When we go to the supermarket, we have certain expectations of the products that we'll see there. For example, ketchup will be red, not purple. Jell-O will not be celery-flavored. Life Savers will be little round candies, not soda. When these expectations are turned on their heads, not only is it a bit of cognitive dissonance, it's just bizarre. And it's not until the shock wears off that we actually ask ourselves, "Why would anyone possibly want to buy this?" (Credit: roadtickle.com)
Brand extensions, or when a company rolls out a new product that's still connected to their core brand, are a mainstay of the food product industry. Most are well-thought-out, field tested, and happen to make a lot of sense: Oscar Mayer's known for its lunch meat, so why not buy little rounds of their turkey, with cheese, crackers, a drink, and dessert, all packaged up in a tidy box? Lunchables were a hit when they were rolled out in 1988 for that very reason: it made sense, and parents trusted that the brand would be able to provide a decent, complete lunch for their kid. However, while the brand extensions we'll be taking a look at today might have made sense to some exhausted brand development executive somewhere, they certainly weren't hits with the general public.
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Most of these failed products were trying to capitalize on a trend. There was a time when people made salads (with actual vegetables) that were firmly encased in Jell-O. So why not sell celery-flavored Jell-O? Back in the early '00s, when everything was taken to the "EXXXXTREME," the folks at Heinz thought that it would be super-extreme to roll out a line of ketchups in "extreme" colors like green and purple. And during the free-spirited '70s, when people were living the single-and-ready-to-mingle life, Gerber assumed that they'd be just as willing to eat what looked like baby food out of a little glass jar.
While the board room honchos and field testers might think that an idea is a good one (although we can't imagine that anyone actually believed that that last product, called Gerber Singles, would be a hit), there's really no way to know if a product will sell until it hits the shelves. Some of these brand extensions, like Lunchables, are still with us today, and others, like Lunchables' "Maxed Out," which was targeted toward adults and contained 40 percent more food, fell off the shelves almost immediately.
Thankfully, most of the products that ended up in the trash heap and remain an embarrassing stain on the reputation of the brands that produced them are gone but not forgotten. And hopefully they never will be, because some of these are damn hilarious.
- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
Back in those heady 1970s, everything was about convenience. Just look at Reddi-Whip. Why spend the time to whip your own cream when you could just shake a can and deposit it directly into your face? The bold individuals behind the now-ubiquitous can of whipped cream had an arguably just-as-brilliant idea a couple years later — why not do the same thing, but for BACON? If they could figure out a way to speed the process of making bacon, they knew that’d have a winner on their hands, so they decided to invent a process that allowed you to make bacon in your toaster. All you had to do was pop a packet of the foil-wrapped processed meat into your toaster, wait a few minutes, and enjoy piping hot Reddi-Bacon. What could possibly go wrong? A lot of things, apparently: An absorbent pad in the packet intended to soak up the grease tended to leak inside the toaster, creating an obvious fire hazard as well as a greasy toaster. The product was pulled before being released nationally. Click here to see More Really Embarrassing Food Product Fails Credit: flickr/ Daves Cupboard
The reputable E.J. Heinz company stooped to what might be an all-time low in 2000, when they introduced a new ketchup, one that tasted just like the original but was a sickly shade of green. The stuff actually sold well at the time, and purple and blue ketchup soon followed. But the novelty quickly wore off as kids realized that blue ketchup just wasn’t super-cool, especially if you were just trying to put a condiment on a burger. By 2006, purple ketchup was all but a memory. Credit: Heinz
For one brief, shining moment in 2002 and 2003, not only was it possible to eat fries with blue ketchup, it was possible to eat blue fries with blue ketchup. For some strange reason, Ore-Ida got it into their heads that kids really wanted to be able to eat blue french fries, as well as ones that came in flavors like cinnamon and chocolate. Even though millions was sunk into these new products, they completely tanked. You just don’t mess with American classics. Credit: modernmom.com
Heublein was a popular producer and distributor of alcoholic beverages, and is widely credited with helping popularize Smirnoff. They also sold a wide variety of premade cocktails, including "Malcolm Hereford’s Cow," a milk-based drink that was a big fad in the '70s, and even briefly owned KFC during that decade. But they might have stretched things a little too far with Heublein’s Wine & Dine (not pictured), released as an upscale Hamburger Helper in the mid-'70s. For the unsuspecting consumer, it looked like an easy dinner for two: some pasta, a sauce mix, and a small bottle of wine. You boil the pasta, toss it with the sauce mix and some chopped beef, plate it up, dim the lights, and take a sip of the wine… only to discover that it’s been salted and seasoned, and was supposed to be mixed in with the pasta! The packaging did very little to communicate this fact, and Heublein’s Wine & Dine soon died a sad, hilarious death. Credit: iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock
It sounded almost too good to be true: An alternative to oil, in which chips and other greasy snacks could be fried but would take on almost no fat and calories! When Frito-Lay rolled out a new line of WOW! chips that had been fried in the stuff, called olestra, in 1998, folks went crazy for it, until they realized that it had some, shall we say, unpleasant side effects, including abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and, yes, anal leakage. The FDA forced the company to plaster a warning label on all the products that contained the chemical, and sales immediately dropped off to near-zero. While the WOW! tag is long-gone, you can still find olestra in several of Frito-Lay’s "Light" products, including Tostitos, Lay’s, Ruffles, and Doritos. Credit: Frito-Lay
Possibly the most embarrassing and head-scratchingly awful food product release of all time, Gerber Singles were a disaster from top to bottom. Just look at these things! Baby food jars, filled with busted-looking food mush, intended as a meal for one. One adult. Sure, most of us have tried baby food at some point in our adult lives and realized that it tastes fine, but who in their right mind would buy a single-serving of adult-oriented baby food (one depressingly called "Singles" at that), and be comfortable sitting in front of their TV, eating it out of the jar with a little spoon? Released in 1974 and geared toward those hip young college students and people who were living alone for the first time, the baby food for adults, which came in flavors like Creamed Beef, Beef Burgundy, Chicken Madeira, Beef with Mushroom Gravy, Mediterranean Vegetables, and Blueberry Delight, was laughed off the shelves. Click here to see More Really Embarrassing Food Product Fails Credit: Gerber
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