BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Whither the Twinkie?
There was bad news for snack-obsessed Americans.
, a privately held company, announced this week that for the second time in less than a decade it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Among the reasons: increased competition, the rising cost of ingredients and that Americans, increasingly turning to healthier snack options, are buying fewer food indulgences.
"The company's current cost structure is not competitive, primarily due to legacy pension and medical benefit obligations and restrictive work rules," adds an official statement on the matter. "Those issues, combined with the economic downturn and a more difficult competitive landscape, created a worsening liquidity situation that prompted the need for reorganization."
There is at least some good news, in that during the Chapter 11 proceeding, the company will continue operating its bakeries, outlet stores and distribution centers. That means you'll still be able to buy Wonder Bread and that Twinkie the Kid and Fruitpie the Magician are not headed to the unemployment line just yet.
Could the iconic sponge cake be in jeopardy if the company can't get its act together? Probably not, as we'd expect public outcry and demand to inspire some other entity to take over the rights to the brand. Nevertheless, it isn't unheard of for popular snacks to disappear from shelves.
The following are just some of the once-popular items that have either faded into oblivion or become rare enough that nostalgic cravings can likely be satisfied only by either finding a regional seller or resorting to an online specialist in nostalgic cravings such as
I chew, chew choose you
being an abandoned brand. Our report of its demise proved premature, however. Attentive readers pointed out that the tooth-busting gum candies remain popular in Mexico (often sold on the street to American tourists) and can even be hunted down stateside in some areas.
Other gum brands haven't been so fortunate. Though many are still out there, it may take a little bit of legwork to hunt down a pack.
Black Jack gum is a love-it-or-hate-it product. The anise/licorice flavored chewing gum traces its roots back to Mexico during the mid-1800s and has the distinction of being the first such product to be sold in stick form.
Although extremely popular in the 1970s, sales slowed as that decade drew to a close and its parent company at the time,
and later became part of
) pulled the plug. The good news is that the brand is back, in somewhat limited production, by
(now owned by
). Other nostalgic items Cadbury has resurrected include Beeman's, Clove (gums that, along with Black Jack, have cultivated a following among the hipsters), sour apple and sour cherry gum flavors and the aforementioned Chiclets.
Fruit Stripe Gum -- a favorite of kids in the 1960s and '70s and fondly remembered for its colorful swirls and zebra logo -- may not be the convenience store staple it once was, but it is still made by
Farley & Sanders Candy
of Minnesota. That company bought the
in 2002 (it had been bought by the chocolate giant in 1995) and picked up, or later acquired, Gummi Bears, Jujubes, Chuckles, Brach's, Jujyfruits, Red Hot Dollars and Now and Laters.
Freshen-up Gum, with a flavored, liquid center that inspired the slogan
during its popularity in the 1970s, had its run marred by tragedy. In 1976, an explosion at the American Chicle factory in Queens, N.Y., where it was made killed six people.
The good news for gum fans is that Cadbury still produces limited quantities. An online search of retro candy stores can easily help you get your fix.
It may also please the gum chewers of the world to know that Razzles, Big League Chew and even Gold Rocks Nugget Gum (which comes in a fabric pouch) are still available through online candy retailers if your local stores don't carry them.
A sobering thought for those concerned about the fate of the Twinkie: Even one of the world's most popular snacks can disappear.
Consider the history of the Hydrox cookie, a rival to the Oreo that, despite what many think, actually pre-dated the cookie world's reigning champ.
With their introduction in 1908, Hydrox was the
king of the cookie world
. So much so that, in 1912,
(later known as
, now owned by Kraft) hit back with a copycat product that, owing to better distribution and marketing, overtook its inspiration in sales.
acquired the brand and tried to rename the product "Droxies." When
got the brand in 2001, but gave up on the popular -- but still overshadowed -- cookies in 2003.
The vanilla creme treats were resurrected in 2008, just in time for their 100th anniversary. In
a press release at the time
, Kellogg's cited "more than 1,300 telephone inquiries, 1,000 petition signatures, and countless online message board postings from passionate Hydrox cookie fans" for the move.
"We've been touched by how many consumers describe their preference for Hydrox cookies as interwoven with their identity and family history," Kellogg's' North American president said at the time. "These Hydrox cookie loyalists can be proud to know they've been heard and have inspired this latest chapter in the story of the 'little cookie that could.'"
Well, actually, it couldn't.
Less than a year later, the death row reprieve lapsed and the cookies have been absent from store shelves since.
A cheesy battle
Fans of Planter's Cheez Balls are hopeful that, as was the case with Hydrox, they might be able to get their beloved snack back on shelves.
A simple online search will find dozens of message boards, Web sites and
pages lamenting the loss of the round corn puffs that came sealed in a metal can.
"We, The undersigned, are outraged and frustrated at the news of the discontinuation of Planter's 'Cheez Balls,'" reads an
,urging Kraft Foods to reconsider their decision. "We have been forced to buy from your competitors, whose cheese balls aren't nearly as delicious! We miss the days of our childhood when we could curl up with a nice large blue tub of cheese balls and eat until we fell asleep. We know that you have moved onto a healthier route, and we respect that, but you can't take away something that so many people know and love! We insist that Planters' bring back the cheesy goodness that was once 'Planter's Cheez Balls.'"
The petition has collected nearly 17,500 electronic signatures.
For a while, there was hope a secret stash might still be available as cans were discovered (with Spanish and French labels) at a national retailer. That retailer, unfortunately, was Blockbuster, a company that went bankrupt and is now owned by
We've yet to see similar efforts to bring back Screaming Yellow Zonkers, another yellow-colored snack that's no longer with us.
Lowering the bars
Candy bars seem particularly vulnerable to marketplace whims and changing tastes.
Among the confections relegated to our memory (or increasingly hard to find): Abba-Zaba Bar (there are new versions available, but mostly limited to the West Coast), Choco' Lite, Krackel (still made, but only in the sort of bite-size bar one might hand out at Halloween), Bar None, the Reggie Bar (named for N.Y. Yankees great Reggie Jackson), the oddly named Chicken Dinner bar and the twisty Marathon chocolate bar.
Relegated to history is the
, a multiflavored treat divided into seven flavor-filled segments (cherry, coconut, caramel, fudge, jelly, maple and Brazil nut).
Its demise came after what was then the 7-Up Bottling Co. bought the brand and, in a Machiavellian act, killed it to prevent confusion over the name.
Fizz and fizzle
The early 1990s were a heady, experimental time for the soda industry.
launched Crystal Pepsi, a clear beverage that was off to a good start ($474 million in sales during its first, extremely hyped year) but saw its fizz fizzle out (consumers liked neither the aesthetics, nor the taste, very much).
There was also
variation, Tab Clear and, in 1993 as well, the company launched OK Soda, a stab at the Generation X marketplace that was pulled from shelves two years later.
Our soft spot for OK had less to do with its -- to put it kindly -- unique taste, but for its funky can designs featuring the work of comic book artists Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns.
In terms of a beverage worthy of a comeback, we'll turn our wish list over to a noncarbonated drink -- Funny Face, a Kool-Aid competitor popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Its flavor-specific characters included Choo Choo Cherry, Jolly Olly Orange and the sideburned cool cat With-it Watermelon.
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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