Smith Says

  • Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Just when you think you’ve seen it all in processed food—remember when ad execs thought blue French fries and green ketchup would appeal to kids?—comes another mind-boggler. I refer, of course, to…. caffeinated Cracker Jacks.
World, meet Cracker Jack’d.
Now, really. If you’re so exhausted you must ingest caffeine via candy, just lie down and tap yourself in the head with a hammer until you faint. Same result, and you save two bucks. You’re welcome!
But I digress. Frito-Lay is trying to reinvent the wheel, which in this case is 105 years old and still yummy. But here’s the rub: Young people don’t eat Cracker Jacks because they aren’t “relevant,” which translates to: Nobody under 40 is familiar with Take Me Out to the Ballgame: “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks/I don’t care if I ever get back.” (There are numerous versions on YouTube, including performances by Harry Caray and Barney. Yes. Barney.)
Kids today "want more intense flavors and a wider variety of textures,” a Frito-Lay spokesman said. Well, if sweet, crunchy caramel popcorn plus candied peanuts don’t do it for you, fine. Come back in 30 years and nostalgia will taste pretty darn good.
All of this is sounding way more fuddy-duddy than I actually am. I drink smart water with antioxidants and eat coconut-infused almonds. I’m hip to new food. But I do think if you’re going to fool with a successful formula, maybe you should first talk to the people who came up with New Coke. They might have some wisdom to impart.
I have nothing against progress. Without it we wouldn’t have Tofurkey or jalapeno chocolate bars. But I didn’t see this one coming. It feels like the first time I walked into a gas station and saw chicken-and-waffles potato chips. Yes, chips made to taste like chicken and waffles. Then again British shops have sold lamb-flavored chips (“crisps”) forever, so maybe we’re just behind the times.
Back to Cracker Jack'd, which will come in three different varieties. The Hearty Mix flavors come in PB & Chocolate and Berry Yogurt, because who doesn’t want their candied popcorn to taste like thick, tart yogurt?
There’s also Buffalo Ranch, Spicy Pizzeria and Sweet 'n Savory Clusters, which is a salted caramel flavor. (I don’t eat salt or caramel and cannot comprehend why this combo is so wildly popular.)
Then there are the Power Bites Cracker Jack'd. A box contains about two tablespoons of ground coffee. Like a stalking horse in politics, the Frito-Lay folks are using it to gauge the interest of a niche, coffee-drinker market. (Next up, a new Starbucks flavor!)
Cracker Jack'd, sadly, won't come with any prizes. I think they should put an iPod Shuffle in, say, every 95th box. They’d fly off the shelves.
But wait—there is a glimmer of hope for Cracker Jacks traditionalists. The original brand isn't being totally left behind, but it is being revamped. (Insert groan here.)
Market research showed that folks who do eat Cracker Jacks want more peanuts, and they’re getting ‘em. Plus, the prize inside will now be… wait for it… more relevant! Because nothing is worse than digging through a box full of deliciousness only to find a tiny hologram photo of Johnny Depp from 21 Jump Street.
So, new Cracker Jack prizes will have digital codes that can be used to unlock "nostalgic" games like baseball and pinball on the Cracker Jack app for Android.
What’s next, a golden ticket in a chocolate bar? Oh, wait…
Julie R. Smith, who lies about accepting progress, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.

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