Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Oh, Oh, Oh, It's Bonomo's... C-a-a-ndy"

During the fifties, novelty and convenience foods were just getting off the ground. New technologies for food production, packaging and preservation were opening up the possibilities for fun things to do with food. Also, the growth of television and marketing techniques greatly helped to raise demand for these new products. "Fast food" was a virtually untapped market waiting for some smart American entrepreneurs to unleash. Looking back, some of these products seem silly now, but to us as kids back then, they were new and fun.

Flav-r Straws: Chocolate syrup to flavor milk (like Bosco, George Costanza's ATM password on Seinfeld) was always around, but Flav-r Straws were new. They were designed to get kids to drink more milk. Basically, they were nothing more than a plastic straw with a flavored insert (chocolate or strawberry) that released its flavor as milk was sucked through the straw. As I recall, the taste was lousy, but the novelty of drinking milk in this way helped to excite our under-stimulated little brains.

Bonomo's Turkish Taffy: This stuff was like eating flavored window caulk, but it caught on because it was well marketed. You may remember their catchy jingle: "Oh, oh, oh, it's Bonomo's... c-a-a-ndy." The commercials advised you to break up this flat, rectangular block of taffy by "smacking and cracking it" into small pieces. This controlled aggression appealed to our violent childhood instincts. In the 1950's, Bonomo's Turkish Taffy wisely advertised on children's television programs, among them "The Magic Clown", "Wonderama" and I think "the Howdy Doody Show."

Swanson's TV Dinners: TV dinners revolutionized food preparation habits for a generation of mothers looking for an easier way to feed their families. In the fifties, home freezers were getting larger and people were getting addicted to television. Swanson Foods jumped in at just the right time with their enormously popular TV dinners. The food was just OK, but the idea of defrosting a dinner that came in its own compartmentalized tray, and eating it in front of the TV was a sensation.

Dixie Cups: A simple, small cup of ice cream, half vanilla and half chocolate, for ten cents. Not much until you peeled away the thin layer covering the inside of the Dixie Cop lid to reveal a picture of your favorite athlete or movie star! As kids we collected and traded these lids; some kids just threw away the ice cream and kept the lids. Today, they go for up to $60 bucks on ebay.

McDonald's Hamburgers: Ray Kroc, an ambitious 52-year old milkshake mixer salesman,was intrigued by his healthy sales to McDonald's, a California burger joint. He and the McDonald brothers (Dick and Mac)cut a deal where Kroc would become the exclusive franchise agent for the restaurant, and a legend was born. The chain spread like wildfire at a time when "fast food" was just getting off the ground. Fifties kids were hooked for life, unfortunately for their waistlines and cholesterol count. Today, annual sales for McDonald's are around $23 billion, not bad...they can afford platinum arches now.

PEZ: Invented by an Austrian in 1927 as mint-flavored candies to help people stop smoking, PEZ didn’t become popular until 1952 when they came out in fruit flavors with “character” heads on the dispensers. The candy looked and tasted like little bars of soap, but never mind…a market phenomenon was born. The novelty of the dispenser package put PEZ over the top.

In the fifties, way before I-pods, cell phones and video games, we were starved for new things. As tame as these items may seem today, we excitedly welcomed them into our lives. Pathetic, huh.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

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