers take it a bit too far. Orbitz were the hottest drink on the market for about five minutes in the mid-90s, proving that your concept doesn't need to be a good one, just a new one. The little suspended balls of gelatin tasted exactly like, well, balls of gelatin. The concept was interesting and kids certainly found them appealing, but it just didn't cut it for the long-term beverage market.
In 1994, Coca Cola saw the success Snapple was having with their fruit and flavored tea beverages and thought they'd cash in on the market. They unleashed Fruitopia, a fruit-like drink aimed at teens and young people. They created original tv ad spots featuring kaleidoscoping fruits, new-agey music, and beatnik-esque poetry. I'm not totally sure what they were going for, but I did drink a lot of Fruitopia so I can only assumed it worked on me.
Snapple was one of the original beverage giants. There was something oddly trendy about these drinks, even though their commercials suggested otherwise. In the 90s, the thrust of their advertising strategy involved use of Wendy the Snapple Lady responding to Snapple fan mail. It was sort of cute and kitschy in a she-sounds-like-all-of-my-Jewish-relatives-with-that-accent kind of way.
Snapple was (and is) famous for the under-the-lid factoids, though many errors have been found in these facts. I have learned a lot from Snapple over the years, though. When Costco first opened in my hometown my mother would purchase something like 100-packs of Snapple and we'd be forced to drink it nonstop. I know, I know, there are thirsty kids in China. I'm drinking, I'm drinking.
Ah, the classics. Sunny D has been around since the 60s, but there was a marketing push for it in the 90s with ads like this:
And of course, Family Guy in the 90s made a pitch-perfect parody of the 1994 ad. You know, back when the show was still funny.
Libby's Juicy Juice
It may not seem like much, but Libby's is something of a juice box advertising genius company. You see, the name sounds familiar to most of us based on their sponsorship of some of our favorite PBS shows, namely the Arthur series. When day after day, we saw our pals at Juicy Juice supporting our favorite shows, we couldn't help but desire our very own juice boxes. After all, it was 100% juice for 100% kids. I guess that means Sunny D is for those of us who were only 2% kids. You know, really grown up for our age.
It definitely is enough to make you nostalgic for the days when your status could be determined by what you pulled out of your lunch box. I've tried bringing Red Bulls and other flashy beverages to meetings at the office, but it just doesn't have the same effect. At least we have our memories.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Kids aren't usually the greatest long-term planners. Instant gratification is most likely the only type of satisfaction they know, regardless of the longstanding consequences of their actions. If you ever doubted that kids favor the immediate over the enduring, look no further for evidence than a fluorescent hued-stick of Fruit Stripe Gum. Case in point, the gum offers a mere three minutes of desirable flavor time followed by a persistent output of bland non-flavor for the duration of the chew. But hey, it comes with tattoos. That's got to be some sort of consolation, right?
Fruit Stripe Gum was nothing less than a candy craze, launched in the 1960s but enjoying a serious rejuvenation of popularity throughout the 1990s. The brand and its zebra mascot Yipes are decidedly kid-friendly, luring in children with promises of an enchantingly colorful sugar high. The alluring five juicy flavors drew us in time after time. We never learned, particularly if we'd purchased a rather large pack of the gum. Even though we'd experienced multiple times for ourselves the flightiness of the flavor, we continued to chew our beloved Fruit Stripe on the premise of its novelty alone.
Though the gum claimed to come in a wide variety of fruity flavors, in reality it tended to come in a variety of fruity colors. You'd have to be a taste connoisseur to distinguish between these subtle differences, so we relied on the vibrantly colored sticks of gum to show us the way. We could only assume that the red was in some way vaguely symbolic of wild cherry and a yellow/green combination of hues represented the lemon lime delegation. The system wasn't perfect, but it was sweet, which is usually more than enough to satiate even the most precocious of children.
It was wonderfully convenient that the gum tended to come in a large pack as it provided a handy solution for its minuscule flavor life. It didn't take a genius IQ to figure out that adding another stick would freshen the ever-growing was of gum slowly taking over our cavernous mouthal cavity. Run out of flavor? No problem. Simply add another stick. Then another. And one more. Alright, so this clearly was not the perfect solution and our teeth weren't bowing down in enamel-depleted gratitude, but our parents probably were big fans of this trick. After all, a kid can't speak with a mouth chock full of Fruit Stripe gum. Sure, there was a minor choking hazard, but that's a small price to pay for ten minutes of silence in the car.
The Fruit Stripe people knew it would take more than a lamely-flavored albeit colorful gum to pique the fancy of children. They weren't taking their novelty product halfway, they were going for gold here. Hence the inclusion of the tattoo. Oh, the coveted tattoo! It was inexplicably desirable, despite the fact it was both worthless and blurry. Each stick came with its very own temporary tattoo, because what kid doesn't want a semi-permanent splotch of color smack dab in the middle of their cheek? I know I was keen.
The magic of the Fruit Stripe gum tattoo was in its pure, unadulterated simplicity. There were no bells and whistles on this thing. The instructions were brief: simply wet the tattoo (nearly all of us subbed the verb lick at this point), and apply with pressure to the desired skin surface for about 30 seconds. What could possibly go wrong?
Apparently, lots of things. The temporary tattooing process was not quite as straightforward as they'd led us to believe. We usually ended up with more of a smudge than a zebra. It was time for us to take drastic measures. Namely, to put the tattoos on our tongues. Yes, that's right. This non-toxic ink blob clinging to our taste buds was usually our greatest and wisest alternative. Sure, it wasn't necessarily the most attractive, or tastiest, or functional, or sensible, or...wait, where was I going with this?
Regardless of our questionable Fruit Stripe tattoo practices, the gum remained amongst our favorites for years. It was certainly a cheap thrill, and a short-lived one at that. It was one of those food fads for which we liked it because we liked it, and don't bother asking us any probing questions as to why. We'd suffer through endless wads of gooey, chewy, tastelessly bitter gum so long as it was colorful and came with a cheerful zebra on the package.
Like so many of our favorite snacks and candy in the 90s, we were foolishly lured in by a fast-talking anthropomorphic cartoon animal and vibrant neon colors. If they made it look fun in the commercial, you could bet we'd make it fun in real life. That's simple deductive logic. It didn't matter if a cereal tasted like cardboard or a gum tasted like unscented Silly Putty, it was ours. We as kids took ownership and laid full claim to novelty foods and there was nothing adults could do to stop us. We'd sooner loyally defend our beloved novelty sweets than cave to adult logic. Unless, of course, we had the entire pack of Fruit Stripe in our mouths.*
*This was a likely situation given the instantaneous flavor loss. Sure, you couldn't talk back to your parents, but you could blow a head-engulfing bubble. All in all, sort of a toss up.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The 90s were the age of extreme. Extreme sports, extreme caffeinated beverages, and even extreme candy. That's right, extreme candy. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to assume a candy can possess daring, risk-takable qualities, the 90s made it happen. Sure, you had to endure a great deal of pain and discomfort, tooth enamel loss, and burned off taste buds...wait a minute. Where was I going with this?
Ah, yes. Extreme. The simple qualifier that made children and teenagers delight in torturing their taste buds, no questions asked. Children are a wonderfully flexible market demographic. If through marketing you can somehow manage to convince children that intentionally putting themselves in a great deal of tear-inducing pain is a means of proving themselves on the playground, then by all means do so. After all, convincing children that something is cool is a hell of a lot easier than adults, and takes far less logical explanations.
Hence was the case with Warheads. If measured on a quality scale devoid of context, these hard candies would have relatively little value. They were eye-poppingly sour, made possible by all sorts of unnatural acidic ingredients created in labs. Warheads contained very little in the way of anything found in nature. The experience of eating a Warhead in itself was not innately pleasurable. Rather, advertisers had managed to convince us that our endurance of their sour taste was in some way to scale with our general coolness reputation.
In retrospect the notion is completely ridiculous, but as children we swore by it. Playground peer pressure quickly swept the nation as kids inexplicably agreed that the ability to consume an unbearably sour candy was the hallmark of coolness. Never mind that these babies were named for a form of nuclear weaponry. Never mind that the packaging pictured a mushroom cloud erupting behind a struggling, miserable looking mascot with bulgy eyes and puckered lips. We wanted our sour candies and that was that.
Indeed, these suckers required a warning label. Though not found on original packaging, current Warhead wrappers sport the following caveat:
"Eating multiple pieces within a short time period may cause a temporary irritation to sensitive tongues and mouths."
Right. So what you're telling me is right there on the package, it indicates that this will be a horrifying unpleasurable experience certain to disrupt the normal balance of my natural mouth environment. Sounds like something I'd like to eat!
Warheads came in numerous varieties such as Mega and Atomic. In early days, the company even had the bright idea to manufacture a "hot" version of the candy. This experiment proved intensely disgusting, but remarkably did nothing to detract from the strength of the Warhead brand. You're telling me you're willing to continually put your trust in the people who arbitrarily believed that you as a child consumer would delight over "Hot Grape?" Give me a break. I've got a bottle of Dimetapp and a microwave at home, buddy. Nice try.
In the spirit of cough syrup, Warheads are now available in liquid form. There's nothing quite like eye-dropping some painfully sour substance onto your tongue, droplet by droplet. Yum!
The underlying principle behind the explosive popularity of Warheads lay largely in children's inherently competitive nature. A bitter and sour candy alone is not particularly desirable, but a bitter and sour candy that allows you to go head-to-head (well, Warhead to Warhead) with cocky classmates? Sign me up. It was peer pressure at its very finest. Warhead-eating contests became a common phenomenon, even boasting a widely-accepted list of universal rules for sour endurance.
The candies were also prime targets for absurd urban legends based on the questionably chemical candy components and tongue-burning taste. We heard rumors that children had burned off all of their taste buds or lost all sense of taste from overexposure to Warheads. You have to admit if you've ever managed to get through the sour coating of a Warhead that that seems vaguely plausible. These legends fell somewhere on the believability spectrum between pop-rocks-and-coke and sitting-too-close-to-the-tv-will-make-you-blind. It seemed possible. The idea that the mere passive act of eating a candy could be daring and dangerous and could cement your reputation was too good to pass up. Hey, I'd be willing to sacrifice a few taste buds if I could be Four Square King every day at recess. Just sayin'.
In reality, the only thing you were proving was that you were gullible enough to believe that enduring a disgusting sour coating for 30 seconds was in some way correlated to your social standing. Sure, it came with the added bonus of your overenthusiastic classmates cheering you on and the almighty title of Warhead conqueror, but it wasn't exactly a marketable skill. I have yet to go on a job interview where the boss has said, "Your resume looks great, everything seems to be in order. Oh, just one more thing--how are you with mega atomic Warheads?"
Regardless of its lack of application, this level of pain threshold was bound to make you at the very least a minor classroom celebrity. So embrace the lip-puckering sourness. It may not be particularly palatable, but it's still better than the alternative.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Tracking lollipop trends can be an arduous undertaking best left to professionals. With all the ups and downs in the hard candy market, it's tough to say which models will stick. Figuratively, that is. Literally, everything will end up pretty sticky.
Novelty candies were all the rage in the 80s and 90s. Everything had a gimmick. It was no longer enough for a candy simply to be delicious; now it needed to have entertainment value as well. Competition in the confectionery consumer marketplace was fierce, meaning candy companies were under pressure to produce new and innovatively packaged materials that would appeal to children on multiple levels.
To do so, candy makers had to think outside the box. That is to say, they needed to alter the packaging to make it externally palatable (though with the hope that children would not attempt to consume that as well). Suddenly, sweets weren't just sugary junk food, they were toys: bona fide sources of classroom distraction and playground entertainment.
Of the new* multifaceted lollipops available, ring pops had a pretty widespread appeal. And the convenience! You didn't even have to hold anything, as the candy itself was cemented to the base of a plastic ring. And of course, here's nothing quite like teaching a girl to grow to expect the equivalent of a 20 carat rock on her finger from a young age.
Ring pops were novelty as its finest. You got to wear your food. Short of candy necklaces, this was pretty much the most exciting jewelry-themed treat on the market. The commercial below, however, is the tiniest bit disturbing when that little boy proposes to the girl by means of a ring pop in a velvet box. I'm sure they were going for cute, but it comes off a tad creepy. I mean, these kids are about seven years old. Why are we pushing candy marriage proposals?
That jingle is pretty catchy though:
"It's a lollipop, without a stick!
A ring of flavor you can lick!"
At the end when they display the hands bedecked in ring pops galore, it looks like a dream come true. It looks nearly as satisfying as decorating myself with all of the jewelry that came with my Pretty Pretty Princess board game, only it wins additional points for edibility:
You also have to love the way they redid this commercial for the late 90s. It's almost the exact same thing, only the teeniest bit jazzier. Maybe there had been some recent develop in synthesizer technology by the time this baby aired. That's the only plausible explanation for not rereleasing the original:
Ring pops were admittedly on the girly side, so luckily the same company came out with a more gender neutral lollipop release. The Push Pop was supposed to be practical with its "save it for later" plastic cap, but looking back that whole concept makes me want to Purel the hell out of every corner my mouth. Sure, you had the ability to eat a candy over an extended period of time, but the sanitary/hygienic component was questionable. On the other hand, it sure beat my friend's pastime of preserving a jaw breaker over several days by leaving its spit-covered carcass in an open bowl on his desk. At least with push pops, the covers could keep out a higher percentage of the dust bunnies.
The underlying concept behind the push pop was that you could actually push up the candy from within the plastic tubular packaging, allowing you as the eater to control how much pop you'd like to expose. Theoretically you could cap the pop, call it a day, and come back to it later that week. It seemed, though, that this candy was made from the stickiest substance known to man. Not only that, but it seemed to form some sort of chemical glue-like bonding reaction when coupled with spit, its major means of disintegration.
Both Push Pops and Ring Pops came in all sorts of lab-created flavors that had relatively little in common with flavors found in nature. The cherry flavor had the added bonus of applying an unintentional bright coating of red color on your lips sans lipstick, but had the unfortunate downside of tasting like cough syrup. Another wildly popular flavor was blue raspberry, which for some reason has caught on in a big way as an artificial flavor. I'm not sure how to break it gently to these flavor scientists, but raspberries aren't blue. Ever.**
Later incarnations came in flavors that definitely appealed to us as children but sound a little repulsive in our current state of well-advised judgment: bubble gum, cotton candy, green apple***, and the intentionally vague "citrus". Each of these flavors was ostensibly a huge commitment, as the amount of time and effort to consume the sheer quantity of hard candy available via ring or push pop was immense.
Truthfully though, this was the way we and our parents liked it. The candy had a two-pronged approach to keeping us occupied: the effort involved in actually consuming the slowly diminishing hard candy and the added value of its novelty features entertaining us. I must admit now it all seems a little overrated, but what do I know? I was more of a Chupa Chup girl.
*Okay, so they were introduced in 1977, but they were a novelty to children throughout the 80s and 90s **At least as far as I know and am too lazy to research otherwise ***Yes, I admit lots of people like green apple. But I challenge you to have a semi-traumatic experience with Smirnoff Green Apple vodka and not feel at least mildly repulsed by the flavor
Friday, June 12, 2009
In some cases, these were actual viable inventions and ideas that for some reason or another either failed to take off or suffered misguided marketing strategies. Whatever the reason, these flops were the original Fail (yes, with a capital F.)
Technology is a funny thing. You never really know toward which direction the tides of public opinion will gravitate. At one moment, your new technological innovation seems poised for greatness and the next, well, they're using your product to line litter boxes and horse corrals. Something that seemed like such a great idea at the moment of conception can fail to ever pick up real speed with consumers.
The Sony Minidisc is the perfect example. Looking at one now, it appears semi-ridiculously to resemble a shrinky-dinked (shrinky dunk?) compact disc. In 1992, Sony had confidence that the minidisc was the technology to overtake the scratchy quality audiocassette market. Sony was all hyped up on residual gloating from their success in their Walkman venture, and was certain that their expensive technology (around $550 for a player, $750 for one with recording capabilities) would immediately fill the void of The Next Big Thing.
While the product itself certainly had its technological brag points, Sony failed to consider that the young musically-minded generation they were targeting did not generally posess the necessary capital means to buy it. In short: it was way out of the reach of young people's budgets, and its unfortunate release timing collided poorly with the rise of CDs. Then again, now that the CD market is nearly obsolete itself, it's not looking too sunny on that front either, so no one really wins. Okay, except maybe Apple and their 200 million iPods sold. Touche, Apple.
McDonald's Arch Deluxe
In 1996, fast food giant McDonald's felt they needed a makeover. No, they weren't seeking to cut back on use of fatty oils and unhealthy ingredients; rather, they wanted to better target an "adult" audience (I'm not exactly sure why those quotation marks are there, I assume they indicate McD's was suffering from too many cash-toting toddlers stopping in for burgers or they felt they weren't reaching their selling potential with adult film stars.) Its tagline was "Arch Deluxe: The Burger with the Grown-Up Taste."
In this case, this vague age demographic failed to recognize any value in differentiating their burgers from those that came in a colorful cardboard Happy Meals carton. There was a major commercial push to corner this so-called grown-up market, but the critical level of demand was not necessarily present. As if pouring buckets of ill-fated cash into an irrelevant and unnecessary product weren't enough, McDonald's also felt that their adult consumer base wanted (again, where they got this data, I do not know) a more sophisticated ad campaign. No more Grimace and Hamburglers for these high-class burger buyers.
These ads, however, were misguided attempts to distinguish the AD as catered to a mature palate. The TV spots featured children poking at the supposedly premier ingredients, commenting with bewilderment, "I don't get it," and referring to the burger in question as "yucky." Well played, McDonalds. Everyone knows a sophisticated adult loves for their food to be publicly declared inedible. Well played indeed.
Another tragic victim of unconventional advertising techniques and hazy target demographics, OK soda was a short-lived beverage experiment executed by the Coca-Cola company in 1994. The best part of the whole thing is that they went with the ad guy from the New Coke campaign. I guess they really, really, really liked this guy, because he already cost them millions of dollars in failed marketing. I imagine the Coke execs seated around the conference room table and musing, "Well, he's a good guy, let's give him another shot. Financial and publicity disaster aside, I always thought he did something pretty special for us here at the Coca-Cola company."
OK Soda was a sort of existential experiment into youth marketing. Youth Culture--particularly in the moody, grungy mid 90s--was by design inherently opposed to mainstream attempts to lure them in via hackneyed advertising strategies. The Coke marketers thought that since irony was so in at the moment, they would just overtly court the teen market in a completely unsubtle, overstated way. They even had an 800-number to which angsty teens could call in and leave deadpan, disillusioned messages which could someday be mainstreamed into a national commercial, virtually cancelling out any Generation X-style irreverent credibility of the caller.
Unfortunately for Coca-Cola, young people are usually smarter than adults give them credit for. I suppose only the coolest of the cool teenagers would have liked OK Soda on the multi-layered levels of irony that your average teen poseur failed to comprehend. That is, it's ironic to actually like the thing that adults are trying so hard to make into something ironic, which is ironic in itself. Then again, 90s teens were generally misinformed on the actual meaning of irony, as Alanis Morrisette had given them zero examples of it in her song "Ironic". Which is also ironic. Don't you think?
Not as well-remembered as the others, WebTV was once on the verge of being the next major entertainment technology leap. Don't let the name fool you based on your current knowledge and context of the internet: Web TV was not TV on your computer. Instead, it was computer (well, internet) on your TV.
In the late 90s, some tech giants (namely Microsoft, who acquired WebTV in a $425 million deal) believed that all that people really wanted was to check emails and browse online on their living room TV sets. The theory behind WebTV was partially derived from the same dumbed-down message you see today in those Jitterbug-brand cell phone service commercials. It's based on the notion that certain (read: old) people are frightened of new and unfamiliar technology and it has to be somehow brought down to their technologically-illiterate level.
This is, in theory, a viable marketing concept with a real, defined demographic. However, the tiny aspect Microsoft overlooked is that these people were not suddenly going to flourish on internet-shopping, banner ad-clicking, viable members of the web community. Instead, they actually became a tedious burden of call-center nightmares who failed to comprehend even the most basic of troubleshooting strategies. Then again, what did they expect? These people were used to their TVs being TVs, not computers.
So to these formerly flopping companies, we salute you for your misguidedness. Despite the relatively low long-term economic impact, these flops speak loudly to the unsavory expectations that these corporations had of us as consumers of the 90s as needlessly spending, sophisticated-burger craving, quadruply ironic, technologically deficient simpletons.
Lucky for us, most of these expectations turned out to be false, but it never hurts to get retrospectively outraged and insulted from time to time. If only Coca-Cola had maintained their 1-800-IFEELOK hotline so we'd all have a place to express it.
In case you thought I had somehow forgotten the epic failure of Crystal Pepsi, fear not: I have already devoted a full-length rant-filled post to it. Peruse at your leisure.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I don't know about you, but I prefer for my bubble gum supply to measure in feet. Sticks are for lightweights. Everyone knows that the true test of childhood victory is the ability to fit the maximum allowable denomination of chewing gum into your mouth and to successfully masticate without asphyxiating. But packages of gum are so difficult to unwrap, not to mention all that unsightly tinfoil waste. Sure, it can be fun for awhile to peel off the foil and stick it on your school notebooks, but what are you left with after that? I demand more from my gum.
Luckily, my concern did not go unaddressed. The Wrigley corporation not only recognized this gum supply issue, but also chose to capitalize it with a hefty marketing campaign directed as gum-crazed children. They recognized that kids prefer novelty products to everyday fare and went about tailoring a product to meet this need. They sat around the boardroom wondering, "Now how can we make a completely useless product for which we can utilize cold, calculated marketing strategies to convince children that they thought of it in the first place?"
The major thrust of many advertising campaigns directed at children in the 90s focused on the illustrious nature of adult disapproval. In some crazy existential marketing bubble, it was completely justifiable for a group of grown-ups to labor over advertising that outright villianized adults. Somehow, they managed to convince us as children that this was all some crazy idea that we had come up with. Never mind that the concept, promotion, production, and distribution of the product was completely controlled by adults. This was of little matter to the Wrigley people. The real bottom line was that children believed that this product in some way represented their lifestyle and needs while being generally repugnant to authority figures.
Adults likely frowned on Bubble Tape with good reason. A few sticks of gum to satiate a sugar-demanding child is one thing, but a full six feet of bubble gum is probably overkill. "Oh, you wanted some gum? Well, how about twice your height's worth? Now stick it in your mouth all at once and try your best not to die. Doesn't that sound fun?"
Bubble Tape was aptly named for its scotch tape-like dispenser. Who says office supplies can't be inspiration for food products? Alright, I've been known to say that from time to time, but can you blame me? It's pretty outrageous. This packaging allowed for easy access to a maximal amount of chewing gum, even possessing the capability to discard the dispenser entirely in favor of sticking the whole roll directly in your mouth.
Sometimes as an adult, when I try to eat a particularly unwieldy large piece of sushi in a single bite, I am eerily transported back to the chew-or-die memory of attempting to ingest a full six feet of Bubble Tape. The trauma has faded, but the awareness lurks just beneath the surface. My mother had told me (incorrectly, I should note) that swallowed gum would stick to my appendix, and I thus worried for years needlessly about my inexorable pending appendectomy. I can only begin to imagine what the fictitious surgeons would say. Come along, if you will, on a journey into my Bubble Tape-induced nightmare:
Surgeon One: Holy cow, Bill get a load of this!
Surgeon Two: Geez, what is that? A pancreas? Actually, on second glance it looks a little spleenish. Shouldn't we leave this in?
Surgeon One: Well, actually, I think it's...gum. Chewing gum. Enormous six-foot squared chunks of it.
Suregon Two: Gosh, Tim, she probably should have listened to her mother when she made up that ludicrous lie, then she easily could have avoided this imaginary appendectomy.
But why the urge to stuff all this gum into our mouths and masticate our way into all sorts of improbably dangerous medical scenarios? In all likelihood the commercials egged us on just a bit:
Ah, yes. For you, not them. Touche, ad execs. Touche.
You have to appreciate their understanding of the literal-mindedness of children through the illustration of 6 feet as actual human feet. On the whole, this advertisement makes very little sense. I accept that children-directed marketing doesn't necessarily have to make sense, but this truly is on the side of the extreme. Essentially, here's a random cluster of facts about our unsightly underoo-ironing gym teacher and equally unattractive ice cream-scooping mashed potatoes cafeteria lady. Sure, we understand that these are unsavory characters with undesirable behavioral attributes., but is their lack of endorsement really enough to prompt children to flood grocery stores en mass in search of lengthy chewing gum?
Apparently it was. There was some underlying childlike joy to be taken from the whole "For you, not them" concept. An adult requested a piece and you could flippantly say, "But, mother, haven't you seen the commercials? This gum is not intended for grown-ups. This is a product entirely intended for me." Of course, I'm sure our parents just loved these tidbits of commercial-learned wisdom. In fact, I suspect it was exactly this type of behavior that prompted my mother to concoct the gum-to-appendix lie in the first place: to regain control of the bubble gum situation by unfair use of fearmongering.
The real trouble arises now, as the "you" in these commercials are now all grown up. Actually, it's possible some of you are out their ironing your underwear right now. Do we still reserve this ad-given right to deny others the sweet six feet of confectionery goodness? Obviously this "for you, not them" argument was built on faulty logic; like it not, now we're them.
Regardless of this hole in the Bubble Tape reasoning, I say embrace your inner child. Go out there and buy spools of gum by the foot and remember a time in your life when this 99 cent piece of plastic meant the world to you. Just don't say I didn't warn you about the risk of imaginary appendectomies.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We all have a soft spot for the snacks we consumed during our formative years. In some cases, we may be left with actual bodily soft spots due to the sore lack of nutritional snack options. Regardless of their questionable merit, we craved these snacks with near-religious zeal. We can only now understand why our parents shook their heads in disbelief as we placed these items into our family's grocery cart; many of these foods, while admittedly delicious, were otherwise completely insane as concepts.
I suppose it's possible that major food production firms suffered from large-group drug use during product conception meetings, as that's probably the only passable explanation for any of these items making it past the, "Call me crazy, but I have an idea" stage. Under usual circumstances, the assembled group of professionals would agree that yes, that was indeed a crazy idea, and proceed with their days unaffected by the interaction.
Perhaps the 90s were especially generous to creativity. More likely, it was a time of shameless one-upmanship in marketing and reformulations of products. Regardless of the reasons, as children we were more than happy to reap the rewards of food companies' lapses in judgment. Though we may mourn their loss, their memories will forever represent to us a time when haute cuisine meant a good gimmick and a lively spokescartoon.
You know, I always dreamed of drinking a lava lamp. When told they were horribly toxic, I happily settled for the next best thing. The fact that this soft drink ever went into full-scale production is at minimum mind baffling. How exactly would one go about pitching an idea like this to the kind people at Clearly Canadian*?
"Feel free to stop me at any point if this sounds a little iffy, but what if we took our existing product, let it go flat and decarbonated, and then floated little mysterious balls of unidentifiable goo in them? I know what you're thinking, that sounds delicious, and I'm going to go out on a limb here and agree. These little gummy globulations are just the thing to put Clearly Canadian on the map. The beverage company, that is, I'm pretty sure the actual Canada is already on there in full clarity."
The gelatin balls were technically suspended by means of gellan gum, but no scientific explanation can play down the eeriness of these frightening floaters. I used to love these drinks, but in retrospect it seems more likely that I like the idea of them more than the actual taste. The drink itself was fairly benign, but it was pretty unpalatable to swallow little slimy orbs without fair warning of their entry into the mouth region.
Conveniently, Clearly Candian chose to blame you, the consumer, for the discontinuation of Orbitz. Apparently, we as beverage drinkers were unsure whether to eat, drink, or discard these balls. The company's investment in the beverage was luckily not for naught: they made a pretty penny selling their website domain name to the flight search engine of the same name.
Rice Krispie Treats Cereal
It's tough to determine whether or not these are indeed discontinued, but if still in production they are certainly in limited retail release. In the case of Rice Krispie Treats Cereal, at least the Kelloggs' people could justify this product with its sheer efficiency. Factories were already producing full size Rice Krispie Treats squares, so theoretically all that had to be done was breaking the treats into smaller bite-size pieces and adding an additional word to their cereal box packaging.
We all knew Rice Krispie Treats as a dessert, so imagine our surprise to find them amongst healthy fare in the cereal aisle. I took a shine to these immediately, though in reality it was probably the novelty of the product that appealed to me over its inherent value. Either way, I knew I loved Snap, Crackle, and Pop but hated plain old Rice Krispies, so I was glad to see my favorite characters branch out into more sugary territory.
Life Savers Holes
Again, this seems like a fairly accountable use of company resources. They're already making the candies, and we can only assume they're discarding millions of holes yearly to produce their trademark shape. Why not sell the contents of their factory trash? Unappealing as that may sound to us, they managed to market it in a way that convinced us that we were somehow getting something different while we were clearly just getting more of the same but in a new hard plastic container.
In the 90s, it was popular to reformulate popular foodstuffs into smaller, cuter, more animated versions of itself. Lifesavers Holes--and later M&Ms minis--featured ads depicting tiny candies frolicking carefreely, enjoying their tiny lifestyles. The Lifesaver Hole ads were actually a Pixar endeavor, which was pretty fancy shmancy for the time in terms of expensive advertising at the time.
Lifesavers Holes was able to capture an audience for a short period of the time as a result of flooding the candy marketplace with advertising, but kids caught on quickly that these were pretty much the exact same thing only less satisfying.
In the 90s, there was a huge movement toward marketing things as "X-treme!" Extreme sports were on the rise, and apparently required some sort of tie-in promotional beverage to endorse this madcap lifestyle. Major proponents of this extreme way of life spent much of their days skateboarding, wearing backwards baseball caps, mainlining adrenaline, and shotgunning cans of Surge.
Surge was marketed as X-treme! on the basis of its caffeine content, though under closer examination it was apparent that soft drinks like Mountain Dew actually contained higher levels of caffeine. In reality, the main thing that was extreme about the beverage was its repellent electric green color and coordinating logo. Unsurprisingly, parents often vetoed Surge as a source of unnecessary hyperactivity, making it all the more appealing to us. My friends and I used to have Surge-chugging contests at slumber parties, leading us to eventually have to downgrade these fiestas to simply "parties." After downing a 2 liter of Surge, sleep wasn't really an option.
Ah, dessert as breakfast. It was a beautiful concept, and kids were quick to hop on the cookies-in-the-breakfast-bowl bandwagon. The cereal's tagline, "The delicious taste of Oreo now in a fun-to-crunch cereal!" was unlikely to pull in any sort of parental approval ratings. The sugar content was outrageously, unjustifiably high, making them incomparably attractive to children while remaining the bane of every parent's trip to the grocery store. Sure, the things probably had a vitamin or two infused in for good measure, but in general this was really just a matter of cookies for breakfast.
Like its chocolate chip rival, Cookie Crisp, the cereal was a bit of a letdown on the cookie-likeness front. Cookie cereals always seemed to posess some form of unfortunate bitter aftertaste and abrasive texture. The Oreo people probably should have taken a page from the Rice Krispie Treats book and just crushed up some of their original product and called it a day. Unfortunately, this tampering with the sacred Oreo formula yielded less than oreo-tastic results. They did, however, later come out with the dubiously named "Extreme Creme" version which to its credit contained ample marshmallows. Unfortunately, conceptual cereal could only go so far without substantial taste credibility. Alas, it was adios to the O's.
Of course, some 90s snacks undoubtedly deserve further investigation and thus have been awarded full length posts for their sheer ridiculous existence. Luckily, many of them were featured here on Children of the 90s before I had any readers, so just think of it as new bonus reading material to munch on. Just remember to breathe a sigh of relief as a few of these are still around:
*Considered kind on the basis of Canadian citizenship alone.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
There's something oddly reassuring about a snack that refers to itself in plural as "yummies." Sure, some of our old snack standbys are yummy (singular), but does each individual chip or pretzel convey its own unique yumminess? I think not.
Amongst all of the koala-themed snack foods out there, Koala Yummies managed to distinguish themselves as the premier marsupial-based snack on the market. Dunkaroos were able to secure a precarious second-place position with their kangaroo spokescartoon upon their release four years later, but their mascot could never reach the level of cuddlability of Yummies fame. I mean look at these guys! Could anything cling to a euclaptys tree in a more lovable fashion?
In an age before extensive concerns over high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats, and preservatives, children were once allowed to consume nutrition-free overprocessed food without the now-requisite wealth of parental concern and intervention. No one seemed particularly concerned over whether these cookies were organically produced or if the company opted to use free-range koalas. 90s parents food fearmongering was fairly tame compared to their 2000s successors, and junk food reigned supreme for parents with even a shred of concern for their children's cafeteria credibility. Parents weren't sending their children off to school with Disney lunchboxes full of tofu nuggets or soy milk juice boxes; they were sending them with carbohydrate-rich festival of tastes that would make today's South Beach, Atkins, and Sugar Busters-dieting parents blush.
Koala Yummies were one of those magical foods that contained absolutely no natural ingredients. There was something particularly satisfying about biting into a cookie with the knowledge that each component of the fantastic taste sensations on your tongue were developed in a lab specifically for your snacking enjoyment. Just imagine, these little guys were created specifically with your unnatural cravings for artificial sweeteners in mind! The packaging heavily featured a rainforest-type theme, which was certainly misleading. Koala Yummies were in no way linked to nature aside from their marsupial likeness and that's the way we wanted it.
For any of you not fortunate enough to remember the fine blend of sweet tastes that made up these confections, allow me to paint a picture for you. Well, perhaps not paint a picture. While we're using metaphors here, I might as well make them related. Allow me to bake a figurative chocolate-filled cookie for you:
Outside: Pure crispy hollow cookie deliciousness all dolled up in the best koala finery a cheap Asian food production company can buy. These yummies had personality: some of them played some sort of ukelele, some ate plates of cookies, and others yet indulged in deep fits of hysterical emotion (pictured below, bottom left)
Inside: We didn't want to let our parents in on this little secret, but the inside was a Halloween-rivaling level of sweet candy ecstasy. While technically these goodies could contain chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry centers, but everyone knew the chocolate ones were truly the epitome of Koala Yumminess.
The packaging was somewhat odd and clearly reflected its Japanese origins through its complicated shape and construction. Rather than coming in an ordinary household-size box or bag, Koala Yummies lived in little cardboard octagonal prisms. There was no explanation offered for this idiosyncratic packaging, but it certainly made it more fun and plausible to play with the Yummies in the context of their three-dimensional stop sign-shaped house. This awkward shape and size meant that while consuming a full package of Koala Yummies was likely not recommended or healthy, it was certainly an easily attainable goal met by countless 90s youngsters.
As with the now-discontinued Dunakroos, 90s children have been experiencing extreme symptoms of Koala Yummy withdrawal since they were pulled from mainstream American markets. There are full sites, blogs, and lengthy forums devoted to the persistent and persevering quest for these tasty little Koala treats. Unfortunately, the public health community has yet to recognize this as a valid addiction worthy of treatment programs and/or methadone supplementation, but it certainly seems to have reach this level of cookie-crazed concern. Strung-out sugar-deficient 20-somethings beg and plead for a black-market source for their favorite discontinued snacks. A cursory Google search for Koala Yummies shows hundreds of requests, petitions, underground tips, and supposed store sightings. These are clearly more than cookies we're dealing with here, they're the snack of a generation.
There have, however, been some major breaks in this former cold case.
Your eyes do not deceive you. The once-beloved snacks of your childhood are still enjoying relative fame, and not just from doing the occasional Japanese commercial for extra income. Though now known as "Koala's March", these guys do appear suspiciously similar to our coveted Yummies of snack times past. Of course, that disgusting image of gooey, melty centers is a little off, but we can only imagine (read: pray) that this depiction is for illustrative purposes only. If you live near an Asian grocery or market that stocks ethnic specialty fare, you may be in luck.
Beware of imitations, though. The Meiji Seika corporation has been producing notorious knockoffs known in some Yummies-seeking circles as "Hello Panda". Do not be fooled by the octagonal packaging or similarly emoting cartoon animal images. Online Asian Food Grocer describes Hello Pandas as "Chocolate cream filled biscuits that are surprisingly tasty with no oily after taste. Go ahead, try these finger sized biscuits. You wont be disappointed. Excellent for kids school time snack pack." Surprisingly tasty? Finger-sized? No thank you.
Our new Koala Yummies incarnate, however, on the other hand are described by the same vendor as "Chocolate cream filled biscuits that are surprisingly tasty with no oily after taste. Go ahead, try these finger sized biscuits. You wont be disappointed. Excellent for kids school time snack pack." Wait a second. That sounds suspiciously familiar.
So whether you choose to sell out to Hello Panda or continue to support your old standards with Koala's March, you can still purchase these once-forgotten goodies online.
Just remember not to follow it up with anything vaguely nutritional for a truly authentic 90s snacking experience.