John Bridges is a published author of history, and politics. His doctorate is in criminal justice.
Some of these products were around before the 80s, and some lasted beyond the 80s —but they are iconic to the 1980s themselves.
Reese Swoops: Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold, But Just Right
During the 1980s, Reese’s revamped its products many times with new variations and limited editions of its standard products. One such product were Swoops. Reese Swoops (notice Reese not Reese’s) were thin chocolate and peanut butter wafers that broke easily when the weather was too cold and melted into a messy clump when the weather was too warm. If you ever tried them when the weather was ideal, they were pretty awesome. They had a short, but meaningful life in the 80s.
The Reese Candy Company sold its line of product lines to Hershey’s. It took Hersey’s a while to decide whether products should be labeled Reese or Reese’s, so they alternated between the two. For a time, they used the name Reese’s for products destined to be sold in the United States and Reese for those products created to be sold in Canada.
Soda For Your Pocket
Name brands were important during the 80s. Diversifying products to reach new markets while preserving the brand name became the norm. With the economy booming, companies felt more comfortable taking risks in order to build profits and product lines. Coca Cola and McDonalds both even expanded their brand names into clothing lines. After the success of Freshen Up Gum, the first gum with a liquid center, the 7-up company ventured into producing gum based upon their product line (including Dr. Pepper, not pictured). Like Freshen Up, the novelty of a liquid center gum wore off quickly as the initial burst of flavor also wore off quickly. The novelty wore off fairly quickly.
Bubble Gum in a Can
Ironically, just as soda companies were trying to expand their products into the gum industry, Wrigley’s was trying to expand its product line into the soda industry.
Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum Soda was a pink soft drink manufactured with a license from The Wrigley Company, the maker of Hubba Bubba bubble gum. There was also a diet version of the drink. A deal was created to test market at selected Toys R Us locations.
The product has been discontinued for unknown reasons. The soda was sold worldwide and now has a petition on line from loyalists who want to bring it back again. It is rumored to be returning to markets soon.
Was it Really That Good, or Was it Cosby?
During the 1980s, Jello pudding pops were featured freezer treats in millions of American homes. The recipe to make them at home was available in the 60s. They began to be produced in the late 70s and lasted into the early 90s. They will forever be associated with the 80s thanks to their iconic spokesman, Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby put as much Cosby into selling pudding pops as he did selling Jello Pudding. Despite how many pudding pops some of us put away while growing up, they weren't profitable. Since the company was not in the frozen food business, the production abilities were limited and much of it had to be outsourced at a high cost. Pudding Pops also had a shorter shelf life than ice cream. The product cost more money to create than could be reasonably returned. Even with booming sales, the company found it hard to make any money on them.
Squeez-it was a fruit-flavored juice made by General Mills and marketed from the mid-1980s until the middle of 2001. The drink came in a plastic bottle that the drinker had to squeeze in order to extract the beverage from its container, hence the name.
Each flavor had a different character designed into the plastic bottle. It came in multiple flavors and editions, one of which contained "color pellets" that the drinker dropped into the bottle to change the color of the Squeez-it.
For a limited time, there were mystery flavors in black bottles where the drinker had to guess the flavor. As you have likely guessed by now, the mystery flavor was simply everything that was left over from the other flavors.
Slowing Down the Fast Food Business
McDonald’s and its competitors made multiple attempts to increase its product lines. The Mc-DLT (McDonald’s Lettuce and Tomato) was sold in a novel form of packaging. The meat and bottom half of the bun were prepared separately from the lettuce, tomato, American cheese, pickles, sauces, and top half of the bun. Both were then packaged into a specially (poorly) designed two-sided container. The consumer was then expected to finalize preparation of the sandwich by combining the hot and cool sides just prior to eating. The first problem was that the packaging was unwieldy and did not fit into a traditional bag. Worse, nobody really wanted to buy fast food and then put it together themselves because it defeated the purpose of fast food. McDonalds also had failed ventures in producing pizza and regional menu soups such as New England Clam Chowder and Gumbo.
Was This the Perfect Chip?
Tato Skins have been manufactured from their inception (around 1987) by Wabash Foods in Bluffton, Indiana. They were once marketed by Keebler but changed hands to Poore Brothers, which also markets them as T.G.I. Friday's Potato Skins Snack Chips.
They are similar to Pringles chips in that they are made from dehydrated potatoes and have a single shape but were thicker and had a distinctive, rich potato flavor.
Each chip has a light-colored side meant to represent the inside of the potato, and a dark-colored side meant to represent the skin.
The Solution to Opening Impossible Cocoa Tins
PDQ Chocolate was a popular drink mix in the 1960s and 1970s. It was manufactured by Ovaltine. These flavored beads and chips were used to mix with milk or to sprinkle over ice cream.
In 1983, a series of "Marvel Super Heroes" stickers came with the PDQ mixes. The Marvel characters in the series were Captain America, Hulk, Power Man, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, Thor, Fantastic Four, and X-Men. During the 1970s, comic strip advertisements would also appear in the Sunday comics featuring "Petey Q." and his favorite drink: PDQ Chocolate flavored milk.
PDQ drink mixes were becoming hard to find in the late 1980s. Ovaltine discontinued the PDQ products around 1995 or 1996.
Thank You Korea For the Best Gum Ever
Lotte was a prominent candy company in South Korea. Lotte turned to the international market for further growth. The company had made its first international extension, other than in Korea, in the late 1970s. In 1978, Lotte set up a subsidiary in the United States, opening production facilities in Battle Creek, Michigan. The group's U.S. presence later expanded to include a sales office in Chicago, supporting sales of the group's chewing gums and cookies. In the late 1980s, they produced milkshake-flavored gum. Both competition and distribution options made it difficult for Lotte’s growth in the United States. By the 1990s, they focused on markets closer to home including China and the Philippines. If you were able to find this gum, it sure was good.