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10 Food Products That (Thankfully) Flopped

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by Terri Schlichenmeyer

From Celery Jell-O to chocolate French fries, here are 10 foods that didn't have a very long shelf-life.

1. COFFEE-FLAVORED JELL-O (AND CELERY TOO!)

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In 1918, the makers of Jell-O introduced a new flavor: coffee. Its release was ostensibly based on the logic that, since lots of people like to drink coffee with dessert, they'd be game for combining the two after-dinner treats. Not the case. The company soon realized if anyone wants dessert coffee, they're going to have a cup of it. In fact, if anyone wants coffee at all, they're going to have a cup of it. Coffee wasn't Jell-O's only misstep: Cola-flavored Jell-O was sold for about a year starting in 1942, and for a brief while, the clear, wiggly dessert was sold in celery and chocolate flavors, too.

2. REDDI-BACON

Any company smart enough to bless mankind with sprayable whipped cream—the sort that promotes direct-to-mouth feeding—has got to know a thing or two about immediate gratification. But sadly, the makers of Reddi-wip were unable to meld their keen understanding of human laziness with one of processed meat. They figured, if you're cooking breakfast in the morning and you've got a hankering for bacon, why dirty up a pan you'll only have to clean later? The solution: foil-wrapped Reddi-Bacon you could pop into your toaster for piping-hot pork in minutes.

While it seemed perfect for the busy 1970s household, the absorbent pad designed to soak up the dripping grease tended to leak, creating not only a fire hazard, but also a messy (if not totally ruined) toaster. Ultimately, the product lasted about as long as it took to cook; the company scrapped it before it went to market nationwide.

3. GERBER SINGLES

At some point in time, almost every adult has tasted baby food and discovered that the stuff isn't half bad. But that doesn't mean people want to make a meal out of it. For some reason, Gerber had to learn that lesson the hard way. In 1974, the company released Gerber Singles, small servings of food meant for single adults, packaged in jars that were almost identical to those used for baby food. It didn't take long for Gerber execs to figure out that most consumers, unless they were less than a year old, couldn't get used to eating a pureed meal out of a jar—particularly one depressingly labeled "Singles." Baby food for grown-ups was pulled from the marketplace shortly after its birth.

4. BREAKFAST MATES

Sometimes, new products fail because they're simply bad ideas (ahem, New Coke). Other times, it's because they're just impossible to market. Such was the case for Breakfast Mates. Beating the dead horse of super-convenient breakfast foods, Kellogg's introduced Breakfast Mates in 1997. The idea was simple: a small box of cereal, a container of specially packaged milk (no refrigeration required!), and a plastic spoon. It was the perfect a.m. answer for the person on the go who enjoys warm milk on cereal. Trying to patch up one mistake with another, Kellogg's then moved the product to the dairy section, where no sane person looks for cereal. On top of all that was the price. At about $1.50 for only four ounces of the stuff, Breakfast Mates was deemed too expensive for most consumers. After two years, Kellogg's pulled it from the shelves.

5. FLOWER-FLAVORED PEZ

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No, that's not a typo. Although it would be equally disgusting, we're talking about flower, not flour. Introduced in the late 1960s, flower-flavored PEZ was designed to appeal to the hippie generation and came complete with a groovy, psychedelic dispenser. But even in the decade of free love, no love could be found for the flavor power of flower. Floral scents make for great perfume, but nobody eats perfume, and apparently, there's a reason why. The flower version flopped, and became the next addition to PEZ's long and disturbing list of flavor failures. Since its introduction in 1927, the company has also sold coffee, licorice, eucalyptus, menthol, and cinnamon flavors.

6. "I HATE PEAS!"

For as long as children have been shoving Brussels sprouts under mashed potatoes and slipping green beans to the dog, parents have been hunting desperately for a way to end the vegetable discrimination. Finally, in the 1970s, American Kitchen Foods, Inc. came to the rescue (or at least tried) with the release of "I Hate Peas!" Since kids love French fries so much, the company decided that disguising peas in a fry-shaped form was a sure-fire way to trick tots into getting their vitamins. Not a chance. Children all over America saw through the ruse. After all, a pea is a pea is a pea, and the name of the product was more than apropos, no matter what it looked like. There were other thinly disguised vegetables in the company's "I Hate" line, but kids hated those, too.

7. THE CHICKEN DINNER CANDY BAR

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Fortunately for gastrointestinal tracts worldwide, this candy bar didn't actually include chicken in its list of ingredients. And equally lucky for Sperry Candy Co., which introduced the "treat" in the 1920s, consumers actually figured this one out on their own. The company introduced the chocolate-and-peanut butter bar right before the onset of the Depression, hoping the name would give consumers the feeling they were about to have a big home-cooked meal at Grandma's house—hence the juicy roast chicken on the advertisements. Strangely, the gimmick worked, even well after the economy recovered, and Chicken Dinner candy bars were available until the 1960s. Does this mean it qualifies as a true marketplace flop? No. Did we put it on the list anyway because it sounds like it really should have been? Absolutely.

8. HEUBLEIN'S WINE & DINE

In the mid-1970s, Heublein introduced Wine & Dine, an upscale, easy-to-make dinner that included a small bottle of vino. How refined. How decadent. How confusing. Consumers knew Heublein for their liquor and wines, so how were they supposed to know the wine included in Wine & Dine was an ingredient for the pasta sauce? Hasty consumers who didn't read the directions closely ended up pouring the contents of the bottle into a nice glass and getting a less-than-pleasant mouthful of salted wine.

9. FUNKY FRIES

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In 2002, hoping to follow the success of Heinz's new "kiddie" ketchup versions (in green and purple), Ore-Ida introduced Funky Fries: chocolate-flavored, cinnamon-flavored, and blue-colored French fries. An awful lot of money was sunk into the product, but after a year of marketing, consumers still found the idea funky—in the bad way. Funky Fries were pulled off the shelves in 2003, and images of blue fries with green ketchup were once again relegated to the world of Warhol-esque pop art.

10. PEPSI A.M.

Creating a super-caffeinated soda worked well for the makers of Red Bull, but not for the folks at Pepsi. With 25 percent more caffeine than a cup of joe, PepsiCo introduced the cola-flavored product in 1989, only to discover that most people just couldn't bring themselves to drink soda with their cornflakes. For those who wanted a Pepsi in the morning, regular Pepsi did just fine, thankyouverymuch. Pepsi A.M., like the coffee-flavored Pepsi Kona before it, was scrapped after just a few months.

A version of this article originally appeared in the March-April 2005 issue of mental_floss magazine.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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