Borden hopes its new Cracker Jack will tempt yuppie palates

August 14, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Many years before the invention of nacho cheese-embedded pork curls, the world of a junk-food junkie was a less complicated place in which to grow up, and to grow fat.

Most who lived through the 1950s and 1960s will agree that those years were a golden age in the history of off-the-shelf, processed American snack foods. Simple yet mouthwatering masterpieces were created, and the powers that be knew not to mess with success.

fTC The last time anyone tried, the marketing pros at Coca-Cola tried to reinvent The Real Thing.

Now, the crackerjacks at Borden Inc. have decided to add an upscale, designer line to their coated popcorn and peanuts mixture. But, in an indication that they have learned from the executive-level mistakes at Coke, the new Cracker Jack will supplement, not replace, the original.

After 99 years of success with the caramel-and-molasses-based Cracker Jack, which was introduced in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a yuppified, butter toffee version is already on its way to store shelves.

The new Cracker Jack will try to compete in the dog-eat-dog caramel corn-aholic market against the taste produced by the freshly popped stuff sold in shopping malls and stores specializing in caramel-corn.

The new Cracker Jack will stick with some old standbys: Sailor Jack, his dog, Bingo, and, most important, peanuts and a prize.

"Our research has indicated that the older consumer prefers the butter toffee," said Gary Willet, the general manager for Cracker Jack in Columbus, Ohio.

"The new Cracker Jack contains real butter and real toffee," he said.

Time will tell whether "buy me some peanuts and butter toffee" will win a place next to hot dogs, bratwurst and a cool one at the old ballgame.

But at least one expert thinks the gamble is a good one.

"I wasn't struck by the Borden announcement that they were doing anything remarkable. I don't know why they didn't start doing this when this proliferation began years ago," said Sidney Levy, chairman of the marketing department at the J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

"By now they could have had 10 kinds of corn in addition to what they've got," he said. "If they wanted to appeal to the adult market, they could have come up with versions of Cracker Jack for cocktail parties that have olive dots embedded in the popcorn . . . or a Cracker Jack trail mix for the health-conscious."

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