Call it the culinary equivalent of a second act. In recent years, a number of discontinued food and drink brands have returned to store shelves, riding a wave of interest in all things retro. “It’s like giving someone a portal in time,” says Kenny Wiesen, a New York entrepreneur who helped relaunch Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, a legendary candy brand. In fact, entire businesses are now dedicated to this “back from the brink” market. For example, Chicago-based entrepreneur Mark Thomann has the rights to such once-iconic brands as Brim decaffeinated coffee (remember the phrase “Fill it to the rim with Brim”?) and Clearly Canadian sparkling water. But bringing new life to an old favorite is no easy task, since tastes change and memories are short. Here are 10 brands that are making a nostalgic go of it.
The disappearance of Twinkies was a short one: The Hostess company, makers of the beloved cream-filled snack cake, declared bankruptcy in 2012 and discontinued production. But by July of this year, the brand was back, courtesy of C. Dean Metropoulos & Co., a private-equity firm that purchased the rights to Twinkies and a few other Hostess favorites for $410 million. So far, all signs point to a successful relaunch: Metropoulos shipped a combined 85 million Twinkies and Hostess CupCakes to meet initial demand, and had orders in for 100 million more. The company says it hasn’t tweaked the Twinkie formula (the cake has been around for 83 years), but it does plan to expand the brand lineup shortly. Meanwhile, vendors at carnivals and state fairs are breathing a sigh of relief, knowing they can offer deep-fried Twinkies once again. As veteran fair concessionaire Charlie Boghosian recently told the Orange County Register: “I was very happy to hear that Hostess was coming back. More important, my mouth was very happy.”
Drake’s coffee cake
Ah, Drake’s, the coffee cake immortalized in a “Seinfeld” episode (“I got a whole box of them”). And, yes, there was a Drake behind the brand—one Newman E. Drake, a Brooklyn, N.Y., baker from the late 19th century who sold his cakes by the slice. The 125-year-old brand, which also encompasses such other snack cakes as Yodels, Devil Dogs and Ring Dings, went through a series of different owners and ultimately became part of the Hostess label—that is, until Hostess went out of business last year (see Twinkies). McKee Foods, a Tennessee-based food conglomerate best known for its Little Debbie cakes, purchased the Drake’s biz earlier this year for $27.5 million. It’s rolling out the coffee cakes and other treats starting this week, and it promises that it will be “using the original Drake’s recipes.” But Drake’s fans may be disappointed to know that the company has no plans to revive Yankee Doodles and Funny Bones, two other once-popular Drake’s items.
Schlitz is a beer with roots going back to the mid-19th century, when Joseph Schlitz made his way from Germany to Milwaukee and started working at a brewery (first as a bookkeeper, later as the boss). By the ‘50s, it was one of the world’s favorite brews, with production topping 6 million barrels annually. But eventually, the recipe for the brand was changed for the sake of cost-cutting and Schlitz lost market share. Jump ahead to 2007 and Schlitz, now part of Pabst Brewing Co., re-embraced what it calls its “Classic ‘60s Formula” (much like Coca-Cola Classic after the New Coke debacle). The brand has said it’s aiming to bring the “gusto” back (a reference to Schlitz’s old marketing campaign), but the payoff hasn’t been all that big: In the past year, the brand posted sales of $900,000, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. By contrast, Pabst Brewing’s signature Pabst brand posted sales of $280 million.
Fruity Yummy Mummy cereal
What is it about monsters and cereal that goes so well together? General Mills created quite the sensation when it debuted the chocolate-flavored Count Chocula and the strawberry-flavored Franken Berry cereals in 1971. The brands proved so popular that the monster line was expanded to include Boo Berry and Fruity Yummy Mummy. General Mills kept producing Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Boo Berry—albeit in limited Halloween-time releases—but Fruity Yummy Mummy was discontinued altogether in 1973. Now, it’s back: General Mills is bringing all the monster cereals to store shelves this year (Fruit Brute, too), starting now through Halloween (or however long supplies last). The packaging has been updated, but General Mills has made a deal with Target to release the cereals in a retro-style box available exclusively at its stores. Still, expectations may not be too high for our mummy friend: In a survey on the Mr. Breakfast website, Fruity Yummy Mummy ranked just 160 out of the top 200 cereals of all time.
The space shuttle program may be history, but the Astro Pop is back. The rocket-shaped lollipop debuted in 1963, when space was a national obsession, but by 2004, it was history. Enter Ellia Kassoff, a California entrepreneur who became determined to bring back his favorite childhood candy. So he bought the rights to the brand and, um, relaunched it in 2012. So far, he’s sold more than one million of the blast-from-the-past (literally) suckers. He’s also launched an Astro Pop soda (“It’s so popular we’re already out of our first run,” he says) and is developing a line of Astro Pop-inspired sucking candies (they’re called—what else?—Asteroids). Kassoff is also reviving other nostalgic candy brands, including Wacky Wafers and Bonkers.
Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy
Yes, more candy with a retro flavor. In this case, it’s a taffy that dates back to 1912 and became famed for its incredible chewiness. Sold in long, thin strips, the taffy was meant to be cracked—“Crack it up!” was Bonomo’s signature line—and then enjoyed in bite-size pieces over the course of several hours. There was a Bonomo family that once owned the brand, but the taffy eventually became part of the Tootsie Roll line, until it was discontinued altogether in the 1980s. It was brought back in 2010 by Kenny Wiesen, a sweet-toothed New York entrepreneur, and has since grown into a 10 million bars-a-year business. The revived brand has expanded its lineup: The bars now come in blue raspberry and wild cherry in addition to the familiar vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and banana flavors. Additionally, the brand has brought back Nibbles, another Bonomo classic (think chocolate-covered taffy pieces).
Remember when soda was made with real sugar? That’s the memory that PepsiCo, the soft drink/snack food giant with annual revenues of $40 billion-plus, has hoped to rekindle with its Throwback line (there’s also a Mountain Dew Throwback). In other words, this is your father’s Pepsi—no high fructose corn syrup in the mix. And to give the product more nostalgic appeal, it’s packaged with the old Pepsi logo. Certainly, the Throwback line has its fans—PepsiCo launched it in 2009 as a limited-edition treat, but it’s since become part of the regular Pepsi lineup. Still, not everyone is convinced retro is the way to go: In one blind taste-test, 55% of tasters preferred the current Pepsi to the Throwback one.
Four Roses bourbon
For those who think Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's are the be all and end all, it’s probably hard to believe that Four Roses was the country’s best selling bourbon in the 1930s and ‘40s. But that was very much the case: Four Roses, whose roots go back to the 1860s, touted its “matchless flavor and mellow smoothness,” especially in a highball over ice. (And to drive home that very point, the brand had a famous series of ads with four roses frozen in a block of ice.) The brand fell out of favor in the U.S. after a cheaper, bottom-shelf version was released, and by the late ‘50s, it was sold only internationally. By 2002, it was out of business altogether. A new company took over the name and rebranded Four Roses as a premium bourbon, tying in with the bourbon boom. Today, Four Roses is especially focused on craft-style, limited-edition bourbons—meaning those made in small batches or sourced from single barrels. The revived brand has received numerous awards, including “Distiller of the Year” honors in 2011, 2012 and 2013 from Whisky Magazine. Sales have reflected the positive reviews, with a spike of 56% in 2012 and a forecasted rise of 70% in 2013.
Who could forget Glorp, the “hep hip” and “aged to perfection” gum that came packaged with a T-shirt? Possibly no one, since Glorp may not have actually existed in the past. Brad McGinty, an animator, illustrator and comic book artist with a passion for all things vintage and promotional, launched the brand earlier this year. Reports have surfaced that it’s a faux retro brand designed to play off the nostalgia craze—a huge inside joke, in other words. McGinty won’t reveal too much about what’s going on, but he does say that Glorp plays into that American fascination with “cheap freebies, strange product placement and absurd gimmickry.” Either way, the gum (with T-shirt) can be had for $22. McGinty will also design a custom Glorp T-shirt for $950.
So now that you’ve devoured the Twinkies and taffy—and swigged all that Schlitz and bourbon—you might be experiencing a bit of heartburn. But how do you spell relief? You guessed it: R-O-L-A-I-D-S. The once-popular antacid is also on the comeback trail. The brand, which was the brainchild of Tennessee chemist Dr. Irvine W. Grote, goes back to the 1920s and became well-known through the “How do you spell relief?” ad campaign of the ‘70s. But it was discontinued, by then owner McNeil Consumer Healthcare (a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary), a few years ago after quality-control issues and recalls. Enter Sanofi, a European health care company, which acquired Rolaids earlier this year for an undisclosed sum. (In 2006, Johnson & Johnson acquired Rolaids from Pfizer for $16.6 billion.) Now, the brand is just finding its way back to store shelves—and it’s being released in both the classic tablet form and a new liquid one. It’s also getting a celebrity boost: Popular TV chef Guy Fieri has signed on as a pitchman for the revived brand.
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