The Criterion Collection of junk food: 19 snacks and sodas we wish were still on the market

The Criterion Collection of junk food: 19 snacks and sodas we wish were still on the market

Inventory. The book.

1. Seven-Up Bars
Every generation has its favorite candies, sodas, and snack foods that are gone, never to return again, but the Seven-Up bar, manufactured by Pearson’s and discontinued in 1979, apparently generates more interest than most. No less worthy a source than Susan Fussell Whiteside of the National Confectioners Association says this vanished chocolate bar (which has no connection to the lemon-lime soda) is one of the most frequently asked-for candies of the past. Essentially a one-man version of the Whitman’s samplers popular with lazy lovers on Valentine’s Day, the Seven-Up bar, available in milk- and dark-chocolate varieties, was a chocolate bar divided into seven sections, each with a different filling—from the highly desired fudge and orange-jelly segments in the middle to the fairly ucky maple and Brazil-nut pieces at the end. Many a personality was formed by the choice of whether to eat a linear path to the good stuff, or just break the bar in half and go straight for the money segments.

2. Nutty Wheat Thins
According to the Nabisco site, Nutty Wheat Thins (among other products) were discontinued because “There were not enough consumers buying the products to support its continued production.” Balderdash (and bad grammar), we say. We’re pretty sure we alone bought enough boxes to keep the line in production. Basically ordinary Wheat Thins completely coated on one side with wee slivers of roasted almonds, they were amazing with cheese or port-wine cheese spread, and delicious on their own. Maybe Nabisco just got tired of having to put “made in a manufacturing center that processes tree-nuts” on all its packaging. That, or someone at the company realized that adding a lot of pure, delicious nuts to its wheat-paste crackers drove the profit margin way down.

3. Sweet Baby Jays
When Chicago-based company Jays Foods declared bankruptcy in 2007 and folded after 80 years in business, it was a blow to Chicago hometown pride, but also to lovers of sweet-potato chips. Introduced in 2006 and gone too soon thereafter, the company’s Sweet Baby Jays were ultra-thin, ultra-crispy potato chips so heavily salted and spiced that it was generally impossible to taste their actual potato origins. The regular chips were tasty, but the other variety, the mesquite-spiced, were midway between BBQ chips and hot chips, and were preposterously delicious. When Jays folded, Snyder’s Of Hanover bought out the company and continues to make chips under the Jays name, but apparently at some point decided that Sweet Baby Jays weren’t worth continuing. Oh, cruel corporate overlords and their hatred of chippy perfection! (Or maybe of James Taylor jokes. Who knows?)

4. Gatorgum
At last count, there were approximately nine hundred billion varieties and flavors of the market-dominating sports drink Gatorade available, from G2 to All-Star to Fierce to Frost to a special Tiger Woods-branded line extension. With all that marketing power, you’d think Gatorade could afford to put the indescribably delicious Gatorgum back on the market. Available in the two classic Gatorade flavors (orange and lemon-lime), the gum, available until the early ’80s, was dusted with the same electrolytes that make Gatorade so thirst-crushingly delightful. The sour, slightly salty flavor was so addictive that everyone who’s ever tried it wishes they could rush out and buy a pack right now. But apparently, parent company Quaker Oats would rather screw around with stuff like “Gatorade A.M.”, a breakfast version of the drink. No, really.

5. Holiday Spice Pepsi
Everyone has their own favorite long-vanished soda variety, but few inspired such loathing indetractors and passion in defenders as the holiday Pepsi-Cola variant that appeared around Christmas in the early 2000s. Most drinkers found its touches of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to be loathsome, which is why it vanished after only a few test-market runs. But those who liked it really, really liked it. Manic-sounding Internet petitions circulated demanding its return; long-expired six-packs fetched a high price on eBay; one helpless addict even started a blog to chronicle his fanatic consumption of an ever-dwindling supply. Not enough people liked Holiday Spice to make it a regular part of the Pepsi lineup, but its devotees make the people who patiently wait for the annual return of Shamrock Shakes look downright sane by comparison.

6. Mug-O-Lunch
In the days before ramen noodles (and the infinite variety of similar products) gave college students a way to turn pocket change into dinner, the hot-water-meal market was largely limitedto Cup-O-Noodles and Cup-O-Soup (both from Lipton), as well as what Betty Crocker proclaimed as a “New Idea!” back in the late ’70s: Mug-O-Lunch. The Mug-O-Lunch line offered Macaroni & Cheese, Beef Noodle, Chicken Noodle, and Spaghetti, all sold in packets of dried powder meant to be combined with boiling water and stirred for five minutes. Mug-O-Lunch was like a magic trick: At the start of the stirring, the product was dry and watery; by the end, it was thick and soft. Well, mostly. There was usually a noodle or two that didn’t quite convert, though the crunchy bits were part of the charm. That and the saltiness. The wonderful, wonderful saltiness.

7. Chef Boyardee Roller Coasters
Like any good chef, Signor Boyardee rotates his menu regularly, to flex his creative muscles. After all, there are an infinite number of ways to combine tomato sauce, meat, cheese, and amusingly shaped pasta. Why limit the product line? This explains why consumers can currently avail themselves of Chili Cheese Dog Twistaroni, yet the glory of Roller Coasters—a canned dish of wavy noodles and meatballs, packed in a sauce that was like ketchup blended with a full box of sugar packets—is relegated to the memories of kids who grew up in the ’80s. The noodles were the track; the meatballs were the car. Perhaps that concept was too subtle for patrons of the company that gave us ABC’s & 123’s.

8. Hershey’s Cookies ’N’ Mint
Though Hershey’s trots out a version of its Cookies ’N’ Mint bar every now and then as a “limited edition,” there was a time when it was a standard part of the product line. The wafer-thin chocolate studded with minty cookie pieces—so crunchy, so melty, so refreshing—could be procured from just about any convenience store or grocery. The limited-edition variety of Cookies ’N’ Mint (and the nugget form that often pops up around Christmas) is thicker than the original version, which means the texture isn’t exactly right. But it’ll do in a pinch.

9. Sour Bites
“Yipes! Stripes! SOUR BITES!” yelled the zebra on the packaging of Sour Bites candies, from Beech-Nut. Connected to the brand’s heavily advertised Fruit Stripes gum by their use of zoo animals, though they weren’t striped in any way, Sour Bites were color-coded quarter-inch cylinders stamped with cute elephant- and tiger-head line drawings, packaged in a foil pouch. They were smaller and less tart than Sweet Tarts, and therefore easier to eat in quantity. Probably the closest approximation to their taste available for today’s palates is the inside of a Spree candy, once the shiny coating has worn off. Best colors: pink (probably strawberry) and orange. Worst: yellow (lemon) and blue raspberry (as is traditional among fruit-flavored candies). Sour Bites accompanied many a ’70s-era child on excursions deep into the wilds of the backyard, the snuff-like pouch folded over and stuffed deep into a pocket.

10. Peanut Butter Boppers
Peanut Butter Boppers spawned thousands of passionate devotees online, and yet little information remains about the peanut butter-based snack bar marketed by Nature Valley in the ’80s. Boppers may have been the first candy bar hiding out among the granola; surely they didn’t offer any significant nutrition. Sold in boxes of six, they were essentially tubes of peanut butter wrapped in crispy rice and chocolate chips. The formula couldn’t have been simpler, but Boppers also couldn’t have been tastier, particularly the Fudge Chip variety. (Boppers also came in Peanut Crunch and Honey Crisp.) Boppers peaked hard in the mid-’80s, and disappeared shortly thereafter. Nature Valley’s current line of Sweet & Salty Nut bars is hardly a substitute.

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11. PB Max
Hershey’s Reese’s line still leads the candy market in sugary-peanut-butter-confection deliciousness, but for a few years in the ’90s, the company had some serious competition in the form of a Mars product called PB Max. The ads were pretty dumb—watch the one below with the sound off, and enjoy the impression that PB Max is the candy bar of choice for obese ballerinas and cornpone country hicks—but the bar itself was pure deliciousness. A thick, chunky square concoction of chocolate-covered peanut butter on a cookie, it was as decadent as a thick slice of cake. According to Joël Glenn Brenner’s book The Emperors Of Chocolate, the bar racked up $50 million a year in sales, but the Mars brothers yanked it from the market anyway, solely because they didn’t like peanut butter themselves; the bar was a marketing director’s brainchild, but they overruled him out of personal taste. So when is he going to surface at Hershey’s, or some other sensible company, and start making this awesome bar again? (According to Brenner, incidentally, the only other peanut-butter product Mars tolerates is PB M&Ms, “but even that candy languished for ten years on the drawing board before the Mars brothers gave permission for its launch, and marketing executives say the brothers continue to be hyper-critical of its performance.” Hoard ’em while you got ’em, PB M&M fans.)

12. Bar None
Long before the current craze for dark chocolate and upscale gourmet bars started up, Hershey took a stab at the concept in 1987 with its Bar None candy bar, a ridiculously dark, rich bar consisting of chocolate crème between cocoa wafers, covered with nuts, then enrobed in still more chocolate. Briefly sold in blinding yellow packaging (much like Mr. Goodbar’s), Bar None eventually went for a more muted, refined look with a two-tone chocolate-colored sleeve. The ads were still goofy and aimed at kids, though, and maybe American grown-ups weren’t ready to embrace their inner chocolate aficionado, let alone their “chocolate beastie.” The bar was reformulated, then discontinued in 1994, though it’s still apparently sold in Mexico, with added, highly unnecessary caramel.

13. Magic Middles Cookies
What on earth was wrong with America that it didn’t create enough demand to merit the continuation of the Magic Middles cookie? This wasn’t some silly trendy item like Batman-flavored Gatorade or Doritos with more X-factor per bag. These were cookies filled with magical melty chocolate. And for the greedy bastards of the world, they made the cookies with chocolate chips as well. Perhaps there was some sort of unhealthy compound in the Middles that kept the chocolate melty, but we’d gladly trade a few brain cells for cookies that were, factually, magical—it was right there on the box.

14. Propel Mandarin Orange Fitness Water
Plain water is for suckers and Gatorade is for meatheads. The precious nutrients and minerals lost during exercise can only be replaced, of course, by Propel, a fitness water that “goes beyond hydration to provide flavor and is a good source of antioxidant vitamins C & E for a great-tasting beverage with purpose.” It’s glorified water-juice, basically, but there was something about the Mandarin Orange taste that justified purchasing this ridiculous beverage. It wasn’t as cloying as the Kiwi Strawberry (an unfortunate flavor combination made popular by Snapple), or as artificial-tasting as the Lemon. It was slightly refined and subtle. Like orange-flavored water, but better. Now that Propel no longer carries Mandarin Orange, how are people going to replenish themselves after a grueling 20 minutes on the elliptical machine in front of a personal television? It’s easier just to stay home.

15. Ice Cream Cones Cereal
Crafted by General Mills—makers of such essential starts to a healthy day as Cookie Crisp and Reese’s Puffs—Ice Cream Cones Cereal was yet another attempt to blur the lines between breakfast and dessert in the form of “sweetened cereal scoops with crunchy cones.” The “scoops” (chocolate or vanilla) were just more of the Kix-derived, magically amorphous puffs that could taste like anything from peanut butter to whatever Fruit Brute was supposed to be, but the sugar-coated waffle-cone pieces were a reasonable (and delicious) facsimile of the real thing, especially when eaten right out of the box. Unfortunately, not enough parents were conned into buying it, as Ice Cream Cones disappeared almost as quickly as it debuted—surprising, considering its nonstop after-school marketing campaign, which featured an affable animated fellow roaming the neighborhood on his bike, singing, “My name’s Ice Cream Jones and I’m delivering my ice-cream cones / New ice-cream cereal for breakfast, with the great taste of ice-cream cones!” When the cereal was briefly reintroduced in 2003 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ice-cream cone—sure, why not?—it came in a strange chocolate-chip flavor, and without its rhyming-challenged pusherman. 

16. New York Seltzer
Part of the wave of New Age beverages that began cluttering convenience-store shelves in the ’80s, New York Seltzer combined sparkling water—just like the kind fancy New Yorkers drink!—with natural flavors like black cherry, vanilla, and root beer. It was pitched as a lighter, additive-free alternative to soda, and its faint, pale shade handily predicted the “clear” craze that followed soon after. So why isn’t it still around? An inability to change with the times, apparently, as it failed to push beyond its yuppie niche and into the mainstream market the way competitors like Snapple did. (Though to be fair, had Jerry and Elaine shared a New York Seltzer on Seinfeld, this entry probably wouldn’t be here.) The company filed for bankruptcy in the early ’90s and allowed its trademark to lapse; today, there are reports of a darker, additive-loaded imposter going by the name of New York Seltzer turning up at clearinghouses of the damned like Big Lots. But for anyone who remembers the fizzy charms of the original, it will never be the same. (Or, you know, you could just get a regular fruit soda and mix it with a bunch of seltzer.) 

17. Hydrox
An originator outshone by an imitator, Hydrox seem forever destined to play The Replacements to Oreo’s Goo Goo Dolls. Introduced in 1908, four years before the Oreo, Hydrox got the chocolate-exterior/creamy-middle mix right the first time, sandwiching vanilla goo that was rich in delicious trans-fats between a pair of flaky cookies. Perfection. Unfortunately, Hydrox perpetually lagged behind its inferior rival in sales. A formula and name change—to “Droxies”—in 1999 didn’t really take. The cookie’s disappearance from the market in 2003 looked like the final insult, except that Hydrox’s new owners at Kellogg’s brought the cookies back to market in 2008—only to pull them again a few months later. 

18. Surge
A Coca Cola citrus drink introduced to compete with Pepsi’s Mountain Dew, Surge was, quite frankly, not very good. Rolled out in Norway in 1996, and hitting the rest of the world in 1997, it tasted like Mountain Dew with the tartness, sweetness, and carbonation ratcheted up a couple of notches. The ad campaign followed suit, glomming onto Mountain Dew’s association with x-treme sports and x-tremeness in general, and making it louder and more aggressive. The ads were as annoying as they were arresting. So why mourn the passing of Surge? Surge courted Gen X in the most shameless way possible, becoming in the process as much a part of the pop-cultural landscape as an episode of Friends or a new Frente! album. It wasn’t good, but it was always there. But Gen X aged out of the target demo and the world rolled on, taking Surge with it. (Except in Norway, where it’s still popular.)

 

19. Mr. Phipps Pretzel Chips
Nabisco introduced these flattened chips made of pretzel-like material in 1991 to middling business. They tasted stale right out of the box, but their eye-catching yellow boxes made at least one A.V. Club writer feel special for a few years.

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