CLOSE
Original image
Getty

10 Food Products That (Thankfully) Flopped

Original image
Getty

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!)

Neil R, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

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

Getty Images

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

eBay

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

Getty Images

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.

Original image
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
arrow
#TBT
The Highs and Lows of the Dell Dude
Original image
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu

Benjamin Curtis was just 19 years old when he went to the open audition that would change his life, but he still felt like a senior citizen. He was surrounded by child actors from the ages of 12 to 17, most of them accompanied by their mothers. The group was part of a casting call for Dell, the personal computing company well-known to business and educational customers but an unproven commodity for the home market.

Dell’s ad agency, Lowe Worldwide, hoped to change that reputation by introducing the character of Steven, a sharp, tech-savvy teen who would extol the virtues of Dell’s desktop and laptop offerings in a charmingly goofy manner. Even though he was two years outside the age range, Curtis’s agent believed he had a shot.

He read. And read again. And then read a third time. By December 2000, Curtis had gotten the part and was quickly becoming known as the “Dell Dude,” a pitchman who rivaled the Maytag Man in terms of commercial popularity. But by 2003, the character would disappear, victimized by a peculiar kind of corporate hypocrisy. While the Dell Dude’s stoner wisdom was good for laughs and increased sales, Curtis being arrested for actual marijuana possession was not.

In 1984, Michael Dell was a pre-med student at the University of Texas when he began tinkering with home computing hardware. A serial entrepreneur—he once made $18,000 as a teenager collecting data to find new subscribers for the Houston Post—Dell figured that custom machines and aggressive customer support would help fill a niche in the growing PC market.

He was right. Dell racked up $1 million in sales that year and spent the next decade and a half expanding into a billion-dollar enterprise. But a lot of Dell’s business consisted of commercial accounts like schools and government offices, leaving direct-to-consumer sales largely untapped. To help introduce Dell to those users, the company hired Lowe Worldwide to create a campaign that would appeal to people who felt intimidated by the personal computing phenomenon.

Lowe conceived of a precocious kid who could rattle off Dell’s specs and lend a human face to their line of hardware. But the “Dell Dude” wasn’t fully realized until Curtis walked in the door.

Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Curtis grew up interested in performing magic and drifted toward theater in an attempt to strengthen his stage presence. He went on to earn an acting scholarship to New York University and had a roommate who knew a commercial talent agent. Having been introduced to her, he began going out on casting calls. One of them was for Dell.

Embodied by Curtis, the Steven character morphed into a Jeff Spicoli-esque surfer archetype, fast-talking and charming. In his first appearance, Steven makes a videotaped appeal to his father for an $849 Dell desktop “with a free DVD upgrade” because he knows his dad “likes free stuff.” In another, he encourages a friend’s family to gift his buddy with a Dell for $799, complete with an Intel Pentium III processor.

The commercials debuted in 2000, but it wasn’t until DDB, the Chicago ad agency that took over Dell’s account, introduced a catchphrase that Steven acquired his nickname. In his fourth commercial, he announced to his friend, “Dude you’re getting a Dell!”

From that point on, Dell’s splash into residential home computing was guaranteed. Sales rose 100 percent, with Dell’s market share growing by 16.5 percent. The awareness was almost exclusively the result of Curtis’s popularity, which grew to include numerous online fan pages and calls for personal appearances. Younger viewers wrote in and wondered if he was available for dates; older viewers considered him a non-threatening presence.

By 2002, Steven had starred in more than two dozen Dell spots. In some of the later ads, he took a back seat, appearing toward the end of the ads. The cameos prompted some concern among fans that Dell would be sidelining Curtis, but company representatives denied it. In early 2003, however, the Dell Dude found himself out of a job.

“Dude, you’re getting a cell” was the headline in media accounts of Curtis’s arrest in February 2003 on suspicion of attempting to purchase marijuana. Curtis was on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and sporting a kilt he recently acquired in Scotland when an undercover officer spotted him purchasing the drug from a dealer. After being held in custody overnight, Curtis was released and the case was adjourned. If he stayed out of trouble for a year, his record would be expunged.

The New York Times compared the relative innocuousness of his arrest to that of actor Robert Mitchum, who was arrested on a marijuana-related charge in 1948. Despite living in a more conservative era, Mitchum’s career was largely unaffected. The same didn’t hold true for Curtis, however; he was promptly dropped by Dell as their spokesperson. According to Curtis, the company had a strict no-drugs policy for employees, and one strike was all it took to force his dismissal.

Feeling ostracized from commercial work and typecast by the role, Curtis juggled gigs while working at a Mexican restaurant in New York and enduring daily recognition from customers. “They’ll get really drunk, and they’ll start yelling things at me,” he told Grub Street in 2007. “I either ignore them, or if it’s way out of hand, I go up and say, ‘I appreciate your support, but my name is Ben.’ That usually doesn’t work so I smile and ignore them.”

Dell never found a mascot as well-liked as Curtis. They hired singer Sheryl Crow to appear in spots beginning in 2005, but she didn't sway consumers as much as Steven had. In 2010, the company attempted to battle back from negative press over selling defective computers to customers between 2003 and 2005. Today, they typically occupy a list of the top three PC companies, trailing Lenovo and HP.

Curtis, meanwhile, made a segue into off-Broadway performing and now operates Soul Fit NYC, a holistic wellness center in New York that offers yoga, massage, personal training, and life coaching services. Although he’s expressed interest in coming back to Dell as a spokesperson, the company may not appreciate his latest indiscretion: In 2013, he admitted to owning a MacBook.

Original image
Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
arrow
History
Why Lucky the Leprechaun Was Missing From Some Lucky Charms Boxes in 1975
Original image
Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

It’s hard to picture a box of Lucky Charms without a smiling leprechaun plastered on the front of it. But cereal fans living in New England in the 1970s may remember a brief period when Lucky was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a forgetful wizard who was barely given a chance to make a blip in cereal mascot history.

As Atlas Obscura shared in a recent story, Waldo the Wizard became the face of Lucky Charms in select stores in 1975. At that point, Lucky had been representing the brand since it was introduced over a decade earlier, but General Mills was toying with going in a different direction with the marketing.

Lucky’s shtick hasn’t changed much since Lucky Charms was introduced in 1964: In commercials, the leprechaun is enjoying his treasured cereal when a group of hungry kids comes along. Instead of offering to share, Lucky plots to keep his Lucky Charms to himself and always fails. It’s not exactly controversial as far as kids' ads go, but in the mid-1970s, executives worried that the mascot's unfriendly attitude towards children would rub consumers the wrong way.

Enter Waldo: a wizard who wore a green cloak spangled with hearts, stars, clovers, and moons, and, like Lucky, adored Lucky Charms. But unlike Lucky, Waldo was always warm with kids and never hesitated to share his breakfast. Instead of running away, his gag was that he was always forgetting where he put his box of Lucky Charms, to which the kids responded by reminding him that he could just conjure some up with magic.

Shoppers responded positively to Waldo during his trial run in New England stores, but after less than a year, General Mills pulled the plug on the experiment. It turned out that having a slightly more innocuous character wasn’t worth abandoning the original mascot after spending so much time and money promoting him.

While he’s undergone a few redesigns in the past 50 years, Lucky is still prominently displayed on every box of Lucky Charms. His cereal-hoarding tendencies have also remained the same, though Lucky was written to be a bit friendlier following Waldo’s short-lived era.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios