As the folks behind toaster bacon could probably tell you, some food concepts simply weren’t meant for this world. Below, we’ve rounded up a few notable — some completely foul and/or confounding — food failures of yesteryear ranging from diarrhea-inducing potato chips to beef burgundy in a baby food jar. That said, failure is a relative word here as some of these products are still around, some lasted on the market as long as six years, and others, although popular at first, fizzled out in a much shorter amount of time.
So grab a bag of nacho cheese-flavored Doritos 3D and a bottle of Orbitz (OK, so maybe you can’t), strap on a fresh pair of Depends, ready your gag reflex, and take a walk down memory lane with us, won’t you? And please, if you can stomach it, tell us about your favorite discontinued food product in the comments section. Are there any short-lived food products that you’d like to see reborn?
Not even Jack Benny (or Bill Cosby) could save this edible abomination. In the early 1960s, the folks at Jell-O made a somewhat misguided attempt to appeal to a more vegetable-loving consumer base by introducing four new flavors that moved beyond whipped cream-topped desserts and fruity congealed side dishes: Seasoned Tomato, Mixed Vegetable, Italian Salad and, perhaps the most gag-inducing, Celery. Can you imagine? “Honey, can you please pass the green beans and the platter of celery-flavored gelatin product?” It’s no big shocker that, like coffee and maple syrup-flavored Jell-O, the Jell-O for Salads line was mercifully discontinued.
Frito-Lay WOW! chips
Long before Kristin Wiig unleashed her first Activia commercial parody on “Saturday Night Live,” a certain product really did leave health-conscious snackers experiencing unexpected anal leakage. And unlike Wiig’s yogurt-pounding Jamie Lee Curtis, they probably weren’t too proud of it. Unleashed in 1998, Frito-Lay WOW! chips were fried in olestra, a fat substitute with some most unpleasant side effects including the aforementioned anal leakage. Although initially popular, sales of WOW! chips sharply declined thanks to an FDA-mandated label on the packaging that warned consumers of “abdominal cramping and loose stools.” Although Frito-Lay pulled the plug on the snack chips, in 2004 they re-emerged, sans warning label, as Lay's, Ruffles, Doritos and Tostitos Light and are still available on store shelves today.
Although there have been several failed soft drinks in recent history (C2, New Coke, 7-Up Gold, Coca-Cola with Lime, Pepsi Blue, Pepsi AM and on) none is quite as infamous as Crystal Pepsi, a profoundly disorienting, caffeine-free “clear” cola released to much hype in 1992 (remember those Van Halen “Right Now” commercials?) with the slogan: “You've never seen a taste like this.” Apparently, consumers didn’t agree with the taste they encountered — despite strong initial sales boosted by a relentless marketing campaign, Crystal Pepsi was discontinued after one year. This didn’t stop Coca-Cola from getting in on the clear cola craze: At the end of 1992, the company unveiled Tab Clear, a caffeinated stab at cola purity that also was short-lived. The quick demise of Tab Clear is somewhat surprising considering the unlikely endurance of Tab, a well-selling diet soda that no one has actually been seen drinking since the early '80s.
This failed food concept from the 1970s is just, well, sad. Released in 1974 by Gerber, purveyor of pureed fruits and vegetables for toothless people under the age of 12 months, Gerber Singles were small-serving meals (beef burgundy or creamed beef, anyone?) for adults, packaged in plus-sized baby food jars. Geared toward culinarily challenged college students and young people living alone for the first time, Gerber Singles were, not surprisingly, a huge flop for the company and were quickly pulled from store shelves. Susan Casey summed up this infamously ill-fated attempt at baby food for grown-ups best in a 2000 issue of Business 2.0 by remarking that “they might as well have called it I Live Alone and Eat My Meals From a Jar.”
Heinz EZ Squirt ketchup
While Gerber’s attempt at grown-up baby food was just sad, Heinz’s stab at unnaturally colored, tomato-based condiments was just wrong. But hey, the experiment fared a bit better than the company’s chocolate-flavored French fries. Released in 2000, EZ Squirt was marketed toward the only segment of the population that could possibly feel comfortable slathering, or decorating in this instance, a hot dog or hamburger with “Funky Purple, “Stellar Blue,” “Blastin’ Green” or “Mystery Color” ketchup: young children. Although EZ Squirt also came in a more traditional hue of “Tomato Red” and was actually a runaway hit when first released, the novelty of colored ketchup eventually wore off and the line was discontinued in 2006.
This jitter-inducing, throat-numbing canned energy drink — it contains 350 percent more caffeine than competing energy drinks like Red Bull along with 750 milligrams of taurine — was an initial failure … but not because people weren’t buying it. Soon after being released by Redux Beverages in 2006, the FDA pulled Cocaine from store shelves claiming that Redux was “illegally marketing the drink as both a street drug alternative and a dietary supplement." The folks at Redux went back to the drawing board and released Cocaine as “No Name” in 2007. However, it appears that you can’t keep a good, narcotic-themed energy drink down as the beverage, under its original name, once again became available online and at stores across the U.S. in 2008.
Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! bottled water
Although they were kosher and FDA-approved for human consumption (dear lord), Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! bottled water brands were created specifically for, yep, Fido and Princess Fluffy Paws. Lightly carbonated, vitamin-enriched and available in two delightfully thirst-quenching flavors — Crispy Beef for dogs and Tangy Fish for cats — Fort Lauderdale-based Original Pet Drink Co. released the beverages in 1994 at $1.79 per bottle. Not to anyone’s surprise, the products didn’t have nine lives. Or even one.
Colgate Kitchen Entrees
Although Colgate Kitchen Entrees, the toothpaste kingpin’s mythical foray into Lean Cuisine-land, is a popular textbook example of a colossal brand extension failure, little is actually known about this somewhat unfathomable venture. When were Colgate Kitchen Entrees released and for how long did they last? Did the Chicken Stir Fry come with a mini spool of dental floss? Is this all just a hoax? If Colgate Kitchen Entrees were indeed released to the public at one point in time, we can see why this line of microwavable mistakes didn’t last long. You wouldn’t buy Crest ice cream, would you?